Taking a Look at Ephemera with Evana Bodiker
Contributing writer Savanah Burns recently interviewed the 2017 Robert Phillips Poetry Chapbook Prize winner and author of Ephemera, Evana Bodiker.
Q: Why did you title your book Ephemera? What statement are you hoping to make?
A: When titling the book, I was initially torn between “Fibrosis” and “Ephemera,” which are both titles of poems from the collection. Ephemera seemed far more applicable to more than one specific theme and more representative of the poems in the book. I also was just drawn to the sound of the word. In a way, I think those same sounds are used and repeated throughout my poems. It also is just a beautiful word. Of course, the word itself embodies a feeling of melancholy; ephemera are things only enjoyed for a short period of time. A lot of my poems can be described as elegiac and melancholic.
Q: There are three parts, how are these parts organized?
A: The first section focuses mainly on the body and chronic illness. A mental exercise in coming to terms with the spiritual and physical implications of having a body that does
not do exactly what you want it to at all times. Section two sort of reconciles relationships with others and how the body, ill or otherwise, affects those relationships. I write very emotional poetry, so the second section has the most turbulent and dark poems of the three sections. And finally, section three is a bit of a love letter. The first poem in that section “Maintenant,” means now (or even more roughly translated “hand holding”), and the section’s poems try to confront the way a person who is chronically ill might come to love someone else, despite the challenges of illness and just being a human. Not just romantic relationships, but eternal friendships and the relationship with self. The last poem, “Pollen Season,” represents the eternal rebirth of the body. I wanted the chapbook to end on an elegiac celebration of life, despite how paradoxical that may sound. I think it’s relatable too; I imagine many go through something each spring, so the season becomes symbol of rebirth.
Q: Does your book have an element of non-fiction to it? If so, would you please tell me more about how your life relates to the overarching themes of health?
A: I have cystic fibrosis, which is a chronic illness I was diagnosed with pretty soon after I was born. The disease affects my lungs and pancreas, as well as cause scarring to all the other organs in my body. Poetry has been a lifeline for me in the sense that it helps me come to terms with some of the less pleasant realities of my illness (including the fact that the average life expectancy for CF patients is 30-40). So yes, I would say about 99.9 percent of the book is non-fiction. I am a confessional poet. I cope with the harder parts of my illness through my writing, just as much as I venerate the beautiful relationships I have or contemplate more difficult experiences I have had.
That being said, I am incredibly healthy for a CF patient and have been for most of my life. Writing has helped me in so many ways, even when I write less positively about illness, because it helps me remember how lucky I am in the present. When I was diagnosed, life expectancy for a CF patient was around fifteen. At fifteen, I ran my first track meet and won my first writing prize. I have beaten quite a few odds over the years and hope to continue to do so for a long time. CF has given me unique experiences and perspectives. After all, not many people get to write about the odd sensation of using a nebulizer.
Q: What was the most difficult part of creating Ephemera?
A: Self-doubt. But, that’s with writing in general! Also, writing poems about specific life experiences is challenging. The eternal question is, “How do I translate the experiences I have had to be universal?” Cystic fibrosis is a very specific illness, but I think finding threads that are common between my chronic illness and trials of any human body—healthy or otherwise—was a challenge for me. But I suppose every poet runs up against the challenge about making unique experiences universal to their readers.
Q: I noticed there are compelling images that get repeated throughout Ephemera. Water, the body, plants, and wings all come to mind. Your repeated imagery strikes me as intentional. Some of these images are allusive and are pulling double their weight. I think you have tried to exhaust these images and their meanings. More impressively, there’s word play within these images. For example, you give us the image of wings, but we see butterfly wings, the butterfly stroke, birds, and lungs. Would you please talk to us about this process and this use of repetition within images?
A: In another life, I would have been a naturalist or an entomologist. I love how intricate insects’ lives are; I am especially interested in lepidoptery. Insects, and birds, but to a lesser extent in terms of emotional resonance, represent ephemerality to me. They are beautiful and important and have a massive effect on the world, but they do not live very long. I can relate with this concept.
I suppose I associate butterflies with CF because growing up, the examination room I would always go to for my check-ups had butterflies painted all over the walls. Have you ever noticed butterflies look a little bit like lungs when their wings are open? Most butterflies only live a few weeks. To me, this is a statement of both their beauty and the sadness about their beauty. They are so precious; they are literally life-givers. Butterflies are life-givers to flowers. Lungs, specifically mine, seem ephemeral.
Of course, I do use these images quite generously throughout the book. While work shopping a lot of these poems, I ran up against the suggestion to step away from using this imagery often. I understood why, but also at the same time, these images represent to me something very different than what a butterfly might typically symbolize in a poem.
Ephemera can also relate to written memorabilia or paper goods that do not last long. Hopefully my Ephemera will do the opposite of that. I’m interested in subversion of expectations, just like the overuse of wing imagery.
Ephemera is coming soon from Texas Review Press.
SAVANAH BURNS is a young poet from Huntsville. She studied English and History at Sam Houston State University, where she completed a short novella for her honors thesis. Her writing has been featured in Beacon, an undergraduate magazine, and HistoricalMX, an online historical journal. Her poem, “Starry Night,” won first prize in 2016 for a college and university contest held by The Academy of American Poets, which included an online publication. She is currently pursuing an M. F. A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry at SHSU. She is a new addition to the Texas Review Press as a graduate assistant, as well as a new addition to the Gordian Review as its poetry editor. She is excited for what lies ahead.