Camonghne Felix on Her Gamification Approach to Collage
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Camonghne Felix is the guest. Her new memoir, Dyscalculia: A Love Story of Epic Miscalculation, is out now from One World Press.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
Brad Listi: The comment that you made about feeling like this is not raw, it’s fully baked, that resonates with me because I think when a book is on the shorter side—this is not a super long book, I don’t know how many words it is, but it’s about 200 pages—and when it when it works in this fragmentary or collage style, I think sometimes that style can trick people into thinking that it either came out in a rush or that it was easy. It’s really hard to write.
Like, uniquely hard for me to put together an absorbing and coherent collage. I don’t know if that was the case for you. I’d imagine. You said you wrote you wrote eight drafts of it, so it’s hard to get it right and to keep the thing holding together and thematically consistent—making sure that it moves through its paces and brings the reader along. I think it can be easier to lose people in a book written in this manner because you’re jumping around a bit and you’re shifting tense. In the third section of the book, you shift tense. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Camonghne Felix: Well, I’ll say that being an avid reader of poetry, I think it was a little easier, just a tad. Really what I did is, in the first two drafts, I just got it all out. Tvery texture that I thought was important, everything that I wanted to see in the book, I got it all out on the page, and then I rewrote it a couple of times to dial the language up. First what I do when I’m writing memoir is I write the line in plain speech, and then I go back, dial it up in the way that I’m trained poetically, which is to, you know, take clauses and make them metaphors, things like that.
Brad Listi: And I should interject and say, for people listening who have not read the book, there is a very strong poetic voice and a very strong poetic flair to your prose style.
Camonghne Felix: Yes. And some people are not going to like that, and that’s totally okay. That was the trouble of calling it memoir. But I’ll get back to that. I dial the line up, and then I go back and I kind of take all of the pages out, lay them out. In this case, I didn’t lay them out because there were too many of them and I didn’t have enough square footage on my floor, but I put them in a couple of different binders and almost like a card game—taking a page out, putting a page in, and seeing if the sequence worked a little bit better, playing with sequence, rereading it, and then being like, ah, this thing should go here, or I forgot about this piece and how it goes here.
Really just gamified it, turned it into a game experience. And that made it—the collaging anyway—feel a lot more fun and a lot less intimidating. It didn’t really feel like I was writing a book as much as it felt like I was putting together a collection. And then by the time I got done with putting together the collection, that’s when I went back and was like, okay, now it’s time to plug the holes and sew up the seams.
Camonghne Felix, poet and essayist, is the author of Build Yourself a Boat, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Poetry, shortlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award, and shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Awards. Her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Academy of American Poets, Freeman’s, Harvard Review, Lit Hub, The New Yorker, PEN America, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere. Her essays have been featured in Vanity Fair, New York, Teen Vogue, and other places. She is a contributing writer at The Cut.