Keep Her in Your Mouth: Steph Castor Celebrates the Good Times with Her 2nd Poetry Collection
by KRISTINE ESSER SLENTZ
Keep Her in Your Mouth is a forthcoming full-length book of poetry (look out September!) that offers a tender blast to the most prominent orifice. Having had the opportunity to consume a selection from the collection, the affection in each piece is treated as nothing less than a pure emotional delicacy. Steph Castor answered a few questions about the loving themes of this book, her favorite poetic exercises and styles, and of course, Slim Jims.
What was the genius of this chapbook?
Oh, wow. Right away with the heavy hitters! I’m into it. I started writing Keep Her in Your Mouth almost immediately after releasing my first full-length poetry collection in spring 2019. I was going through a very exciting and stimulating yet complicated and excruciating time. A lot of my past writing helped me to deal with the assortment of toxic relationships in my life, and that’s only a recent realization, if I’m being honest. I started cutting ties where I saw little to no effort. I fell in love unexpectedly. I fell in love with a radiant gal who had copper hair, mossy eyes, dancer legs, and a badass lust for food. I started to fall in love with myself. And I fell hard. Life became deeply cinematic and fulfilling once I learned how to relax and lean into experiences with a hunger for perspective. We became aspiring bonnes vivantes. Nothing ever lasts, so this was my attempt to savor the good stuff for a change and write from a place of tenderness and appreciation.
I eventually contacted Thirty West Publishing House in late winter 2019 and pitched a chapbook. They are well-known for their ruination process and beautifully handmade poetry snacks, as I like to call them. Initially, KHIYM was only supposed to be about 25 pages. Josh Dale approached me a few months after signing a contract with a proposal to extend the manuscript into a perfect bound full-length poetry collection, making it the final TW release for 2020.
You have a specific style and voice in Keep Her in Your Mouth. Can you tell me who influences your writing both overall and for the book?
I really like hearing that. I do have my share of favorite poets including Buddy Wakefield, Fatima Asghar, Andrea Gibson, Tristan Silverman, Jeanette Powers, etc. Stylistically speaking, I’ve always been more influenced by writers like Dorothy Allison. I tend to be very anecdotal and conversational while addressing some of the more difficult and internalized feelings associated with queerness and exploration of attraction and identity. I sexualize food and fixate on landmarks. I try to recreate experiences using exposition as the core, peppering in some quotes or dialogue, and painting the rest with all of the intense and sticky sweet feelings. I often use flowers, food, and colors as placeholders for people.
What’s a poem in this collection you’d like to encourage the reader to spend a little more time with and why?
The poem “Shibari” was the last piece I wrote. It is short and subtle, but I feel that it really packs a lot in. Shibari is the art of Japanese rope tying – a highly respected practice in the BDSM community. I started learning more about it to assist a friend with a photo shoot idea she had. I developed a pretty strong appreciation for it. The poem pays respect to the idea of restraint, trust, openness, and surrendering the need for control.
Can you speak more on the erasure pieces? What drew you to use that form for this project?
The erasure pieces were both done at an all ages poetry slam I helped coordinate in Tacoma, Washington. I was on tour in support of Bedroom Music and was featuring at Real Art Tacoma. A local queer youth empowerment group tabled at the event, and they setup three DIY button makers, stacks of torn pages from assorted paperbacks, and a shitload of sharpies. The erasures were a special and memorable part of my workshop participation with the kids and actually hung on my ex-girlfriend’s fridge for ten months. They made it into the manuscript for that very reason.
Tell us about the Slim Jim art!
I worked at the front desk in a tattoo shop while I wrote most of KHIYM. I started doodling a lot. I’ve accepted that I’ll just never be a tattoo artist, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I was looking for new things to keep me occupied when I moved into my own apartment in February, and I thought it would be cool to try visually representing the poems I had written thus far. I knew the girl I loved would frame it if I gave it to her; So, I suppose it was a way to hang on her wall for a little longer.
There’s a few recurring literary devices throughout the book, for example, repetition in “Resistance (Goes Bump in the Night)” with lines like: “She is platinum. / She is platinum.” Can you explain the use and importance of one of these devices as a driving force at work here? And which one is your all-time favorite (if you have one)?
I like that repetition drills certain words, phrases, objects, and moments into your head. It’s sort of my way of capturing fixation. Like, if I was talking to myself out loud and felt really anxious, repeating something three times might indicate being caught in a mental loop. It’s like being stuck and ramming into a door until threshold busts. I’ve also used repetition to emphasize feelings of euphoria or strong sexual energy. Again, saying the words out loud in a paced and silky manner – it’s like a concoction. It becomes decadent and is reminiscent of gyrating, stroking, or swirling melted chocolate. I’ve learned that even just the execution of repetition can be super visual.
What writing exercises help the most in your process? How did those practices manifest for this project?
I always love to have my friends choose five random words for me and assign a topic. The more specific, the better. Or, I’ll have someone choose a title for me. There are a few poems that played with exercises like these, but I challenged myself to write more form poems in this collection. [For example,] “Slim Jim” is a pantoum and “Moss” is a villanelle. It all definitely contributes to the silly and nonsensical nature of certain pieces. The strict rules of form poetry help to kind of reel back in and reassess other pieces that might have lacked direction or cohesion.
What do you hope the reader will take away the most from Keep Her in Your Mouth?
I hope that readers can have a serious conversation with themselves about leaning into experiences and embracing the scary and unexpected. Say yes to everything at least once, whatever that means for you. Feel everything. Enjoy a meal together. Don’t be afraid of reflecting, but don’t live in it. Love on your own terms, but show up for yourself first. Learn how to come back to yourself.
KRISTINE ESSER SLENTZ is a queer, experimental poet from northwest Indiana and the Chicagoland area. She is a Purdue University alum who double-majored in English literature and creative writing. Recently, she earned her MFA in creative writing (poetry) at City College of New York where she is an adjunct professor and an organizer of the MFA Reading Series. Some places her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming include Yes Poetry, Moonchild Magazine, The Shallow Ends, Glass Poetry, Pink Plastic House, Barren Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Philosophical Idiot, and Flying Island Journal where she was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize.