Smile Politely

PygLit tidbit: Five questions with Russell Evatt and Jaime Brunton

Jaime Brunton and Russell Evatt are both MFA alumni from the University of Illinois. They recently co-authored the chapbook The Future Is a Faint Song, winner of the 2012 Dream Horse National Chapbook prize. A collection of poems organized in pairs, each facing page holds two poems with the same title, one by each author. The poetic duet uses similar words and phrases, echoing themes of family, time, and memory, but displays unique interpretations. To keep with the format, Smile Politely asked both authors the same set of questions, and reflects those here for our readers. 

SP: How did the two of you come to collaborate on this chapbook?

Russell Evatt: We thought it would be a good idea to maybe help each other shoulder some of the poetry load and so we halved it. Turns out it isn’t half the work when divided among two. It isn’t more work, though, and this was sufficient enough a proposition.

Jaime Brunton: Russell and I send each other poems from time to time asking for each other’s opinions. On one occasion, I sent Russell some of my poems and he expressed what you might call an opinion in the form of his own poems with the same titles as those I’d sent him. The conversation that emerged between the two sets of poems is what got this chapbook project started.

SP: Can you explain the collaboration process and the idea behind the pairs of poems?

Evatt: Having poems that share titles across the page from each other adds some context to the poems and, also, some gravity. The poems don’t necessarily need each other but I think as pairs they provide more to consider. This arose as we emailed each other different drafts of poems and worked on editing and rewriting each other’s.   

Brunton: I agree with what Russell says about the poems not necessarily needing each other, but I think it adds another dimension to the first poem when you see it reproduced, in a sense, on the facing page. I like to think of each pair as a call and response between two voices, neither of which fully belongs to either of us.

SP: How much did this collaboration process differ from each of your individual writing processes?

Evatt: Process is a word that carries less and less for me the older I get.  The truth is these days I write when I get time.  I work a lot and the main issue for me is getting time to write.  One thing the emailing with Jaime did for me was to pressure me to find the time to respond.  After all, another human being was counting on me.

Brunton: My process didn’t really change so much in writing these poems, except for the fact that in some cases I had a pre-existing text and title from Russell to work with. This was my favorite part of the collaboration because it challenged me to take up cadences, phrases, attitudes, and so forth that I wouldn’t have otherwise. 

SP: What are you guys most looking forward to at LitFest?

Evatt: Well, I don’t get many opportunities in this life I’m leading nowadays to be around people who are actively pursuing and/or are interested in writing.  I’m going to all the readings, of course, and I’m looking forward to them. But I’m really looking forward to the crowd.

Brunton: Like Russell, I’m looking forward to being in an atmosphere where people are excited about literature and about art more generally. Frankly, I have to say I love that our names are on the same poster with other poets we admire, as well as some great music acts, and I’m excited to go to as many readings and performances as I can.

SP: Were either of you surprised by the reception of The Future Is a Faint Song? What has been your favorite part(s) of where this chapbook has taken you guys?

Evatt: The time between acceptance and publication was over two years so it was quite nice to see the artifact itself for the first time.  It does exist.  Not to be daft but the coolest place this chapbook has taken us is the Pygmalion Lit Fest!  Hell yeah!

Brunton: I’ve only done one reading from this book so far, and I was a bit surprised by the reaction from the crowd, who really picked up on the dry humor in a lot of the poems (I credit Russell for providing most of that…). And I will steal Russell’s answer to your second question: Pygmalion Fest, hands down.

SP: Where did you guys pull most of your inspiration from for these poems?

Evatt: The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, among others.

Brunton: I just had to GoogleWatchtower.” That’s all I have to say about that.

The chapbook is full of powerful wordplay about family, memory and time. Be sure to catch the pair as part of the free Pygmalion Opening Night at Krannert Art Museum on Wednesday, 9/23. They will each read preceding Mark Neely: Russell Evatt from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Jaime Brunton from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Photos provided by Jaime Brunton and Pygmalion Festival.

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