Like the Mother Tree that decomposes into the forest floor to birth a new generation from its nutrients, so too do thoughts, ideas, gender, and themes go to pieces as they grow in …
Like the Mother Tree that decomposes into the forest floor to birth a new generation from its nutrients, so too do thoughts, ideas, gender, and themes go to pieces as they grow in “Decay,” a book of poetry from local publisher Conner Bouchard-Roberts in collaboration with Christina Vega.
Both poets own and operate their own small presses, with Roberts at the helm of Winter Texts based here in Port Townsend, and Vega running Blue Cactus Press out of Tacoma.
The project started four years ago when the poets first met.
“We were thinking about how we use decay in a certain metaphor, and then we kind of fixated on that style of poem where things are decaying and becoming other things,” Roberts said, comparing the process to something of an interstitial zone like the tidelines he grew up alongside.
“just another holdfast / in the tideline,
decaying / falling apart to become other things”
(from “inward incantation”)
“Then it was focused on gender for a while,” Roberts continued, “then we lost the project for a year, and then we came back to it and the poems had changed significantly.”
It was as though the metaphor had taken hold of them and was expressing itself through their collaborative process.
“you pass through / and remember / you are elsewhere / and that this too was once a memory.”
(from “Once at night”)
The pair scrapped the name “Decay” and turned inward.
Vega, who uses they/them pronouns, gave birth during that year-long break. Previous to starting Blue Cactus Press, they had also spent six years in the Army.
“A lot of my time in the Army was spent really putting down the feminine side of myself and being rewarded for that,” Vega said.
This combination of being on the front lines of birth and death, opening and closing to masculine and feminine aspects, the difficult dance of compartmentalization, all of this is investigated and named in the poems.
“call my ghosts: the wound- ed femme & drifting macho. I ask them to return to temple. I wait for them on this rotting porch … I split myself w/out knowing, desper- ate to weather a storm.”
“I thought that having a child would make me feel more feminine, but it had the opposite effect,” they said. “I found myself moving through the world and trying to break free of those constraints.”
Vega names that it has only been in the past few months, long after the poems for this collection were written, that the effects of postpartum depression have faded. The still fresh feelings from that time are on display in poems like “ru paul’s drag race, season 1, postpartum”:
“light escapes from my pores & / rests on my blanket. some call it / a quilt. I can’t lift it off. I cry all / over the prayer rug.”
“I showed [that poem] to my friends and they were immediately like, ‘Hey, are you OK?’” Vega said.
As Vega’s mental health experienced something of a decay of its own, both poets felt called to return to the beginning and bring back the theme of decay as a focus.
Together they experimented with breaking down the text itself, creating visual poems that crumble and crawl across pages resembling the thread-like structure of fungi.
As they each worked out the shape of the book, Vega made sure everyone stayed on task while Roberts focused more on the physical production aspect. Roberts would pass it to Vega; Vega would make changes and pass it back.
The return of decay also led the pair to decompose the text further by removing their names from the individual poems. The finished product offers the reader no indication of who wrote what.
“The styles are very different, but I’m excited to see if people can tell,” Roberts said.
When asked about that difference in style, Roberts described Vega’s poems as, “coming from the gut, whereas mine is a little bit more drifty, a little dreamier.”
“For me, when I started the decay, it was more about different ideas decaying into each other … you have a particular idea … your vision of town or the space you want to live in, and that kind of morphs based on what you hear about town, what you’re learning about it … or maybe that old idea about town that you used to have slowly falls apart based on new information,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as a hard edge to any concept,” he added.
While there are no hard edges to ideas, there is a hard stop to how many copies of the book have been printed. With a small run of 108 copies, both poets hope to sell face-to-face, hand-to-hand, maintaining human connection instead of chasing after best-sellers lists.
For those interested in obtaining one of these limited copies, try tracking one down at The Green Room, the combined bar and bookshop at The Castle in Port Townsend, or keep an eye on wintertexts.com/product-page/decay.