Little Masticated Darlings: An Interview with Lannie Stabile

Little Masticated Darlings, by Lannie Stabile. Wild Pressed Books. December 5, 2019.

Alexandre Ferrere: Little Masticated Darlings blends two genres that are not usually encountered together: poetry and crime novel. One can read on the first page “this work is based on true events”—could you explain?​

Lannie Stabile: I’m a big fan of both poetry and true crime, so it was a pleasant surprise when they intersected. What isn’t pleasant, however, is the true part of it all. LMD is based on somewhat of a “family friend,” who, as we all found out, raped and murdered two boys in the eighties.

AF: What was your writing process for this chapbook? How did you work on it?

LS: Once I got all the research nestled in one place, I siphoned out what I thought were the crucial pieces of the story: Kenneth Myers and Shawn Moore, the sentencing, the location, the moment I discovered my connection to a murderer. And, slowly, I started to build.

AF: Your chapbook succeeds in counterbalancing what is usually seen as impersonal in news report. How did you cope emotionally during the process of writing?

LS: Strangely, I wasn’t that emotionally attached while writing; I managed to compartmentalize quite well during the process. I think the toughest part was deciding to write it all. And the research. You can only read the same man-rapes-boy-man-kills-boy story so many times before you’re forced to step back and take a breather.

AF: The dedication of your chapbook reads “For the darlings”—to what extent is your work both a catharsis and a homage?

LS: I would venture a fifty-fifty split on this. The story called to me because I have somewhat of a personal stake in it. I was sitting around with this fat, guilt-filled gut because my family knew this guy, this killer. And there are books, articles, documentaries, TV movies, Wikipedia pages, etc, telling a million other victims’ stories, but no one has told Kenneth Myers and Shawn Moore’s story yet. Not really. I thought a book of poems might be a healing way to do it.

AF: Your use of different poetic forms is insightful and really gripping. Among other visually relevant forms, the reader comes across a found poem and an acrostic poem. It gives the impression of a poetic puzzle of memories. Why was it important for you to use various forms? What is your relationship with forms in your writing in general?

LS: I’m glad you picked up on the puzzle aspect because that’s exactly what the discovery of it all meant to me. It started with a photograph, then a name, then an article in the Livingston Daily Press, and so on. No one in my family was very forthcoming, so I had to piece it all together. Using various forms helped me present the reader with a similar mystery. In general, I really like to experiment with different ways to let the poem breathe. Does it work better in couplets? Prose? Scattered all over the page? Does this alignment work? It depends. Sometimes, I know how I want a piece to look, but most times, I have to play around until it feels right.

AF: In this chapbook, and in your other works as well, memory seems to be one central topic. How do you regard the relation between memory and your poetry?

LS: Oh wow. I’ll be honest; I used to worry about recalling things perfectly or being absolutely precise for a poem. I remember talking to a buddy about how I couldn’t say Ron Bailey rocked me to sleep because he didn’t. In fact, he was in prison before I was even born. The first and only time he held me was during visitation, and I was three or four years old. But that friend reminded me it’s my story, and I’m allowed to take creative liberties for the sake of art.

AF: Is your present work a way to “masticate” your past?

LS: I think that’s an excellent way to put it. Chewing thoughtfully on old work, siphoning the nutrients from it, and eventually disposing of it to create something new.

AF: Little Masticated Darlings is a subjective and intimate take on a wider context that has been made partly public. How did you manage to work with public material and personal history?

LS: I gotta’ say balancing the two things was tricky. I really didn’t want to step even a single toe into any libellous territory, so I focused on facts. What happened to the boys? What were the details? What was going on in the world then? When I ventured into more speculative waters, I made sure to talk about my own feelings. Feelings can’t be wrong.

AF: In a sense, you wrote a useful chapbook that shows how memories could be transcended through a creative process. The result is a mosaic of thoughts, facts and imaginative fragments that unveil a personal fresco—How is this chapbook echoing to your other works?

