Interview with: F.J. Bergmann
To start, your poem is quite unlike anything I have ever seen. The structure, content, and subject are truly unique and extremely gripping. What ideas went through your head when you decided to write this poem?
A lot of pop psychology assumes that self-willed change and increased assertiveness is for the better – that it invariably has a beneficial effect. This is not always true.
You use the Beaufort scale to tell a short narrative in your poem. Did something draw you to this idea specifically or was this poem something like an experiment?
I was more familiar with the Richter scale of earthquake intensity, which, like the Beaufort scale, uses specific physical indicators corresponding to severity, and I was intending to write a poem about catastrophic lifestyle changes based on that… But then I came across a book of Don Paterson’s poems, God’s Gift to Women, on a used-book table at Barnes and Noble, and the poem that the book opened to was “Scale of Intensity.” To my dismay, it used the Richter scale almost exactly as I had intended, albeit with respect to political, rather than personal, change. So I thought about it for a while and decided to write a poem on a more personal level using the Beaufort scale of wind speed instead.
Were there any challenges you faced during the writing process? How did you overcome them?
Well, setting up the tabular structure was a bit of a pain… I normally stick with fairly mundane formatting. When I first read the poem in public, I was taken aback when audiences laughed at some places in the beginning, e.g., “Try a different brand of toothpaste,” since the poem is not at all intended to be humorous, but as I began writing more poems that could be classified as horror, I realized that humor can sometimes intensify the horrific effect.
A lot of people are inspired by a teacher or class to start writing in high school or college. What first inspired you to start writing creatively?
I did very little writing in high school and college, but I’ve always read voraciously. I started writing poetry seriously in 1998 when I was invited to join a poetry critique group started by some visual artists I knew. Then I found out that one of my co-workers emceed a local open mike and slam, so I started going to that.
Your poem is very well developed. What are some lessons you have learned along your writing journey that have helped your writing develop to this point in time?
Reading a lot, and reading widely – I never feel that I’ve read enough – getting feedback from other poets (in performance and in critique groups), and trying different forms and prompts. While this poem is more suited for page than performance, it can be read aloud; I like doing spoken-word – and slam in particular, which is competitive – as an effective way of gauging the effect of a poem on the audience directly.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting to write poetry?
Read a lot, especially contemporary poetry from poets who are widely published in edited venues. Go to local readings and open mikes, and learn to perform your own work. Push yourself to submit work for publication on a regular schedule and set a goal of collecting rejections from as many journals as possible. Ignore editorial feedback unless it’s something you wish you’d thought of yourself. Be in love with words and books.
F. J. Bergmann edits poetry for Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. She has competed at the National Poetry Slam as a member of the Madison, WI, Urban Spoken Word team. Her work appears irregularly in Abyss & Apex, Analog, Asimov’s SF, and elsewhere in the alphabet. A Catalogue of the Further Suns won the 2017 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook contest and the 2018 SFPA Elgin Chapbook Award.