Christine Larusso’s There Will Be No More Daughters is a loose, dreamscape collection of her life as (and becoming) a young woman in the sprawl and splatter of 1990s LA. Of the collection,
Carmen Giménez Smith wrote, ‘I adore the ecstatic vision of this book, the nimble voice, and the book’s baroque sensuality.’ There Will Be No More Daughters is a book of multiness— the multivoiced, multigenerational, multiracial, multiversed— backlit with the breathy, vivid poems of Larusso’s interior landscape.
In our interview, Larusso discusses long-form poetic form, resisting patriarchy through verse, and what it takes to write poetry adrift from reality.
Sara Youngblood Gregory: What struck me most while reading There Will Be No More Daughters was the multi-ness of the collection— the multivoiced, multigenerational, multiracial, multiversed— all backdropped with your hyper specific LA upbringing. At one point you write simply, “I contain multitudes.” Tell me about those multitudes and how they found their way into Daughters.
Christine Larusso: The first multitude for me, when writing, is one of form. I believed from the onset that this book and this story needed long poems, short poems, poems that were broken sonnets, poems in couplets, etc etc to really do the material justice. I think this is large parts because of the multitudes you already mentioned (a book about being multiracial, about a girl who grows into a woman, about a city that exemplifies multi-ness) but also because giving my book the power to push against and towards new and old forms allowed me to believe the work was also pushing against and towards the erasure that a patriarchal society imposed on the story I was trying to tell. I also want the language I use to be mysterious, open, both vulnerable and violent — I want my syntax to contain multitudes.
I finished this book after I had moved back to Los Angeles. The city enacts many forms itself, from the diversity of its inhabitants, to the wild range of architecture, and contrasting landscapes — it is a city of multiples, often opposites, and this tension became increasingly present as I worked on the revision process. In particular, I thought about the speed and pacing of different poems — I wanted them to unfold almost cinematically, with some feeling like long, slow shots (“The Letting Go”) while others (“Hourglass”) move quickly, like montage. And then, of course, some fall more squarely in the middle, moving from long capacious breaths to quick, almost anxious inhales (“I was a painter once”). Musicality is very important to my writing.
It’s also significant that this book was written over many years. And I cannot stress this enough: I actually needed those 10 years to write this book. I wish I could write 2 books a year, like some poets do, but I find the revision process incredibly difficult and need a lot of time and space away from the poems to be able to look at them again. But with regard to multitudes, this long process made a big difference in the scope of the work and how I wanted the book to ultimately sound and look like. For one thing, I think I became a more confident writer in my 30s (which was bolstered by winning the Plonsker Prize and my MFA) which allowed me to revise with a sharper mind, because then I knew what I wanted the book to do.
SYG: Author Carmen Giménez Smith wrote that you “take great formal risks and land them.” What risks did you take in There Will Be No More Daughters?
CL: Lyn Hejinian’s lecture-turned-essay Rejection Against Closure has significantly influenced my work — her assertion that an open poem is one that pushes against traditional, linear form (a sort of masculine way of writing) is one that inherently rejects traditional (in my words: patriarchal) structure and hierarchy. This is why several of my poems are long, why they take up the whole page, why they perhaps don’t always fully satisfy the reader. I wanted to leave space for my vulnerability, my emotions, but also the reader’s, and this, to me, is what an open text does.
I mean, and also, look: I think another way one might describe some of my work is controlled mess, and I wouldn’t be mad about that. I think for a woman of color writing about identity, writing about history and capitalism and patriarchal structures — I think it would be impossible to not be messy. For me, so much of this work was challenging an identity that society had placed upon me, rather than an identity that was allowed to naturally form and bloom. So when the poems are jagged, abrupt, when they end with an almost violent em dash — I needed all of that, I needed to learn into that disorder to make a statement about what this society has done to me, to my family, to my personal history.
SYG: The forest is a certain motif of yours– much of your collection is spent journeying towards, between, and back from the trees. The opening poem “Beholder” frames this liminal movement. You write, “I was raised not knowing my Chinese name, nor my Mexican one, nor the word to describe my body seeking the signal and syntax to guide my path through the woods.” What guides your work and writing process? What grounds you?
