Brianne Grothe is a recent alumna of Oklahoma State University, from where she graduated with a BA in English. She took the time for a chat with Yeah! below about – among other things – two of her poems, Bildungsroman and grief is gray and amber, fossilized by suicide, both published at Royal Rose Magazine.

I’d first like to ask, how difficult is it to become a poet? Do you regard yourself as a poet?

I would say that becoming a poet is both not difficult and difficult. First I would say not difficult because generally anybody can write a poem, and, in keeping with the idea I’ve heard a couple of times in my life that once someone has created and/or written absolutely anything, whether it be terrible or brilliant, that something that has been created/written immediately becomes a work of art/literature. So, in that sense, just about anyone can be a poet. Second, however, I would say that it is very difficult. From making simple rhymes as a child to writing a poem a day as a teenager to studying and writing poetry for college classes to now being out of school and engaging in online communities such as Twitter and with the publication Royal Rose, I have devoted many years to my craft. With that being said though, maybe it is, again, not difficult to become a poet, but only a matter of putting in the effort over time. As far as whether I regard myself as a poet or not…it depends on the day and whether I feel more humble or proud. 😉

What, do you feel, are the requirements for creating good poetry?

Requirements for creating good poetry…as with any kind of art, I’m not sure if there are any requirements necessarily as art is a very subjective thing and conventions, styles, and tastes evolve over time and vary across cultures. If I were to say anything, I would posit that a good poem has content (the actual subject and “stuff” of the poem) and form (the bones and framing of the poem, the way in which the content is presented and delivered) that are working together to convey a certain idea as well as a cohesive style that goes along with that content-and-form interaction, such as consistent–or inconsistent, if that is the purpose of the poem–vocabulary, images, ideas, etc.

You have an impressive piece, Bildungsroman, published at Royal Rose Magazine. Is it fair to suggest that the male figure in that poem defines the narrator somehow towards the end? Is there a touch of critique there, with respect to gender dynamics? Or do I have that wrong? And can I ask more broadly about gender in your poetry, and its prominence?

OdysseyWow, big questions. I had never thought about it, but now I do see how the (intended-to-be-female) narrator is being defined by the male figure towards the end of the poem. However, this is not a critique of gender roles but rather just my tendency, at times, toward more traditional notions of love and romance. If it seems as if the female narrator is being defined by the connection she has to the male “angel” figure, it is because she is, in a very conventional and fairy tale-esque way, in love with him. That is to say that the end of the poem is actually pretty much a conventional love poem, haha. To clarify, I do very much identify as a feminist and do believe it is imperative that we push back against those gender roles involving extreme oppression and violence from men toward women, though I am also still pretty captivated by the narratives and emotions that are associated with what we call gender roles. If you are meaning to tap into feminist thought and/or action regarding this idea of gender roles as they relate to my poem, I would have to say that I believe feminism and my poem to be very “gray” rather than “black and white” (I will go deeper into this later).

Gender is a very complex subject for me and thus for my poetry. I have recently identified myself with the “lipstick” or “stiletto” feminist, which, as I understand it, has to do with taking back or reclaiming female sexuality–as opposed to rejecting it and abstaining from expressing it as a rebuttal of the sexual objectification of women as some feminists have done–and owning it for oneself as a woman, utilizing it as both a conduit for and expression of feminine beauty and even power. This, however, is certainly not the only accepted feminist ideology, and I would think it is also one that is rejected by some as legitimate and/or helpful to the cause, as some may believe it to encourage the sexual objectification of women. I, however, love the idea of the lipstick/stiletto feminist as my own ideas tend to fall into a “gray” area of wanting to express my female sexuality but also to protect women from the objectification and even violence that some may believe expression of female sexuality invites, but often place an emphasis on the former idea, or more specifically on my idealistic freedom to do whatever the heck I want to do with myself as a woman, to flaunt what I’ve got, so to speak. I also push against the idea that to be a sexual woman is to invite objectification and/or violence towards oneself, which, in my mind, places the blame for these things upon female victims rather than upon the males who perpetrate them. In terms of what all of this about my brand of feminism means for my poetry: My poetry is very gray when it comes to gender. I have at least one poem in which I satirize myself as what our society berates as the stereotypical whore; I have another poem that embraces being a whore. In “Bildungsroman” I critique society’s division of women into virgins and whores and in doing so seem to be in keeping with newer, more apparent feminist thought, but I also by the end of the poem allow myself to indulge my more conventional impulse toward traditional love story narratives. This is all just to say that, like my complex and gray feminist beliefs, my poetry engages feminism and specifically gender roles in a gray way too.

Can you tell me a little about the poem’s title, Bildungsroman, which I regard as a near-synonym for a coming-of-age novel? You address the virgin-whore bifurcation more than once in Bildungsroman. Is this a literary trope you’re touching on, or is it a social plight that still needs to be remedied?

I picked the title “Bildungsroman” because, although not a novel but a poem, it captures precisely the theme of the poem: a coming-of-age story. I’m not sure how much I should reveal to readers, but, to give a small peek behind the curtain, I would say that the poem’s narrator is a young woman who is wrestling with the black-and-white ideals of her childhood as they are juxtaposed with new, more gray ideals and ways of viewing the world that she is encountering as an adult. There are many bifurcations in the poem, but to understand the poem the reader must pay attention to the way in which they are broken down.

Ah, my inclusion of the virgin-whore bifurcation actually falls in place quite directly with the general theme and pattern of bifurcation in the poem. I would definitely agree that this is me nodding to a social plight that needs to be remedied, that being the black-and-white way in which we as a society and culture tend to view and divide up women, but it also, like I said, falls in with the overall theme of the poem. The (female, which is important) narrator, through her coming-of-age journey–which is essentially influenced by her complex angel love–is learning that this differentiation is null and imaginary, as well as is the more general idea of good/evil.

In another poem, you have a doctor/father/god character – I wonder if this is (what I would agree is) warranted criticism of certain paternal authority figures?

Yes, this is a little cheeky critique of paternal authority figures (I feel a little like Sylvia Plath with her poem “Daddy” here and it makes me giggle), but it also involves a bit more than that. I grew up with a therapist for a father and, like Sylvia Plath, live with bipolar disorder, so my relationship with my father is very intimate and complex to say the least. Not only that but as I have grown up I also have gradually begun to lose my sense of traditional Christian faith but still would like to believe there is some sort of greater, unifying force of life and love out there, so between those two personal details about me I’m sure you can start to piece together some of my ideas and feelings regarding my concept and character of “doctor/father/god”, which I regard with both reverence and irreverence, love and cynicism. In another (yet-to-be-published) poem I have a line that goes something like “God and father and doctor are blurred like bad watercolor”, and each figure in that little (un?)holy trinity relates, interacts, and/or confronts the others in a myriad ways that I have still yet to fully unpack and put into words even for myself.

One more question if you have time: Does studying literature enhance or stifle your own creative process?

I would say it only enhances it. I learned so much in my studies of literature at my university about critical thinking, the complex ways in which any work of literature is shaped and formed, and important and complicated concepts such as gender and feminism, and that learning has only bettered my writing. Learning about literature and the world in which it lives and about which it speaks inspires and compels me to write.

You can follow Brianne Grothe on Twitter.