C H L O E H O N U M
i n t e r v i e w
COMP: Congratulations on the publication of The Lantern Room (Tupelo Press, 2022), an extraordinary second collection. Fans of your work will happily recognize a familiar lyric longing (“I could roll over and wrap / my arms around the rain”), but they will also encounter a narrative mode—a fictional speaker, recurring characters, a primary setting (a day ward). How did this project begin and evolve?
Chloe Honum: That’s so kind, thank you. The more continuous narrative mode did feel new to me. The poems are more populated than in my first book, and more porous in the way they frequently let in figures, dialogue, and movement. I liked the sense of spontaneity that gave. The project evolved once I began understanding the tonal complexities. With the recurring figures often in a shared space (the common room), someone would say something solemn, then someone would say something funny, and so on, and I tried to let in all those layers and turns. Especially because the setting can be stigmatized, it was important to me that it felt alive and just thoroughly human. I knew I couldn’t accomplish that in a single poem, so I allowed myself to think in terms of a wider project from quite early on.
COMP: What drew you to the prose poem? Was the form generative? In your opinion, do prose poems facilitate narrative exploration/expansion?
CH: Yes, absolutely. For me, prose poems can feel a bit looser, a bit roomier. I like the look of them on the page, too; they’re familiar and flexible. I also found them to be a good form for rendering a scene because they have a forward motion that allows for exploration while also being cohesive, tying the language together via the unbroken lines.
COMP: When writing The Lantern Room, how did you make decisions regarding part-whole relations? That is, how did you determine whether a poem belonged to a sequence or would stand alone, autonomous, in the same manuscript?
CH: Oh boy, that’s always a mystifying process! I can tell you what I did physically, which was print out the manuscript and carry it with me from coffee shop to coffee shop, library to library, all around Auckland City for weeks! (I was incredibly lucky to finish the manuscript during a writing residency in Auckland, which is where I grew up and my favorite city in the world.) I carried the manuscript around, shuffling it every which way, reading it start to finish, shuffling, trying again, until the sections began to define themselves. Some of the process was intuitive, some of it was reasoned, and some of it was tactile, just spending concentrated time with the physical pages until it clicked into place.
COMP: Your poetry is exquisite; the care and precision of your language is like a membrane holding back, just barely containing, the overwhelming emotions of your subjects. How do you know when you’ve gone too far, or haven’t gone far enough?
CH: Thank you, that’s so meaningful to hear. The gauge of too far versus not far enough is something I’m always calibrating. I know that I want to hold space for vastness, and also to say the thing at heart. If there’s any important piece of knowledge or context that feels left out or obscured, I want to find a way to say it. But even those contextual elements are often in service of getting to a moment where the emotions become clearer. I think clarity—or being able to see something more fully—is the goal, not to tidy or rein in, but to articulate in a way that brings an experience into some unforeknown kind of light.
COMP: We try to avoid the common questions. Considering our love for your poem “What I’m Working on Now,” however, we cannot resist: What are you working on now? How has the experience of The Lantern Room led you to your current work?
CH: I’m glad you asked! That poem was one of the most enjoyable to write because I love thinking about titles, and it was like swimming in possible/tentative/working titles. Right now, I’m working on lyric essays, which I hope to delve into this summer and fall. In terms of how The Lantern Room led to my current work, I think it solidified that while subjects, settings, and forms may change, I continue to be motivated by writing against stigma and shame. I think art is among our most powerful tools in making us feel less alone and freer of shame, and I want to keep learning how I can contribute to that tradition.