Savannah Brown is an artist when it comes to articulating the overwhelming, with her new collection Closer Baby Closer acting as no exception. Released February 14th as the poet’s love token to the world, this poetry collection offers a simultaneously whimsical and gut-wrenching portrayal of intimacy, vulnerability, and what it is to crave. It is also the first publication of Savannah’s independent press, Doomsday Press.
Described by Phoebe Stuckes as “a ribbon of light”, Closer Baby Closer is Savannah’s third poetry collection and acts as a stunning testament to her command of language. With the subject matter of her poems ranging from one Olbers’ paradox – “the problem of why an infinitely large universe isn’t bright with infinite stars” – to a reconstruction of Jeff Bezos’s leaked sexts, Savannah compels, wows, and holds us close as we venture through her deliciously sultry collection.
Would you be able to start by introducing yourself to our readers?
My name’s Savannah Brown. I’m an American poet living in London. I continue trying to write something good.
So, we’re here to talk about your third published poetry collection, Closer Baby Closer, which released this Valentine’s Day, February 14th! The collection’s blurb describes your work as holding “a magnifying glass to modern intimacy with a lens that burns as often as it illuminates.” In your experience, what do you think are the most distinguishing features of modern intimacy?
Terrible digital overwhelm! Irrational fears made rational! The illusion of connection! Over-access to others’ private worlds!
You also explore the role of digital life within intimate relationships and, perhaps, how we have become desensitised and overexposed to what you describe in Everything is very complicated as “important things.” How do you think Internet culture has affected our perception of these private moments?
Oh, god. I don’t think it’s just affected our perception but has actually changed the nature of the private moments themselves. A partner’s entire past lies waiting for you to analyse. Whether or not you text with capital letters says something about your personality. TikTok pop psychologists tell me that a good relationship should never make you feel anxious while next to them a cartoon man feverishly collects all the coins from a subway tunnel. It’s fucking insane. So much of intimacy is based in communication so of course things feel different when the way we actually communicate has been upended. And all of this is presented to you in a perpetual slideshow seemingly created for the exclusive purpose of highlighting your own insecurities. Like, no wonder we’re lonely. No wonder the punchline to every joke is that we all want to die.
The collection features quotes from various creatives such as Jenny Holzer, Marcelo Hernández Castillo and Caroline Bird. What drew you to these creators and their words?
Well, they all said something I’d wanted to say but in a more articulate way than I could. I’ve been thinking about Jenny Holzer’s “it is in your self-interest to find a way to be very tender” since high school. I was a really sensitive kid and it resonated.
The poems in Closer Baby Closer have incredible scope. You manage to examine both miniscule, everyday moments and the great mysteries of the universe with equal importance. Where do you search for inspiration and where do you find that it presents itself to you?
They are equally important, absolutely, and just as real as each other. That dichotomy in my writing started as this almost apologetic thing of like, it’s ridiculous I’m making such a big deal out of this small betrayal or insecurity or whatever when as we speak some cosmic anomaly is tearing through spacetime on its way to destroy us. But it’s all the same thing, the relative chaos of different realities. When I started writing Closer I was very in love and my emotions were genuinely unmanageable. I felt an over-awareness of everything, not from a place of wisdom but neuroticism. Total delusion. Was engaging perpetual self-sabotage. Whee! I spent most of the time writing the collection being very afraid of many things: humiliation, being tricked, unreciprocated vulnerability. Sometimes you can have a breakdown or write a book and I wrote this.
I wanted to ask you about one of my favourite poems from the collection, Poet (derogatory) in which you mention the various difficulties you experience writing poetry. You even write “I hate poems and myself for writing them.” How do you overcome these creative hurdles and find fulfilment in your writing?
I guess it’s a joke itself that someone so afraid of vulnerability decided to express themselves through an infamously sincere and mockable medium. But no, more than anything poetry has had a profound effect on my life and I think it’s very important, of course. And I take a lot of pleasure in seeing how people respond to what I make. One of my favourite moments as a reader is when an unexpected and profound turn of phrase or idea hits me between the eyes. You can’t get this feeling from your own writing, naturally. So it’s really special to me when somebody mentions they’ve had that experience with something I’ve written. There’s a Franz Wright poem that begins “One of the few pleasures of writing is the thought of one’s book in the hands of a kind-hearted intelligent person somewhere. I can’t remember what the others are right now.”
In the poem My god, girlhood ripened you write “And only people who don’t write die.” This reminded me Louise Erdich’s words, that “By writing I can live in ways that I could not survive.” What is it about the art of writing that permits it this preservative power that other arts perhaps do not possess?
There’s that great bit in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams huddles up all his lads and is like, listen, this is English class, but really it’s about beauty, it’s about seduction, it’s about love, it’s about life, this is what consciousness is. It’s all language. I love writing because it’s so solitary and singular and the clearest view into somebody’s head. I find that inspires a real empathy and awareness of other worlds. But really when I said that I didn’t mean it in like a literature will prevail way. It was more selfish than that: I will not die by making sure I’ve said what I want to. There was a record of me here and this was as clear as I could make it. I’m afraid of being misunderstood.
In the collection’s notes and acknowledgements, you mention that many people told you to change the title of the poem Wilhelm yawp, a combined reference to the Wilhelm scream and Walt Whitman’s “barbaric yawp”. Could you talk a bit about the importance of trusting yourself when it comes to your own creative projects?
More and more I think vision is kind of sacred. I like when expression is totally undiluted. Also, a lot of advice is not super useful. I’m not talking about editing, which is invaluable, but advice, which is just people saying things. Or it’s something they would have done differently instead of something that makes a poem objectively better. People say “I wouldn’t have done that” and you’re like, yeah, exactly. Honestly with that title, I thought, I’m writing ostensibly for people like me. And if I read that for the first time I would have thought it was funny. Becoming successful young and untraditionally led to a real sense of falsity and lack of confidence in my early twenties and now I’m sort of just pushing ahead and seeing what sticks.
I had the privilege of attending the Glasgow performance of The New and Selected Poems Tour that you embarked upon in November 2022! How was it to perform your poetry live, especially those from this collection?
You did! So great! I loved watching people responding to the poems in real time. An ex who inspired a lot of the poems was at the same night you were, and a mutual friend said he spent the whole show digging his fingernails into a wooden beam. What fun!
Something that really stuck out to me when reading the collection and watching you perform was whilst your work is so tender and soulful, it’s also so funny! How do you go about writing humour? Is it intentional or something that you find comes naturally?
It’s like when you stick your finger in your boyfriend’s mouth before he finishes yawning, but the yawn is a laugh and the finger is all my sentimentality. Humour makes sincerity more palatable. Hera Lindsay Bird does this so well.
Closer Baby Closer is also very special as it will be the first publication of Doomsday Press, a London-based independent publisher you founded yourself! The Press’s website says that you “care about writing that explores life’s extremities and books that are designed beautifully and with intention.” Could you tell us a bit more about the press and what we can look forward to seeing from it?
Doomsday came about from a real disillusionment with traditional publishing and a desire to provide a platform for young writers who would have found it difficult to convince other houses of their project’s marketability. It’s been a really fun project. We’re getting ready to announce a pamphlet series coming out this year.
Finally, I’m sure there are many exciting things you are currently working on right now. Except, of course, the highly anticipated release of Closer Baby Closer, what else can we look forward to seeing from you?
I’m always working on another collection. Moving slightly away from the confessional side of things I think. I’m getting bored of myself.