Interview with Heather Box
Describe yourself in 3 adjectives.
H.B.: It's always hard to describe yourself, without false modesty or only saying the flattering bits, but I probably would say I'm a bit soft, easily-carried-away and spacey. I know it's not an adjective but my brother once described me as seeming like I always have elevator music playing in my head, and I think it's probably the most accurate description of myself I can give.
Poetry is a very specific form of literary work. Can it offer something that other forms cannot?
H.B.: The thing I like about poetry over other types of literature is that, to me at least, it's all about space. When someone writes a novel, most of the descriptions are there to try and convey as accurately as possible what the writer has in mind. With poetry, there's a capacity to leave space for the reader to connect with the descriptions however they do naturally. The other thing I love is the use of sound in poetry. I love words and I often will pick phrases not based on what words are the most accurate to what I'm describing, but more on what sounds nice. I write music too, and I think poetry can have a much more musical aspect to it with the tone, sound and rhythm of words.
Do you see yourself as a poet? If so, do you see yourself as a poet only when writing/reading poetry or in other areas of life too?
H.B.: I wouldn't say that I'm a poet. It feels strange to bestow that on myself. But I do think I'm set up in a way that leans in to poetry. I've always been a bit off in a dream, I kind of anthropomorphize everything, see personalities in things. But also writing poems is a very useful tool for me because I'm a bit avoidant with my own emotions sometimes. When I write I go into autopilot slightly, and I'll look back at it and see things I had been repressing. It allows me a safe and distant way to access difficult feelings. Those two things combined I think makes writing feel pretty natural to me.
Your poem has a very clear feminist undertone. A lyrical subject in 'They Drift Like Debris' seems to be subjugated, yet ready to fight relentlessly. Do you think this position is common among women?
H.B.: I wrote this poem in a bit of a daze, but I do see that. I think it's more a feeling of frustration than a willingness to fight. To me, the poem is about feeling used, in a figurative sense as much as a literal sense, almost being objectified as a character rather than a body. I've definitely felt this, and I think it is a by-product of art, culture and media, that a specific type of 'artistic man' can end up inadvertently exploiting partners like this. I wish it was different, but I don't know how to fight it. That frustration I definitely see in other women, and more generally in people who are oppressed or exploited and feel powerless to change it.
Would you agree that, in these days, adaptability is still vital to most women?
H.B.: To me adaptability is just a necessary part of life, and it's why humans are as good at surviving and coping as they are. But I think in the modern world there's a type of adaptability that is almost forced on women and girls. We're taught from a young age what the perfect girl looks like, the different versions of it, and how to play up to it. You're taught you have to be the guy's perfect girl, which is impossible because the reality is everyone has needs, flaws, and parts of them that are difficult. And sadly, a lot of guys come to expect that and are disappointed when a girl has needs and vulnerabilities. I guess the issue can't be entirely blamed on sexism and society, as this demand for adaptability is often because of individuals and their life experiences, and I'm sure there are cases of women having unfair and unrealistic demands of men, too, or in same-sex couples. I don't think it's the norm, but it's a real shame that it's a part of the world we live in.
Could you explain the line 'I am a white dress without a woman in it'?
H.B.: I wrote the line with Marilyn Monroe in mind, and her iconic white dress. She's this famous sex symbol, and I once heard somebody describe her appeal as the fact that she was a 'white sheet', and that people could project what they wanted her to be onto her, and that was the idea I was going for with the poem really. Marilyn was actually incredibly vulnerable, and struggled with real demons, but she is remembered as a blonde haircut, red lipstick, and a white dress, and to me those things symbolise the way she was adored for who she could be, not who she was. The woman wearing the white dress wasn't really relevant. Also, I liked the image of the white dress without someone inside it, it seemed ghostly, eerie, linking back to the idea of the car crash. I didn't want the dress to be romantic or sexy. Finally the idea of a white dress getting stained with wine, the speaker not only feels reduced to the possibility that her white dress represents, but that white dress is there to be ruined. Again, like the girl in the car crash, who makes for a tragic and romantic story when told by the survivor, is still dead, and similarly, though the ruined white dress, the stained ghost, makes for a beautiful tragedy for the guy in the poem, the dress is still ruined. I think above all though I was thinking that it just sounded cool.
What is the message that you would want the reader to take from your poem?
H.B.: I think what I was trying to do with this poem was express that feeling of being used or objectified in ways that can be physical but also in a non-physical way. It's something I've felt in the past and didn't have the vocabulary to express, and I wanted to find a way to articulate that. It was a means of reclaiming ownership of myself, getting away from that feeling of objectification. I suppose what I'd like the reader to take from the poem is an understanding of that feeling of being used and objectified, in whatever sense. It's not a feeling unique to the scenario I had in mind, and it's very widely experienced, but it's something that's not often talked about and therefore difficult to process.
What is the best thing about being a female creator?
H.B.: To me, art is about communication, about translating emotions, concepts and experiences into a language that can be understood. Art, music and literature has helped me make sense of a lot. As a woman, I'll have experienced some things that a man will not have, and likewise he will have had experiences I won't have. Being a female creator means being able to access those experiences, and help articulate them for those who have felt the same, and explain them to those who have not.