The Next Big Thing!: Melissa Buckheit

Several of the writers I tagged don’t have their own websites yet, so I’ll be featuring their responses here! Melissa Buckheit’s site will be up this weekend, but in the meantime, check out her answers below…

What is the working title of the book?




Where did the idea come from for the book?


I began writing this book when I was in graduate school getting my MFA at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. About a year into my time there, many of the poems in the book, especially the first two-thirds, began to surface from what was a lot of time alone, a lot of time cycling alongside the creek that moves through the center of Boulder, a lot of time of exceeding silence, and a lot of time spent in the dark, at night, moving about on foot (and on bicycle) with my Canon AE1, almost melding/assuming the space with many of the plants, such as: night-blooming Morning Glories, many cool, silver birches, red-rooted bamboo-type plants which grow along the edges of the creek, and with the dirt, in the cool air and in the darkness which exists there at night. This is a deep and abiding darkness, almost empty and truly black, punctuated by the pallid light of the moon or the small porch lights in various colors which are popular for small, older houses and cottages.


For various reasons, I didn’t have a lot to say aloud for several years, not that I wanted to say to anyone about myself, nor of any intimate or true thing (I felt and chose to be very private, which I am anyway, but this was a necessity and a natural result of place and experience and self.) For a good period of that time, I didn’t have the ability to say anything of that ilk in my poetry, as well. Therefore, there was a lot of silence and time spent doing nothing or meditating, listening, watching water, a fascination and attention to repetition and patterns–amongst work and creative writing workshops and dance in my daily life. There was ‘White Noise’ of the quotidian, to steal back a poem title from the book.


The experience of the book, therefore, is one that parallels this place (geographical and emotional), and my perception of how/what exists in darkness. Darkness, not as a metaphor and not as some trope (evil or the unconscious) in humanistic thought, necessarily, but rather darkness as itself, as the interior and privacy of the thing, anything, and almost what grows or exists or breathes in this–which is also light, eros, suffering, emptiness and many other things. The light beside/in it, such as the nightshade, or pottery shards in the dirt, or algae that produce their own light chemically in the deep darkness of the sea, the sea which reflects the night sky, the lights of stars and reflectors, and others. These are material things, but inside of the energy and presence of these things, the feeling exists, the relationships of beings, the emptiness and presence, simultaneously, just like light in darkness.


There grew to be this theme (and others, in relationship, such as what is lost/from the past, particular echoes to ancient and Modern Greece, the sciences, experiences of gender, trauma, the visual/photography) which moved through the original manuscript. The last third of the book, written between 2005-2008, in Tucson, AZ (where I still live), was much a process of waiting–waiting for the what the rest of the book wanted to say, how it could complete itself like a breath but also like the desert is a continuous wave, an oscillation. In a way, the cycle of the book speaks oscillation rather than full stop. It doesn’t attempt to say how anything is, particularly, but how it can be, which includes the possibility of many things. I don’t trust too many statements in my own poetry, and I prefer the subtle, the in-between shadows and realities, the shards or silt that accumulates in the flow.


What genre does your book fall under?


Poetry, specifically lyric, prose poem and the serial poem. The manuscript form had several original pro color photography series in it, as well; the photograph on the cover is one of these images, taken in Boulder, also titled, “Noctilucent”.


What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Since I’m not really a ‘character’ type of writer (I read and write about novels and fiction, but unconsciously have killed off every character I’ve ever tried to develop in short, long or flash fiction, since high school), this is a bit of an odd question that requires a strange answer. I’m not narrative by nature as a writer, nor do I prefer it in my work; if I could assign stars, and starfish and Athens and orange night-lanterns, and willows as well, anonymous people and voice-overs, that would be best. Perhaps I’d want it to be a bit like the way Inagaki Taruho’s One Thousand and One Second Stories gives the moon a personality and a voice, with humor and sadness, both.

I have personally worked with video and film for years for play, performance and collaboration, often as installation conjoined with my own Modern Dance choreography.  A video installation of moments in the book could exist someday in one of my dances.


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?


Nocti-lucent (use an etymological dictionary or the notes at the back of the book).


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

As stated, early 2002-early 2008 (the final draft).


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think we already covered most of this. In terms of outside sources, I was reading a lot of science books and journals–Astrophysics, Marine Biology, Astronomy, Physical Sciences; Photography art books; Archaeology; Tibetan Buddhism; Somatic Psychology and Trauma theory texts; as well as Eleni Sikelianos, Jane Miller, Lynn Hejinian, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Alice Notley, Olga Broumas, Homer, Sappho, Thoreau and Roland Barthes.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are a lot of words in the book that are old or come from the Greek or Latin or require stipulative definitions (see the notes, again), combined with more common words. I’d also like to think that the musicality, the sound of the poems is particular and evocative and strong. I feel the music and spirit and feeling lead the meaning, rather than the other way around. There is a sense of the empty spaces in space and around us in the book, and darkness. Some people might read this as something sad, although I do not; I feel it is simply what is. I mean emptiness in reality and also in a Buddhist sense.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Noctilucent was published by Shearsman Books, Ltd, in the UK, in March 2012.

