A Conversation with Carly Inghram about her newest poetry collection, The Animal Indoors

Interview by Tiffany Troy

Tiffany Troy: Can you introduce yourself to your readers of the world?

Carly Inghram: My name is Carly Inghram. I am a poet and writer. I am interested in the intersection of nature or the earth—physical things—and the spiritual world.

Tiffany Troy: In one of your poems, you write how the poet creates a woman who never appears in real life, that of a woman dancing for money on the train, as the poet would anything beautiful. How do nature and reality intermingle with each other and inform your preoccupations?

Carly Inghram: Really interesting line that you have pulled out. I do think it’s connected to what I’m saying. Like we can use things in the material world in order to find beautiful, or insert word there or insert object of desire there. Longing, craving, etc. I think we can use physical things in the world to create what is being longed for. The process of making is a very wonderful process, allowing us to create new landscapes and new places that we’ve been wanting.

Tiffany Troy: I found the tension between material and spiritual wealth very interesting in your poems. You have female characters who do not crave for gold, but personhood. The line, “She didn’t want gold like the powerful, she wanted it like the weak” reminded me of the Christian idea of how to be humbled is actually to be powerful. How does that inversion help you underscore the beauty of things beyond the price tag placed on them?

Carly Inghram: Lol at Christianity because that’s very much my upbringing. I feel like as a gay or queer or insert word here woman, I have a strong faith background. I feel some tension there like it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. I still felt like spirituality was alive for me and has always been a part of my life. Maybe strictly to the context of Christianity and maybe more broadly. I still love the practices of Christianity which is beautiful or can be at its core but inversions allowed me to see how in a similar vein, I can create or make truth in a certain way, and maybe we can make truth as we continue to see we are all connected and belong to this world.

Tiffany Troy: In the collection you also bring forward the dancing girl emoji which really roots the poem in the present as opposed to 100 years or 200 years ago. But you also talk about womanhood and gender identities and I feel like the idea of belonging runs throughout history. How do you play with the idea of what is virtual like what can be downloaded and the real?

Carly Inghram: Reading a lot of poets has been useful, because there’s a lot of poets who do similar things or play with language in interesting ways. So I’ve definitely learned a lot from reading. Aside from that, skills I have learned from one of my favorite poets, Morgan Parker, who came to the MFA one time and talked about how she included the Real Housewives in her poems. She did not want anything of her world to be left out from her poems. I thought that was very impactful and that idea stuck with me.

The word “downloaded” is helpful because we, as people have a lot of information that is downloaded. There is a lot of given information via apps or systems that we live in. Via friends or just via everything like living life. There is a lot of downloaded information and part of the process of making that I have learned or inherited is to download that information. A friend just said this to me and it’s been on mind. There is no proper history because history is currently happening and we are in it.

Tiffany Troy: You have a lot of found quotes where the speaker filters what she is hearing. It becomes interior dialogue between the found quote. A lot of the time, the poet disagrees with what is being said. How do the quotes find their way into your poem and how do you transform it?

Carly Inghram: I was really interested in this question because the poet is me and loosely, a lot of the poems are me-based in a way that feels story-based. We are very much in it and we are continually inventing new things about ourselves. So I feel part of me as an invention. In this place in my life, I was realizing that there were parts of me that felt less like they belong to me that belong to us. It’s not like in my present I don’t identify with some of those parts which can feel tricky and it can feel hard to encounter old parts of ourselves because it’s like I don’t want to look at that past. I think that’s part of the tension.

It can be easier for me when I encounter a new person to play and project to them what I am remembering as an old part of myself.

Tiffany Troy: How do you move from the real and the everyday into the metaphysical or mythical, like the rivers, the waves, their paths, drowning and resistance? How do you craft your poems to go into completely different realms?

Carly Inghram: Again, you are very perceptive. Many of my poems are literally moving. I write while walking, on the train, and it is just something that interests me. I used to feel I needed to finish poems in one swoop, and maybe I still do that. When I do finish the poem in a single sitting, I’ll notice that I hit the end of the thought, the end of a story, or the end of what I’m feeling. I will notice that I need a kind of beat or some sort of measure and switch into a new channel. 

In a similar way to repetition, I move in and out into different realms, mostly as a vehicle of sound. My late brother was a musician and I feel a lot of my writing is inherited wealth from him. I aspire to create music the way that he did. A lot of sound play can be useful to me when I have hit a stop. I use repetition as a vehicle to enter a new place.

