Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets who compose typewritten poetry on demand. Co-editor of The Selected Writings of René Magritte, forthcoming from Alma Books next year, she is also the author of seven books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including, most recently, the novel O, Democracy! and the novel in poems Robinson Alone.
TCR: Your poem “La Memoire” is part of a collection about Rene Magritte, his paintings, his wife Georgette, and their Pomeranians (all name Loulou). Tell us about how you started work on this project.
Kathleen Rooney: I’ve been a huge Magritte fan ever since I was a kid and saw his work at the Art Institute of Chicago. Back in July of 2014, I went to the exhibition Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 at the Art Institute with my friend and fellow DePaul professor and Poems While You Wait poet, Eric Plattner. It’s a sort of long story, but as a result of seeing that show, I ended up discovering a long-lost manuscript of the first ever English translation of René Magritte’s Selected Writings. Since then, I’ve been working to bring that book out, and this summer it will be published by Alma Books in the UK, and this fall it will be published by University of Minnesota Press in the States, co-edited by Eric and me, with an introduction by me and a preface by the art historian Sandra Zalman.
In the course of working on this project, I learned a lot about Magritte and his household, including Georgette and their shared series of Pomeranian dogs, all called Loulou. I became fascinated by their unconventional family—they never had kids—and by how much they doted on each other and on their poms, and thought it might be fun to write a book that looked at the work of Magritte through the eyes of the beings who were closest to him. The result is a novel-in-flash/prose poems called The Listening Room, of which “La Memoire” is a part.
TCR: How does this piece reflect your interest in hybrid genres?
KR: The pieces in the book are definitely hybrid, either prose poems or flash stories of 1000 words or less. Something about the small, tightly bordered square and rectangular spaces of the page seemed to work well with the fact that they are all ekphrastic, referring directly to (and titled after) paintings by Magritte. The boundaries of the paper connect to the boundaries of the canvas.
TCR: Georgette seems to have less agency (in this poem) than the dogs or even inanimate objects (windows, paintings, moon, etc). Talk about that choice.
KR: Huh. I don’t think that’s the case, actually, so I can’t really talk about that choice, because it’s not a choice I made. In “La Memoire,” the piece in The Cossack Review, Georgette is depicted as stricken by intense grief at the death of her spouse of almost 50 years, so I suppose that she seems very quiet and sad in her mourning here. But her pieces in the novel are almost always twice as long as Loulou’s pieces and she thinks and speaks and does a great deal. So both she and Loulou have considerable agency, I’d say, as do, as you note, inanimate objects (because one of Magritte’s major themes was that animation of ordinary mysteries and objects).
TCR: Give us the spiel for Rose Metal Press.
KR: Abby Beckel and I co-founded the press 10 years ago in Boston. Our mission is to publish three beautifully produced titles each year in hybrid genres, including prose poetry, flash fiction and nonfiction, image-and-text works, collaborations, novels-in-verse, collage biographies, and other works that combine multiple genres to find new forms of expression. We have an annual contest for flash fiction and nonfiction, and this year, we’re very excited to have Amelia Gray as our judge—you can read more about the contest here: http://rosemetalpress.com/Submit/Submit.html
TCR: And for Poems While You Wait.
KR: Dave Landsberger, Eric Plattner, and I co-founded Poems While You Wait in Chicago in 2011. Since then, we’ve grown to a group of about 22 poets who provide commissioned typewritten poetry on demand. We bring our vintage portable typewriters to public places—flea markets, street festivals, libraries, museums, etc.—and for a $5 fee, we write original poems on subjects of our customers’ choosing. You can find our full schedule and some samples of what we’ve done here: http://poemswhileyouwait.tumblr.com/
TCR: What other projects are you currently working on?
KR: My second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, is coming out with St. Martin’s Press in January of 2017, so I’m working on getting that all wrapped up, and I’m also working on my third novel, a World War I story about a pigeon and a soldier. World War I has always captivated me for how sad and pointless and wasteful it was and how largely forgotten it is nowadays, so it’s been good to learn more about it and try to understand the people and the animals who fought it.