I know how to sever any angel from its vow: A Conversation with Kelly Weber about We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place — curated by Tiffany Troy

Kelly Weber (she/they) holds an MFA from Colorado State University and is the author of the collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press, 2022) and You Bury the Birds in My Pelvis (forthcoming from Omindawn in October 2023). Their work has received Pushcart nominations and has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Southeast Review, The Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Colorado with two rescue cats.

We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place is a collection which thinks through what it means to exist through a reinvention of the mythology, experimentation with poetic forms, and looking to and through bodily vulnerability.

Tiffany Troy: How does your first poem, “What the Water Bruises Into,” set up the rest of the collection that follows?

Kelly Weber: I think so much of this poem establishes the central concerns, thematic imagery, and formal choices that inform the rest of the collection: the prose poem, the concepts of harm and gaze, being queer in a rural context, the deer. Just as the first poem of a collection teaches us how to read the rest of the book–which was part of the goal of this poem’s placement–so too some of these early, problematic experiences the speaker has in sex (mis)education and toxic masculinity ultimately shape and teach the speaker to read so much of what follows.

TT: Can you describe what the process of writing this collection was like?

KW: This collection really grew out of initial experiments. I was trying several new things out formally and noticed concerns around my asexuality and aromanticism emerging in the work. I started shaping the book more actively to try to find metaphors from that, and the book tendrilled out to also incorporate lyric inquiry into matrilineal generational concerns. For a while I wasn’t sure these were the same book, but the separate threads chimed so much through the deer image that I realized they were really both thinking about the same thing, which is how to exist as this particular queer body. I typically write all of the material for a book in loose chunks that gradually separate out into individual poems like stars in a nebula, and so a lot of the late stages of revision were about developing the individual poems and then separating out what was duplicative and repetitive across the poems and within each poem itself.

TT: How did you organize the poems into its five sections?

KW: I think there was a time when the book maybe only had three sections, but I’ve come to realize I like my books to have a lot of sections–I think I’m partly an experimental writer, so I like to pivot between a lot of formal variations, and it’s just easier to do that with more frequent breaks, like movements in music. I also got great feedback from several writers. I think Candelin Wahl at Mud Season was the one to suggest extracting the “Aro Ace” poem series into its own separate section, which was brilliant, and John James also had a lot of great suggestions about where to end sections to bring the work to its highest lyric pitch without tiring readers out.

TT: How do poetic forms inform your collection?

KW: Part of this book is about my wrestling with the amatonormative traditions and constraints of the sonnet, and then a big part of this book is my trying out forms that were visually pleasing to me on the page: couplets that step in and out, lots of prose poems. One of the ways I revise is by restarting and rewriting a poem over and over in a different form until a key energy or the right pulse is unlocked in it. I’d almost given up on what is now the opening poem after pushing it through several form changes, but I had a sudden insight into the form and syntactic momentum it needed while I was in the middle of doing another task, and then the poem really locked into place. Ultimately what really opened up poetic form for me on the page was: what do I like? What do I think feels cool to read on a page? And I realized I love lots of different forms happening all over the page in a book.

TT: How does the idea of the female and the animal (the doe, the female deer, but also the Doe in Jane Doe) intertwine through the intergenerational tale of the mother-daughter relationship?

KW: I think a lot of this collection is thinking about bodily vulnerability and the way that has been framed for the speaker by family members and by a particular rural culture through the prism of problematic gender roles. A lot of this collection is also thinking about what it means to exist in a body coded or labeled by people as “female” and how that puts the speaker in an object position instead of a subject position. The speaker feels the literal and metaphorical gaze of cishet men on them all the time. Part of the reason the book explores the myth of Artemis and Actaeon is that in that story, Actaeon subjects Artemis to his gaze, but he is the one ultimately transformed, not her. That threads into the intergenerational poems as the speaker grapples with what gender roles they’ve been taught, what advice the mother has for a queer daughter trying to escape those roles, what family narratives and instructions for gender have been passed down. I did a reading with the incredible Claire Boyles at Tattered Cover recently, and she brought up a great point that so much of what we try to do as people is create new kinds of care and new spaces for the people we want to be on the page and beyond. In this book, the speaker is trying to open up that space for a new way to exist as a queer body that’s a break from gendered traditions of the past.

TT: Do you see the speakers as speaking in a uniform or from varied voices? How do you create the narrative voice?

KW: I feel there’s varied tone in the book–there’s one kind of tone in the Omphalos poems, and another kind of tone the speaker adopts for some of the dreamier, more surreal poems, and another kind of tone for the more conversational prose poems. I think for me, in the writing and revision process, it’s less about one or many voices / speakers in the book and more the different shapes the one central lyric mind / body / spirit takes on the page when filtered through different forms. I don’t spend any time thinking about the voice on the page when I write, because it’s just going to be what it is and it’s best if I stop thinking about it and just do what feels natural. I just try to find the syntactic momentum and tone that the poem wants and needs to take as it’s finding its shape.

TT: Do you have any closing thoughts for your readers?

KW: I’m so humbled and grateful by the incredibly thoughtful and generous responses this book has received. I never realized what a relational experience it is to have a book in the world, and I’m so thankful for every interaction the book has inspired and for everyone who has spent time with it.