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Enchanting Echoes: An Interview with Lucie Chou, author of Convivial Communiverse

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Lucie Chou is an ecopoet and natural history aficionado. She writes poetry that endeavors to draw from the Romantic tradition to envision the voices and worldings of nonhuman living beings. She has published in the Entropy magazine, the Black Earth Institute Blog, and the Tiny Seed Journal. Her poem, Holy Green, Sweet-Smelling, is included in the Plant Your Words Anthology published by Tiny Seed Press. She also has work forthcoming in Tofu Ink Arts, both in print and online. Residing in mainland China with her beloved houseplants and wildflowers plus their insect and avian paramours, she studies Emily Dickinson, philosophies and artworks about plant-being, contemporary poetry, and Richard Powers’ eco-novels when not taking walks among feral creatures or drafting poems on foot.

You can buy Convivial Communiverse here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It was magic. When I first submitted to Atmosphere Press, the manuscript was put together in a haphazard manner—I just gathered poems I felt worked for me, pasted them into one document, and began parceling them into sections, imposing “themes” on each section and attaching epigraphs to reinforce the thematic elements as I went along. When I thought there were enough pages to make a book, I typed up the table of contents and scrolled back to the top of the document, and, quite naturally, placed the phrase “Convivial Communiverse” on the first page. It turned out that phrase appeared once in one of the poems, but that did not even occur to me when I came up with the title. However, I was extremely grateful for this; the title is a gift. Its potential energy has increased with time.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

My amazing cover designer Ronaldo and his team connected with me and the book’s content and sent me four different options, all equally gorgeous. I had to be reminded of my own obsession with the image of the butterfly! However, I eventually chose the cover with ivy vines half-covering a soft brownish-yellow wall, for its rich metaphysical connotations and the way it leaves readers to imagine what garden, or wilderness, or whatever landscape is hidden behind that partition. I also loved the way the book title was carved into its earthen surface.

Holding the book in my hand, my first reaction was strangely weepy. I received my proof copy the very same day my grandma passed. She had Covid-19. I wrote a long poem on this crazy convergence of events, this making of an unlikely ecosystem in time.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I was first driven toward working with words by the urge to do the hard creative work of making the more-than-human world real for humans. An early activist for our multispecies living world, I felt that things like cultivating an organic garden, being a vegan, or working at sanctuaries mattered, but were not enough. I felt that there needed to be a poetry to relieve the gaining silence of the voiceless without violating their unique privacy. I have endeavored to do that, though can hardly claim to have come near it.

In terms of reading, I draw sustenance from poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, May Swenson, Brenda Hillman, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Ed Roberson, Jorie Graham, and John Kinsella.

I also write ekphrastic poetry and derive creative energy from the philosophy and ecocriticism of Michael Marder, John Charles Ryan, and Prudence Gibson.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was a naturalist as a child. The old-school kind of natural history practiced by wealthy leisured people, droll philosophers, and bright genteel women in the age of Charles Darwin. Actually, I regretted that I was not born as a shadowy sister connecting Shelley and Hopkins, a spiritual companion of Rousseau the botanist-philosopher. That is why you could use a bit lore about the more-than-human world when reading my poems…

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The process of developmental editing. My editor, Trista Edwards, was extremely helpful in giving me a sense of affirmation. Previous to publishing this book, I had no hope for my work having any reader or making meaning in the world. Her assurance that reading my poems did shift her mind toward great understanding for the creatures and environments I write about changed my relationship to my creativity; I began to believe that it was a real, working thing, not a narcissistic illusion I made up.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

I wish I could put on the subsong of brown finches, the drip-drop of tree-blood in the sapwood, wind in poplars, cicadas bowing on their wings accompanied by a little boy playing on his violin, the hush of rain that is not quite rain, and the tiny sliver of silence before a summer day breaks… I would call it The Convivio Symphony Orchestra, the harmonization of grief and joy to enact a kind of aural revelation.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I would like the reader—if I have not done too amiss as poet—to come away from this book wanting to meet the plants, animals, and communities written about or aching to learn their languages. Having, in the words of poet Alice Oswald, “fallen awake.”

I don’t see in my mind a perfect reader, but would be grateful if someone meets a “genuine” living poet in a garden, a wood or a crevice in concrete, say a feral dark-purple columbine flower, and thinks of a line of mine with new synapses firing among his or her neurons.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Mostly just writing new poems. With each writing session, I face the blank page and coax words to ease themselves into that space, stretch, limber up, and take flight. If they respond to my “Wingadium leviosa,” I call that a good day. Meanwhile, putting together a few chapbooks and gestating ideas for a second full-length collection, all on themes of plants, multispecies relationships, place, and eco-spirituality. Not any of these have entered a developmental stage of coherence. I am also practicing a daily routine of haiku writing as mental yoga.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

As an undergraduate student working from a country twelve time zones away, a new author who doesn’t know a thing about query letters and publishing contracts, a young poet with only a couple of obscure journal publications, I must say that Atmosphere Press was my exact right place to submit to. We have brought up this book by overcoming a large assortment of technical difficulties. I will always be grateful for the consideration, expertise, professional dedication, and love for art of all members of the Atmosphere community.

For writers who have a manuscript but feel like an impostor, for young creatives just setting out with portfolios of raw but energetic work tucked beneath bedsheets, I would like to advise you to just send your stuff to Atmosphere Press. You might just find it falling into the right hands, like a carrier pigeon suddenly shaking itself awake in midair, rediscovering its homing instinct, and folding its wings and alighting exactly where it remembered.

You can buy Convivial Communiverse here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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