Author Joanna Furhman wants your stories!


Joanna Furhman, author most recently of The Year of the Yellow Butterflies, is an accomplished writer and teacher. Here, she talks to us about her writing experience, flash fiction, and her interest in collaborating with other fiction writers.

Rachel Sherman: What inspired the long prose poem / series of flash fictions that is the book's title poem?

Joanna Furhman: I had just finished a version of this manuscript (without the title poem but with some other poems in it) called My Life as an Idea.

I felt a little unfocused and between things.
As a distraction from poetry, I was reading a couple of novels by China Miéville that my husband had given me, and I was just more in a sci-fi mood than usual. I had a dream, the seed of which became the first section of the poem, where I was working as a teaching artist in a new high school and I was wearing a Bozo watch, and somehow the girls thought I was cool because clown stuff was really trendy that year. I started thinking about the idea of trendiness, and it reminded me of one of my favorite John Ashbery poems where he talks about tulipmania in Holland and the way popularity comes and goes arbitrarily. He writes “You must remember that certain things die out for a while/ so
they can be remembered with affection later on" (“Knocking Around” from As We Know). It got me thinking about how things might be awful, but the fact that we have shared memories of them makes us feel connected to one another.

For example, I remember when I was growing up in the 1980s everyone I knew had dreams about nuclear holocausts, and as awful as it was, it bonded us together. So I think trends are awful because they make people feel like we need products that we don’t need, but it also can make us feel joined together as part of a moment in history.

So I wanted to explore that in a series of prose poems / flash fictions.  

RS: How does your blog relate to your book?

JF: When I read the piece “The Year of Yellow Butterflies” at readings, many people said I should write more than twenty. But for me, twenty seemed right. It got me thinking that it would be fun to have more sections; I wanted to see what other people would do with the form and idea. So I created the blog!

RS: What have you noticed from the submissions you have gotten?

JF: I have gotten a lot of very imaginative, vivid pieces. I have included a fair number that are more autobiographical than I originally imagined. I think it’s interesting how ideas transform when you hand them over to other writers. Surprisingly, the stories closest to my original vision are written by young children.  My five-year-old nephew wrote “It was the year people didn't know they had hair. And they didn't know they had mouths. They thought they only had toes.”  I advertise the project as poetry and flash fiction, but I haven’t gotten any from fiction writers yet.

I am hoping to get some more narrative short pieces.

RS: Can you give us some examples of something that someone wrote that you especially liked?

JF: I loved the pieces that Martine Bellen sent. I have only published two of them so far, but will be publishing more later. I love all the wordplay in hers, and her odd list of colors. I also really adored Nada Gordon's prose poem. It has a pathos-filled satiric tone which is what I think I was going for in my own pieces.

To contribute to Joanna's project, click here.

Joanna Fuhrman is the author of five books of poetry,  The Year of Yellow Butterflies (Hanging Loose Press 2015) Pageant (Alice James Books 2009), Moraine (Hanging Loose Press 2006), Ugh Ugh Ocean (Hanging Loose Press 2006) and Freud in Brooklyn (Hanging Loose Press 2000). She is a graduate of the University of Washington’s MFA program, which awarded her the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Joan Grayson Award. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including New American Writing, The Believer, Volt, Fence, Lit, Quarterly West, Conduit, and American Letters and Commentary, and in anthologies published by Soft Skull Press, HarperCollins, New York University, and Carnegie Mellon University. Her poem “Stagflation” won a 2011 Pushcart prize.

She currently teaches poetry writing at Rutgers University and in public schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborate. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband the playwright Robert Kerr.

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