Ice Queen Interviews Remi Recchia
Purchase Remi's book, Quicksand/Stargazing from Cooper Dillon Books today!
Ice Queen: So tell me about these poems. What were you thinking about when you were writing them? What inspired them?
Remi: Well recently I've been trying to get into humor, because I noticed a while ago that– I thought I was writing these really hysterical poems that no one was really laughing at– which turned out to be a problem. And I was trying to get into odes, and not even in an ironic way. Just to be like, Here's an ode to something ridiculous, and/or Here's something that I'm sort of laughing about at myself. But for some reason, I was having a hard time connecting to audience.
So with "Dear Hiring Committee" I was still trying to make a direct address to someone, but I thought a different approach would be to make an address to someone who's sort of a character. So, the hiring committee—it's not really an audience, but by having that as the title, the audience has to be the hiring committee. I was exploring that connection between speaker and audience. Something else I've been writing about thematically has been alcoholism and addiction, so I was trying to marry that humor and addiction theme together.
Ice Queen: Yeah, I thought it worked. And I thought it was—it was funny as well. I don't know if you know my friend, Adrian Sobol. He's brilliant and does a lot of humorous poetry. We went to the MFA together, and he would write what he felt were these really funny poems that we'd all read and just say, Adrian, that's so sad! In a way, "Dear Hiring Committee" felt like that for me.
Remi: I think it can be really difficult because senses of humor are so individual. In my MFA, which was several years ago now, I wrote this little series of knock-knock jokes. And I think that my cohort was sort of—we were all very weird poets, so they helped me make them a little bit more surreal, staying away from a traditional knock-knock set-up. But ... none of those have ever been picked up for publication. [Laughs]
Ice Queen: Tell me about, "It's a 'Sorry, We Missed You' Kind of Day."
Remi: I've been writing– so, on the flip side of humorous poems for, I think, a few weeks, I was also getting a little too dark. And so I was trying to step back from that darkness. So, "Dear Hiring Committee" is not based on real life. It's a persona. There are related themes, but the speaker's not me. I wanted to try a different perspective this time. So this is really just based on a very real disappointment of attempting to get Starbucks, and Starbucks being closed, and it being very disappointing. Which is not a typical entry point to my work. I really like to fictionalize much more. And then I was just trying to have fun with it. I wasn't really sure how I felt about the poem in the first place.
Ice Queen: I loved it. It was, it was one of those things where I sort of—I don't know. It was funny, but it was also one of those things where it was like, okay, it was just one of those days where you wake up and everything's sort of... wrong, and it's going wrong. But then at the end of it, it's kind of funny. But it's also very. much. not, and I wouldn't call it like a tragedy by any stretch, but it definitely felt more... melancholy for me, I guess, than the first poem. You know, like the first poem was humorous, but I would call that one more of a tragedy. [Laughs]
Remi: Yeah! [Laughs]
Ice Queen: That one, that one got me. Cause I feel as if everyone has been job searching for, you know, years at this point. So the first one was a little hard. It was hard to read in a very personal way, because even though it is not you, I feel like it is a lot of people. I think that's why it attracted me in the first place. Cause I was like, this is everyone at the moment! They were both just really good and exactly kind of what I was looking for in the way they talk about food. And really it's not about food, but it is definitely a very strong through-line throughout it.
Remi: You know, I appreciate that. And I was thinking about what you're saying about tragedy and how it's not quite the same level of tragedy… but there's this movie that I really love. I don't usually like Steve Carell, but he plays a more serious role in something called Dan in Real Life.
Ice Queen: I have the image of him, like on the [imitates lying face on a stack of pancakes].
Remi: Yeah! So that's my favorite movie. I watch it once or twice a year, and there's this very memorable scene in which everything is going wrong for him. He's in love with his brother's girlfriend who turns out to be his soulmate, and he's trying really hard to work with his children and make his nieces and nephews happy. First they tried to go to a whale museum, and it's closed. Then they go to a bowling alley, which is also closed. There's this line that my wife and I quote to each other when things are going wrong. And it's, "There are disappointments in life, some big and some even bigger." [Laughs] That's always stayed with me. And that's what I'm thinking about when I'm writing these poems.
Ice Queen: Yeah, no, that's perfect! There's no such thing as like, oh, I was only disappointed like a little bit. Like, just for example: in "It's a, 'Sorry, We Missed You' Kind of Day," if I had gone to Starbucks after all of those relatively minor things happened thinking, I just want this stupid little drink, and I'd gone there and it was closed that would have ruined my whole day.
Remi: Yeah, it does sometimes! It really does.
Ice Queen: So my next questions are, still writing, but it's about food obviously, cause we're a food writing magazine! So what made you choose the recipe that you did, "Surprise Muffins?"