The Next Big Thing!

I’ve been approached by three different authors, so I think this is a sign I should respond. Thank you to Cara Benson for being the tag that brought me out of my cave!


The Next Big Thing questions:
What is the working title of the book? 

It’s called Solar Maximum, a collection through which I am thinking through a speculative poetics.

The latest part of it, a chapbook titled A Primary Mother, is forthcoming any day now with Karen Randall of Propolis Press as part of the third installment of her Least Weasel Series. I’m very happy to be in such illustrious poetry company. It features shorter prose poems that are directly inspired by my love of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and a longer poem in series dedicated to light.

Where did the idea come from for the book? 

Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, conversations with my ex-husband about sunlight and knowledge, and low-level global hysteria about “the future,” to name the most cogent centers.

Lem’s Solaris is a truly perfect book. In it, a team of scientific researchers descend upon a living planet, seeking to study it from a rationalist/technical perspective. The planet is sentient, but in ways that are completely outside of the researchers’ human capacity for understanding. The team experiences inexplicable spiritual visitations / hallucinations and a form of incredibly debilitating sadness that washes over them. Several of them die.

I’m so amazed at how Lem was able to characterize the impossibility for us to truly “communicate” with the Other. I was also floored by how he triangulates this inability through the framework of scientific endeavor, which dominates contemporary notions of valuable “knowledge” or “understanding.” He captures the true heartbreak of humanity — our desire for contact and the ways that our structures of consciousness prevent it — so perfectly in this novel.

Solar Maximum as a broader project tries to also map out similar impulses — how “knowledge” outlines imagined limits (for good and ill) of human experience, and how we try to make sense of catastrophe or devastation. The seeds for this project lay in an early chapbook of mine that Brenda Iijima published at Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs called Mental Commitment Robots. The premise of that collection is that contemporary life requires us to be something other than what we are; perhaps more animal, or more robot, or both. I really have to thank Brenda for putting that collection in the world and giving me faith that I wasn’t some weirdo, but that I was genuinely saying something, however odd it seemed to me at the time.

A big part of my graduate studies, personal interest, and previous creative work was invested in exploring how racial logic circulates. That has since expanded into a consideration of what frames “knowledge” for us, and how that impacts our ways of being.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry, loosely defined. Speculative. But there are strong narrative impulses that run throughout it … not like quantum or flash fiction, but something similar. I call it Speculative, for how it tries to inhabit a projected mode of consciousness.

One of the poems, forthcoming in the next issue of Aufgabe, explores daily life as a teenager at the end of time. Another piece was published as an e-chapbook with The Drunken Boat. This piece speculates on future virtual economies, environmental devastation, and the “threat” of China. The title poem of Solar Maximum imagines what human life might be like in those days before the earth is swallowed up by the sun.

Gee. Typing all this, my book sounds like a total downer. But it’s also purgative and beautiful. That’s my hope, at least.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? 

I’d resurrect Ingmar Bergman or Kenji Mizoguchi to film the book. They’d take care of casting.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? 

How we long to know.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? 

I don’t remember.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 

I think I covered that in an earlier question.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 

Hmm. I’m not sure how to answer this. It’s not a very “hip” read, that’s for sure.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I covered that earlier.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:

Brenda Iijima, Jai Arun Ravine, Jen Hofer, and Sujin Lee (Jennifer Kwon Dobbs), and Melissa Buckheit!!

Featured Chapbook in the latest Drunken Boat

Dear Friends,

I wrote this collaborative piece imagining future economies a while back. It was presented at the &now festival in San Diego with Cara Benson, Rachel Levitsky, and Dana Teen Lomax (as a virtual presence) with a soundtrack by my friend Brian Thrash. Though the piece was originally conceived of as a performance, I felt that as a text on its own, it stood up really well and I was pleased with how it turned out. 

I asked my friend Nicholas DeBoer if he’d be okay with receiving a contributing author credit, as he gave me many of the lyric sections that went into the piece. He very kindly agreed! And now, it is up and published in the latest issue of DRUNKEN BOAT as a featured chapbook. Many thanks to guest editor Melissa Buckheit for fishing this work out of me. 

There are also a few of my “invisible” pieces, pieces that obliquely explore heartbreak and beauty in the most simplest way I know. If you have time, please take a peek.