An Interview with C.C. Russell

It’s Friday, and that means a brand new author interview! Today’s guest: the awesome C.C. Russell, a poet we love here at Unbroken. We’ve been privelaged to publish C.C.’s work in five issues, with more coming in March. We nominated his Spun for Best of the Net, and David’s Film for The Pushcart Prize, and it’s no surprise that we often get comments from new writers about how much C.C.’s poems have inspired them. His work is rich in imagery, language, and mood–he’s one of the best we know at the prose poem, and we’re delighted to have him here today!

RLB: Thanks so much for stopping by to talk to us. We are excited to hear your thoughts. You’re so good at this form, it’s obvious you enjoy the prose poem–can you share with us what attracted you to it?

CCR: I first came to prose poetry in the early 90s.  The first prose poem that I read was by James Tate and I fell in love with it and was immediately intrigued by the form though it would be a few years before I worked in prose poetry myself.  As a writer that writes both fiction and poetry, it is a form that gives me more freedom to dance across the edges of each a bit.  As a reader, I love it for being able to tell a tight little narrative without slavishly adhering to plot over feeling.

RLB: We love that, too–the prose poem is more about a mood or a feeling than it is a plot.  And it’s sort of a hybrid form, like you said, crossing the edges of fiction and poetry. So how does it work for you, the bringing together of these two worlds? How do you know when it’s going to be a prose poem, rather than a short story or a lined piece of poetry?

CCR: Strangely enough, I very seldom set out to write a prose poem.  Typically, my prose poems come out of my other writing.  I’ll be revising a poem that just won’t come together and I decide that it is time to deconstruct it and see if it works better as prose.  Occasionally, a short story will give birth to prose poetry for me as well, but typically it comes from the decision that a poem of mine just isn’t working as well in lined verse as I would like it to.  (Sometimes changing it to prose works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it almost always opens the poem to me in a way that I hadn’t looked at it before, facilitating some great thoughts for the revision process.)  On the occasions that I know from the onset that something is destined to be a prose poem, it usually starts out as a “mood piece” of sorts…  A feeling, a moment that triggered a memory…
Honestly, it is just a gut feeling for me that a poem might just work more as a paragraph without the enjambment of line breaks.  Taking lined verse and placing it into a paragraph opens it to a slightly different rhythm and flow.  I suppose that isn’t a very succinct answer and could be seen as a copout, but I see it as a feeling that I get sometimes in the process of revision.

RLB: It’s so interesting to us that out of all the poets we’ve talked to, none of them really sets out to write a prose poem. It’s usually something that seems to happen in the revision process. So what would you say to someone who has never written a prose poem, but would like to try?

CCR: For someone new to the form, I would suggest first reading *a lot* of it.  There are very diverse voices out there writing in the form and many of them tackle it in very different ways.  It’s really fascinating seeing all that has been accomplished in prose poetry in its relatively short history.  Seek out places that focus on it – Unbroken and are probably my favorites at the moment.  There are some excellent anthologies out there including Great American Prose Poems edited by David Lehman or The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry.  After reading, deconstruct some of your own writing.  Take something you’ve written in traditional verse that you really like and change it to a paragraph.  It is a great way to see what works in prose and what doesn’t compared to more traditional poetic styles.  Once you see what works in the form, it is much easier to start tackling your own work.

RLB: Excellent advice! What are you working on now? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

CCR: Right now, I am in a seemingly endless loop of submitting and revising my first full-length collection of poetry as well as in the early stages of putting together a book-length collection of short stories.  Recently, I have also been working on a series of “translation” poems in which I take a poem and run it through internet translation software into several languages (then back into English) and reconstruct it using words and lines from the mistranslations that occur.  It is an interesting process that often leads to some fascinating (at least to me) rewrites.

RLB: Sounds awesome! We’ll be watching for your work! Again, a huge thank you for being a part of our Finding the Magic series. You are a rock star! We love you here at Unbroken, and we wish you the best in all your writing projects.

Guys, you heard what the man said, keep reading prose poetry! Be sure you check out C.C.’s work at Unbroken in our past issues, our current issue, and check back in March when we’ll have a brand new collection of prose poems from C.C. Russell.

See you next Friday!

C.C. RUSSELL currently lives in Wyoming with his wife, daughter, and two cats. He holds a BA in English from the University of Wyoming and has held jobs in a wide range of vocations. His poetry has appeared in the New York Quarterly, Rattle, and Whiskey Island among others. His short fiction has appeared in The Meadow,, and, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions.