An Interview with Charles L. Crowley

Next up in our series is the awesome Charles L. Crowley, another huge favorite here at Unbroken. His A Car Crash at the End of the Universe is a piece that is frequently referred to in submission letters that we receive, and so we want to know how Charles works his magic with the prose poem.

RLB: Charles, thank you so much for being here with us today, and for being a part of Unbroken. Why do you write the prose poem? What attracted you to the form?

CC: I liked the idea of writing in this liminal space where the boundaries were fuzzy like poetry, but there still remained a sort of … implicit narrative question: “How in this boundless space can one tell a story?” It gives me a place for experimentation. I can write stories and play with beat, and shrink a scene down to nothing or explode it into centuries. It gives me a reason and space to explore, I suppose.

RLB: Yes, we like the wide open space of the prose poem. Could you share your process with us for writing a prose poem? Do you just dive into that open space, do you start with an idea, a feeling, a prompt of some sort?

CC: My writing comes generally from one of two places. One being a synesthetic desire to put to words the feeling I got from something else. The example I provide most often is the way I felt after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time. I can’t explain it. I can only feel it and then try desperately to translate that feeling into writing. The other is an external prompt that’s not actually a prompt … if that makes sense. The best example in my head now is the phrase “… I see me become a recluse …” from the song ‘I Saw Water’ by Tigers Jaw. I wrote a prose poem whose title was ‘I See Me’ and those three words provided the foundation of the entire two-page exploration of depression, the self, and space. The rest of the song didn’t necessarily inform it, but those three words wedged in my head and took me to places I didn’t realize I needed to go.

RLB: That’s awesome. And so how do you decide, once you’ve gone to that place, that the work should be in prose poem form, rather than a lined piece of poetry?

CC: When I first began writing, it was all in lined poetry until I wrote a poem called ‘Beaming Without Regard for Brightness,’ which was my first prose poem. And from that moment on I found the place I wanted to be. I love fiction. I love writing full narrative. And sometimes I still love writing lined poetry. But more often than not, I find myself falling hard into prose poetry.

RLB: Falling hard … I adore the implications of that, and I love your enthusiasm for the prose poem. It certianly shows in your writing. Any tips for someone new to the form who would like to give it a shot?

CC: Just let loose and trust your rambling mind. The hardest part, I’ve found, is trusting myself. Trusting myself to spit out what I mean. And then trusting future me to mold it and work it afterwards. So often I want to cut things right away. I hear a voice saying, “Nah, don’t put that in.” But during that first draft, I have to trust myself to spill everywhere. I can’t restrict it. So I guess I would recommend cutting your mental brakes, and letting yourself fall everywhere you feel like going. I once wrote a manifesto on how writing—especially writing poetry—is like vomiting. I still believe in that.

RLB: Yes, vomit onto the page and clean up later, right? Well, I can’t imagine any of your work as vomit, but I totally get what you’re saying. So, what are you working on now? What will we be seeing from you in the near future?

CC: I’m working on a few longer fiction pieces that experiment with my prose poetry form, perspective, and time. They live at this ugly crowded intersection where voices are clashing and screaming to be heard.  I’m really interested with space and time, how we perceive it all, and then the ramifications of our preconceived notions of the two …. We talk about flawed narrators, whether or not you can trust their perspective. And I want to ask the question, “Can we trust perspective and human perception at all?” I’ve found that compounding my prose poetry structure on top of itself over and over is the most efficient and fun way to explore this. And on the note of ‘seeing’ it … I suppose that all depends on whether or not anyone wants to travel to these places with me. I’ve got a piece coming out through The Narrative Journal. Otherwise, anyone interested can follow me on Twitter (@ApatheticSlug). I usually post my updates and publications there.

RLB: Intriguing, and we’d love to go there with you! We’ll be watching. Thanks again for being a part of this. You’re a rock star! Guys, be sure to check out A Car Crash at the End of the Universe in our Issue 5 (Sept 2015), and don’t miss Under the Shade of a Sequoia, in Issue 7 (Jan 2016) it’s gorgeous. And keep an eye out for Charles Crowley in future issues of Unbroken, as well.
We hope you’re enjoying our series, we’ll be wrapping  up in a couple of weeks. Interviews with Nolan Liebert and Maureen Kingston coming soon!

CHARLES L. CROWLEY lives in Pasadena, California. His work has previously appeared in the West Wind literary journal and The Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles. When he’s not reading or writing, he’s watching Hesei era Godzilla films or playing shows with his band in dive bars and clubs.