Diode author Conor Bracken discusses his writing practice and newly released full-length book The Enemy of My Enemy Is Me for Frontier Poetry's "Poet in The Mirror" series.
You’ve previously published a chapbook and a book of translation. But this is your debut collection. What was The Enemy of My Enemy is Me’s relationship to rejection? How long and what did it take to find a home?
This book has had a long relationship with rejection. So much rejection! I was submitting versions of it for more than five years, though I’ve worked on it for over seven. Many of the versions I submitted early on were totally undercooked. Part of this was foolhardy, motivated by that thrilling jolt of completion that I often mistake for quality. Another part of it, though, was just the process. I found that using the submission deadlines of various contests as a goal was a good way to not just keep me active in working on the manuscript, but also trying to see it through eyes other than my own. (Ananda Lima talks about this really well here about 47 minutes in.) If it was going into someone’s inbox, then I had to think of how they might perceive it. What do they need to know narratively, thematically, lyrically, right off the bat? How is the scene being set, how are the tools being laid out, the main questions the book is asking and trying to answer? This was helpful, in trying to get a different read of the book as it developed.
But there were so many dozens of rejections along the way. A lot of times I was unsurprised (submission was a means, not an end, really) but other times I took it hard. What was helpful through it all was having the work to return to, and great readers and friends to keep hashing it out with, but also knowing the editorial process from the inside (I’ve screened manuscripts for contests, and have been poetry editor at a couple journals). Rejection is so rarely a comment on the work itself, and acceptance is a minor miracle. The work not only needs to know itself well enough to be confident and glisten, but it needs to pass through so many minds of varying tastes and fatigue levels, and hit them just right. It’s like trying to find a neutrino—it has to hit a water atom at just the right angle to flare. And when it does, it’s rare and pleasing as a dignified end! So many others slip by undetected for that one, though.
In his debut collection of poems, Conor Bracken traces the nerves of toxic masculinity—white as maggots but taut as lyre strings—that twitch and fizz inside events as homegrown as school shootings and as distant as the execution of medieval French heretics. Everywhere, though, there are bodies: the stout slouch of Henry Kissinger in a towel, a headless snake writhing in a footwell, a cantor with a beautiful voice and an inexorable need to be touched. And then there’s the body of our speaker: “white and alive and in love” and damaged by the same ravenous appetites he isn’t always able to curb. There is no hero here, only a song that turns towards and away from reckoning with the costs the neo-imperial world order extracts from bodies both supine and thrashing. These poems flicker like fire and billow like night’s velvet curtain, which you can “roughen with one hand / and smooth with the other.”