Remi: Well, I suppose it's the one recipe that has stuck with me from my childhood. I don't do a lot of cooking or baking, and I have a very fraught and complicated relationship to food. So when I was thinking of a recipe, I felt like, well, I don't have anything that I like to make because my wife is nice enough that she makes the food and I do all the dishes. So it's an equal give and take, but it's definitely less creative on my end. Anyways, my mom used to make those muffins, and I felt like they did fit in thematically with the cookies and the hiring committee poem, if only because they're both baked goods. But then, also—for some reason, in high school my mom and I started referring to them as “sacrifices.” I think because we watched … I think it's Madagascar. Or The Lion King. I don't know which movie this is, in which there are little henchman creatures telling their boss who might eat them that he looks skinny, so he should have another sacrifice to dissuade him from eating them. And for some reason we started calling them sacrifices. So when we were hungry, we would say we needed another sacrifice. And I don't know. I mean, the idea of sacrifice is sort of related to disappointment in its own way.
King Julien in Madagascar 2, speaking of sacrifices.
Ice Queen: So would the sacrifice then be if you got one of the muffins without the jam inside?
Ice Queen: Maybe it's all sacrifice! So you said you don't really cook or bake— so did you not go through the poet or the, you know, the “writer baking period” during COVID? I mean COVID is still ongoing, but during quarantine?
Remi: You know, I tried. I tried to make banana bread.
Ice Queen: Of course! [Laughs]
Remi: It was a struggle because I have a gluten allergy, so we found a mix or something and— I suppose I felt a little sheepish, because I wanted to put walnuts in the banana bread, but I didn't chop them. And so I put entire raw walnuts in the banana bread.
Ice Queen: So did they just sink?
Remi: Yeah! Right. So it got out of the oven and it really wasn't what I was expecting or what I wanted to eat. My wife tried to be really nice and she was like, Oh! You put them in whole, like, that's, that's so creative! [Laughs] But it was really, you know, not something I wanted to do again!
Ice Queen: I did actually make a gluten-free banana bread! If you just like, grind oatmeal up in like a mixer, it's the same thing as oat flour. I made banana bread out of that. It came out not as sturdy, obviously, as any other bread is going to, but I feel like if you supplemented the oats with maybe just like a standard gluten-free flour that might, that might solve some of that issue. But then also the oats just add something really nice, I think, to banana bread. So if you ever want to give it a go again, I've got the recipe for you!
Remi: [Laughs] Maybe in the next pandemic!
Ice Queen: So would the sacrifice muffins be your favorite family recipe?
Remi: I think so. I think they're very fun. It's a very joyous and playful thing to make. And if I have to be in the kitchen, then might as well have some fun with it.
Ice Queen: Can you remember the first time you ever had them?
Remi: Oh, I must've been very young. I mean, young enough so that I didn't really understand the logistics— I probably just thought it was magic. Uh so, four or five?
Ice Queen: That's a long time for something to be in the family, without it being like, you know, a "family recipe." That's awesome.
Like I said before we started, I don't have it [by it she means her life, her interviewing skills, etc] all down yet! I'm trying to get it more sort of like Inside the Actor's Studio, where you've got like, the set questions. I'm not there quite yet though, so … what is your favorite food show? Do you even watch any food shows?
Remi: Okay. [Takes pause] I have a horrible confession.
Ice Queen: Oh my gosh, okay.
Remi: Okay. So food shows make me very angry.
Ice Queen: All of them?
Remi: [Laughs] For some reason, the idea of sitting and being held hostage and watching someone else make food… I mean my blood pressure is already raising. Okay, and so I would say that I don't watch them, but I'm married. And in marriage one must make sacrifices. So, word of the day! And she really enjoys the Great British Baking Show.
Ice Queen: Ohhh, I love that show!
Remi: And you know, I like her, she likes that show. So sometimes I watch it and keep my anger inside.
Ice Queen: Have you ever given Chef's Table a go? It's not a competition. It's these documentaries on chefs and how they came to be, and it pretty much just shows you their famous dishes in this very, very pretty way. So it's— it might be something that your wife likes, but it might be something that you can watch as well! Cause you're not watching them baking or cooking, you know? It's, it's really just about: how did you get to this very elite status of cooking? It just goes through all of their career and life, and they have food critics and friends that talk about them. And it's, most of all, it's beautifully shot.
Remi: [Listening politely while Ice Queen drones]
Ice Queen: So a lot of these places are the “top 50 restaurants in the world” kind of place. Or they're so off the beaten path that it's like, it's not really a restaurant. You just have to know this particular nun [She means Jeong Kwan] and she invites you to dinner with her. It's like, oh, okay. That's amazing. Other than that, I'd say, give School of Chocolate a try. It is a competition, but no one gets sent home and it's all about chocolate sculpting. I don't know if you've ever seen that guy on Facebook [She means Amaury Guichon] who does, like, the gigantic chocolate sculptures of pterodactyls and all that kind of stuff?