Tiffany Troy: How else does repetition function in your work, and by that I mean, there is amplification, there is the inversion and there’s also a way in which the number of times a word or even a line is repeated seems meaningful.

Carly Inghram: I was thinking about this question a lot because I feel like it’s related to the sound pattern of how I think but also how I grew up in a certain way.

I can recall my mom just repeating and repeating things when it’s important so a large part is definitely amplification, so if I keep saying it, it’s important. Things that feel meaningful to me or I was surprised by, like I really like. Repetition is useful in poems and in writing but also in real life, in the physical world.

Tiffany Troy: In your work there is a prose poem where you talk about the crayon color, which talks about the actual color of a thing. But it also underscores the poet as a kid before skin color was a thing. Then there’s also the idea of color as an object, as in gold chains. And color as a subject, which is the way society views Black individuals. How does color shape your work?

Carly Inghram: My use of color feels very informed by my brother’s music. He loved the color blue, which was his favorite color. This drew me to using color in my work. As a person of color, I am also aware of color functioning in that way. When I grew up, my mother was white and my father was black. From a young-ish age, I was aware that in some ways I was strange or different. My writing in some ways is always dealing with that. My writing is aware that there’s this tension though: my Black friends tell me I’m not different, there is a feeling of difference I used to feel like I had to contend or battle with.

Nowadays, I like color as another means of creation or making. But there’s also a part of me that’s aware that color has a lot of different meanings for different people and can be really loaded as a topic.

Tiffany Troy: How does womanhood and the idea of approaching it with some trepidation, intersect with the idea of color in your poem? One of the lines from the poem right before your prose poem is “The store I’m in or this world keeps asking me if I want my receipt.”

Carly Inghram: That’s a great question. Finding my identity as a woman or queer woman or Black woman as connected was really useful for me, because it helped me see in my particular experience how other struggles are connected. Understanding and learning that all struggles are connected was really useful information. About the “receipt line”: part of my story at that time was that both of these identities are linked in a certain way to capitalism. In order to be a woman, for instance, they needed me to dress a certain way, I needed to have certain things, I needed to do certain things. All of these things felt very linked to the capitalist system. It was interesting for me to discover that things that I thought were just inherent qualities that belong to me are part of a larger system.

Tiffany Troy: One of the biggest curiosities I had is why would a work so interested in putting to question capitalist ideas also be obsessed with celebrities? I found your framing or take on the celebrities to be the most fun or interesting part of the celebrities section of your work.  How does the idea of celebrity function in your poem and how does that in turn sort of reflect on like the poet as like an individual?

Carly Inghram: I’m super interested in celebrities because all of us experience the pressure to present in a certain way or feeling like there is an audience and how to present to and show up to those people. Like, I want to be liked, I want to be loved even. A lot of it feels tied to social media culture, or something that is literally programmed into us. For that reason, I feel like to be a celebrity and to have an actual audience feels like a really terrifying place to be. I find they can be interesting characters because I think I can often feel like with a literal like no audience, I can feel very viewed in a certain way, and so I think that’s why I like to step into them as characters in the book.

Tiffany Troy: Why the title, The Animal Indoors? Why did you choose the title and how does it help the reader read your poem?

Carly Inghram: I find titling fairly tricky and it’s funny because identity can largely feel a little funny sometimes too. Sometimes the way I title individual poems will have nothing to do with the poem itself. I find titling a larger body of work tricky because I don’t think you can do the same thing. You actually have to find something that is encompassing.

Something that a friend helped me with in my other book was he read through the poems and found a poem and then used a piece of the text to create the title. I did the same thing with The Animal Indoors. I underlined different parts of the book I thought were useful or felt were most important to me at the time then tried to make titles out of them. The Animal Indoors ended up with an interesting title as we all just lived through a global pandemic. 

Tiffany Troy: What are you working on today? Do you have any closing thoughts for your readers of the world.

Carly Inghram: Recently I have been trying to write fiction, which has been fun. I’m going to see how it goes. 

I have a friend of my brother’s who writes music and he shared his album. I was listening to his album and he very honestly shared his whole story. That’s very beautiful. I think there’s power in stories and sharing our stories. Our not as an exclusive our, but I think everyone sharing their stories is very freeing. So I wish everyone can share their story.

About the interviewer: Tiffany Troy is a poet, translator, and critic based in New York.