LS: While I was working on Little Masticated Darlings, I also started writing a micro chapbook on Zeus and his...let’s call them escapades. Zeus is just this super shitty guy, and I don’t understand why people see a serial rapist as anyone to idolize. Working on a book that’s based in truth, however, made me realize that what Zeus really needed was an injection of personal stories of guys who refuse to take no for an answer. Once I personalized the horror, it took on a life of its own. What started as a micro-chapbook has turned into a full manuscript.

AF: One of your poems is entitled “What do you say about a crime that happened before you were born,” and your chapbook is somewhat a response to that question. To what extent would you say that poetry is a tool to overcome trauma and, in the case of your chapbook, to overcome what you call “the transference of sin”?

LS: What an insightful question. Thank you. The moment I saw the photo of me and Ron Bailey, I couldn’t shake off this heavy, wet raincoat of a feeling. I kept thinking, “Holy shit. I’ve been held by a serial killer. His hands have been on my skin.” And what does that even mean? Is there such a thing as evil osmosis? Finally, I knew I had to write out those unshakable thoughts. I’d like to flatly state that talk therapy is a wonderful tool; don’t leave home without it. But creative outlets are a real thing too. Sometimes, we don’t know how we’re truly feeling until it’s on paper or on a canvas or in a song. In my case, I’m finished. I finished the book, and I’m finished wondering if I’m a bad person simply because a bad person once touched me.

AF: Reading your chapbook, I thought about this quote of Richard Eberhart: “Death poems are as good as life poems because they are also life poems, written in flesh and blood.” Would you agree, in the case of your chapbook, that your death poems are also life poems?

LS: Absolutely! The main purpose of the chapbook was to tell the victims’ stories. These were kids trying to enjoy their summers. They were riding bikes and drinking ice cold sodas and living their young lives. Yet all we can talk about is the tragedy. About their deaths.

AF: Eberhart adds: “Poetry embraces the moment as it flies”. Is your chapbook a way to rewrite the moment that flew?

LS: I wouldn’t say that. Is the moment intended to be seen at a different angle? Yes. Is the reader expected to absorb certain details that were overlooked previously? Of course. But the facts are still there. I just went through the stories with a yellow highlighter.

AF: You end your chapbook with a piece entitled “Maybe it isn’t my story”—the syntax you use in this poem underlines your distance with this story. Yet, the overall form of the poem is rectangular, neat, and conveys a sense of inclusion. This paradoxical aspect of your work seems to echo your own mental state about this story. Would you regard your chapbook as a kind of exploration or unveiling of this uncertainty?

LS: I’ve been back and forth a hundred times. Sure, I’ve met Ron Bailey, and, yes, my family was close to him. Hell, my brother called him Daddy. But is it really my story to tell? In the end, I decided that distance was exactly why I was able to write the pieces. I could memorialize these boys with a higher level of understanding and empathy than the common true crime junkie, and I could excavate my own feelings about my connection with the boys’ killers, but I could do so safely - without dredging up difficult, traumatic memories. That’s probably a bit selfish, but it was necessary.

AF: Has the writing of this chapbook partially resolved this question of whose story is it?

LS: At the heart of it all, it will always be Kenneth Myers and Shawn Moore’s story. I just helped them tell it.

AF: What are you currently working on?

LS: I’m doing finishing touches to a manuscript that intersects Zeus’ non-consensual sexual antics, the men who idolize him, and personal stories of sexual harassment and assault. I’m calling it “Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus.”

Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, often says while some write like a turtleneck sweater, she writes like a Hawaiian shirt. A finalist for the 2019/2020 Glass Chapbook Series and semifinalist for the Button Poetry 2018 Chapbook Contest, Lannie's first published collection, "Little Masticated Darlings," is now out with Wild Pressed Books. Individual works are published/forthcoming in Frontier, Entropy, Pidgeonholes, Glass Poetry, and more. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of the MMPR Collective. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee.

Alexandre Ferrere is 30 and lives in Cherbourg, France. After a Master's degree in Library Sciences and a Master's degree in English Literature, he is now working on a PhD. on American poetry and little magazines. His fictions, interviews, essays and poems have appeared in dozens of magazines, online and in print. He is editor and review manager at Trio House Press. His experimental poetry chapbook, entitled mono / stitches and handmade by artist Sara Lefsyk, is available at Ethel Press (2020). Twitter: @bluesfolkjazz.