Remi: I don't know. I mean, it sounds cool!
Ice Queen: Yeah! It's super cool. I mean. And like I said, it's a competition, but it's really, it's a school. So it might be something that you could maybe not hate.
I'm not sure if this would be connected to your hatred of cooking shows, but: what are your favorite food scenes, specifically animated food scenes?
Remi: Oh, you know, I did just watch Encanto and there's the mom character who could heal people with food. I thought that was very enjoyable. There's a moment where the dad's— I think he gets stung or something, like, his face is all puffy. And she puts some food in his mouth and then you get to watch his ears and nose deflate. I thought that was lovely.
Ice Queen: I mean— and how food can be healing as well, but in a more literal way for them… I love food scenes in movies. But it infuriates me in the same level that you get infuriated just by cooking shows: watching something like Home Alone, when he sets up his dinner and then he doesn't touch any of it. Or just in TV shows where the parents sticks this, like, buffet breakfast, you know, and the kids run out with a glass of orange juice and like a bite of pancake and they're just, Gotta run! And I'm just sitting there thinking, what? Never in my life would I have done that! I would have been like, oh, I'll be late. I'll be late for school, no problem!
Remi: Yeah, it's very, I mean, it seems very wasteful. But probably also unrealistic. If you're going to put that much time in, because I have noticed that in shows or movies, you're making, you know, an entire feast! And then you don't, you don't eat it!
Ice Queen: It was unrealistic on the parents' part as well. This is a weekday. Why are you making French toast and pancakes and waffles and scrambled eggs? You know, like, why are you doing all this?
Remi: [Beginning to wonder where this interview is going but being game nonetheless] Oh, I also enjoy in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast is attempting to eat in a polite manner. That one's good too.
Ice Queen: I always wondered what was it they were eating? Is it porridge?
Remi: In the live action remake, which I have seen maybe five or six times, it's tomato soup. I don't know if that's the original. I bet it's not.
Ice Queen: In the animated version there was a little sugar container, like, putting sugar in it. Yeah. And I think there was a milk saucer or something too? So I was wondering if it's like porridge. I don't know! I say this word.I don't know what porridge is! I've never had porridge. I'm assuming it's close to oatmeal.
Remi: I would say it's a combo of oatmeal and grits.
Ice Queen: Okay. Gross. For me, all I can think is that’s like people who put sugar in grits. Which is just, that's the incorrect way to do so. I'm on record at this moment in time: If you put sugar in your grits you are incorrect. Grits are savory. That's it. [Pauses, remembers this is supposed to be an interview and not a soapbox] What would you say your relationship to food in your writing is?
Remi: In my writing? Oh man. You know, I don't think it's something that I do consciously when I'm writing. I think that when I'm teaching writing, I'll encourage students to put food in because it's something tangible that they can do. You know? So you do this activity where you'll have them write down one thing of each of the senses. Something you can taste… and they'll say like a cheeseburger, or chocolate, which is fun. But. It's not something that comes naturally to me. I suppose if I wrote something and then wanted— in later revision— wanted food to symbolize something I could stick in food as some sort of metaphor. And I have a friend in my program, her name is Courtney Lund, who writes a lot about food. So I always love reading her poems.
Ice Queen: Yeah. I'll just read someone's latest piece online when it comes out, and so many times people are writing about food, but I don't necessarily think they're conscious that it's happening. And it was just such an interesting thing to me. Cause that's always, when I read it, it's sort of like a little joy to read. It's always a highlight of the piece. There is a certain joy there I think that people get that maybe, you know, it is something tangible that you can just hold on to. You remember. So when you're writing it down, and it's very easy to come out on the page— it's always there. And that's sort of why I wanted to start this magazine. Because I feel like, I dunno. It deserves a little more shine. It deserves a little more: Notice what you have done here!
Remi Recchia is a trans poet and essayist from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is a Ph.D. candidate in English-Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. He currently serves as an associate editor for the Cimarron Review and Reviews Editor for Gasher. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Remi’s work has appeared or will soon appear in Best New Poets 2021, Columbia Online Journal, Harpur Palate, and Juked, among others. He holds an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University. Remi is the author of Quicksand/Stargazing (Cooper Dillon Books, 2021).
Erin Armstrong has an MFA from CU-Boulder, is the editor-in-chief of Ice Queen Magazine and the managing editor of Gasher Press. Her works are forthcoming or published in The Citron Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Banango Street, New World Writing and elsewhere.