CL: I think the forces that guiding this book are different from my writing more generally; what happened was, I had a very large manuscript that I thought was complete, though was rejected over and over again by every poetry press you’ve heard of, and then I moved back to LA after over a decade in Brooklyn, and then I won the Plonsker Prize, which was my first residency ever and allows a poet to finish an MS in progress at Lake Forest College in Illinois. The small wealthy, largely white suburban area of Lake Forest was entirely different from everything I had grown up with and knew, and I felt extremely othered, more than usual. It was this feeling, plus the nostalgia I had for LA while being there, plus the part of me that was trying to write the family and personal history I was never told or given that guided the development of this book. I really thought, walking into that residency, that I had a finished MS, I was just unlucky with the prizes. That was NOT the case at all! The book changed so dramatically during those three weeks, because of the feelings I described and because I was able to work on it, unbothered, without domestic duties or distractions, for such a long period of time.
It’s true though that my residency was surrounded by trees (even though when I was there it was the tailend of Chicago and this Angeleno was freezing and craving more sun and green!) and I do draw a lot of inspiration from nature — even though capitalistic forces are trying to make this untrue, the wilderness, or what remains of it, suggests openness, anti-containment, the untameable — and in many ways, I want my writing to be all of those things.
The primary thing that changed about the book during the residency was my ability to be direct in my work. I had danced around a lot of the trauma that the book details — except for in “The Letting Go” which I wrote at NYU — but my residency allowed me to deepen this and explore what it felt like to say exactly what happened in my life and to my family and have that work against and with the more “opaque” poems. I think I’ve always fought against narrative poems, so being able to be more direct while maintaining the dreamlike quality of the work was really important to me. I knew that the poems needed some grounding, but I never wanted them to lose any of their qualities that made them ethereal. I remember Carmen telling me to simply name some of the traumas — alcoholism, capitalism, patriarchy, Parkinson’s (my father’s illness) — and when I was revising the poems, doing that was a gateway into saying more, and saying it more directly.
I’ve just never been interested in writing project books of the type that take the POV of a dead person, or even a living person, like a famous painter or whatever. There’s obviously lots of dead people who have influenced me and who have had interesting lives and I have a lot of respect for poets who can fully embody those projects and write them, I imagine they take a lot of distancing from the self, but I just haven’t been able to write those poems, or that book. Ultimately, it took a mountain of courage for me to believe that my own story was valuable, and getting to that place was draining enough without having to imagine living inside someone else’s brain.
SYG: Tell me about your literary influences— early, current, or otherwise. Who do you look to when you reimagine, rekindle, revise your own poetry?
CL: I am so happy to get this question because I love to give shout-outs to the writers I love!
I have a few poems I turn to when I’m stuck. One of them is “The Prophet” by Alice Notley. I tried, the other day, to excerpt it, to post a bit of it to Instagram or Twitter or some other time-sucking platform and I just couldn’t — it’s totally un-excerptable. It is confident and strange and magical.
Another poem I love so much that it almost hurts is Olena Kalytiak Davis’ “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” — Olena came to visit NYU once, when I was a student there, and I couldn’t even talk to her — I was starstruck! Which is proof that poets can be stars, too. I started reading her poems as an undergraduate, and I think she heavily influenced how I think about syntax, diction, about completing fucking with forms that come out of a largely white and largely male tradition — and also how to write about sex and lust and the body. Brenda Shaughnessy is another influence, for these very same reasons.
Arthur Sze and Rachel McKibbens’ for their intelligent use of violent imagery.
Tommy Pico and Rachel Zucker for writing extraordinary long poems and in that, not giving a fuck. Long poems are really important to me, to allow my writing to explore and go many places within the context of one poem, and I’m thankful to other poets to write long and do it so so well.
And on top of that, both Tommy and Rachel use the reality, the day to day, including all the mundane stuff, of their lives so well — as I mentioned earlier, being direct about my life was difficult for me early on, but I think their work has taught me the best way to approach this. Also Angel Nafis! So many of her poems are odes, to her friends and friendships and life, without being saccharine or feeling put on in any way. All three of those poets articulate a truth that is really powerful, feels very palpable.
Christine Larusso holds a BA from Fordham University (Lincoln Center) and an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Literary Review, Pleiades, Women's Studies Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Prelude, Court Green, Narrative, and elsewhere. She is the 2017 winner of the Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize, and has been named a finalist for both the Orlando Poetry Prize and the James Hearst Poetry Prize. Her poem, "Lunar Understanding," was nominated for a Pushcart. She is a Producer for Rachel Zucker's podcast, Commonplace. She is from Los Angeles, and currently lives there with her partner, critic/editor Colin Beckett and their dog, who does not have a job. She moved home to California after spending a decade in Brooklyn. Sara Youngblood Gregory is a lesbian poet and culture writer. Her work has been featured in Vice, Jezebel, The Rumpus, and others. Find more of their work at saragregory.org