Before this interview, my interactions with C. Cimmone were limited to random Twitter comments and a back-and-forth email conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of Versification who regretfully admitted the work I sent was not quite the right fit but continually encouraged me to send another piece and another and another. Unfortunately, nothing of mine was picked up by the magazine, but the exchange left a warm spot in my heart for this caring and encouraging editor. Which means, when Femme Salvé Books asked Barren Magazine to do an interview with the author of their newest release TORN UP, I jumped at the chance.
TORN UP is a difficult read, in the sense that it broke my heart a little with every page. But, as someone who has been touched by addiction and mental illness, it was a necessary read. I admire Cimmone for her courage, resilience, and transparency. And I feel lucky to have had the chance to ask her a few questions about her scars.
Barren Magazine: Recently, you had a milestone birthday. It’s a strange time to be turning 40. I personally would be glad my friends couldn’t drag me to an Applebee’s and surround me with deep-fried appetizers and those black over-the-hill balloons. How did you celebrate?
C. Cimmone: A perfect birthday celebration would have been a full day of thrifting in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, with everything going on, I was at home binge-watching Mad Men (again) and writing weird poem ideas on scratch paper.
BM: You’re the Editor-in-Chief at Versification, a literary magazine devoted to micro works. As someone who is primarily a poet, I homed in on the submission guidelines of poetry, which is a single poem of five lines or fewer. I’m curious what one of your favorite micro-poems is.
CC: My favorite micro-poem is “September 3rd” by Kenleigh Gilbert (from our November 2020 issue) – I wonder if she would be surprised to know this!
I’m always drawn to poetry about mental health, but this one carries an extra vibe – maybe musical in nature because it really has a great rhythm, especially when read aloud. The line, “I’m shaking my pill bottles to make music” really hit me hard when I first read it. The poem itself just really stuck with me; I often hum “riverside can you hear me” when I see the word “Riverside” on TV or in print.
by Kenleigh Gilbert
Riverside can you hear me?
I’m shaking my pill bottles to make music,
Asheville do you see me, am I real?
I’m sitting in courtyards at night just to feel
BM: For those who don’t know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is also when your chapbook, TORN UP, about mental health and addiction, is being released by Femme Salvé Books. Can you tell me why this was an important story for you to write? Was it a compulsion, more of a guided and intentional creation, or something else?
CC: For several years, my life was very chaotic, and I was truly in “survival mode.” My mental health was at its worst ever – I was struggling to function on a very basic level and my emotional support system was at a bare minimum. I didn’t have anyone in my life who had experience with my situation, so I felt lost and hopeless.
When I was finally able to see a professional, I was treated with some intense medications that made my mental state worse. Anytime you are suffering, and the treatment fails, that only adds to the problem; and as a result of all of this, my grief and depression was compounded exponentially.
I was lucky enough to find a few people that helped pull me out of that. Because I’ve dealt with mental health issues my entire life, I understand and empathize with anyone struggling; and after dealing with the death of a loved one who fought addiction, I have an even further understanding of other components of depression and grief.
The pieces in TORN UP were all crafted during this specific time of my life, so it was easy to identify a common thread when pulling a collection together.
BM: Femme Salvé Books, an imprint of Animal Heart Press, rescues titles released from their publication contract. Obviously, you don’t need to name the press, but would you like to talk about what happened to put your book in a situation of “rescue?”
CC: My poetry was truly rescued by Femme Salve and I am thankful every day for this! The staff here is amazing and I’ve really enjoyed working with Amanda McLeod.
I was originally in contract with a familiar press, but ultimately, I felt it was not the perfect home for my work. I struggled with the thought of pulling the contract – realizing my work may never be published. I was anxious beyond belief, so one day I just decided to pull the trigger and sent over a retraction letter to the publisher.
I immediately felt better after pulling the contract; and that was my sign that I had done the right thing. I was sad about losing the opportunity, but I knew in my gut it just was not the right publishing house for me. That same day, I posted online that I had pulled my deal with a press and in about a week, Beth Gordon had reached out to me and I had an offer from Femme Salve. Once I started working with Amanda, I knew I had made the right decision.
BM: It seems the chapbook begins and ends with pieces of flash CNF. Both pieces are so different from the rest of the content, which is lineated. Was this intentional? Why?
CC: This was Amanda’s idea, and I think it’s a great structure. The opening piece is a warm welcome for the reader (not too intense) and sets the tone of the book. The final piece was something I had written and sent it over to Femme Salve while we were still getting the manuscript finalized. It’s a piece that haunts me and has received an intense emotional response from readers. I think ending the book with this flash CNF puts the final nail in the coffin for readers wondering how I’m still mentally dealing with everything mentioned in the book.
BM: In “Wild And Filthy,” you wrote, “Soap and dull razors dissolve a woman.” Do you agree with this statement? What other kinds of things dissolve a woman?
CC: I think the things that “dissolve” a woman are external pressures and expectations that we end up putting on ourselves.
I’ve always struggled with adhering to society-driven beauty expectations. Unfortunately, most of this uncertainty came from constantly comparing myself to young girls my age who were having Mary Kay birthday parties and wearing dresses in the 80’s. I was never attracted to those things and there was also some pressure from my mother about being “pretty.”
I’ve rarely felt pretty or sexy, even as an adult. Now that I’m older, being a woman is more about the connections I’ve made with myself. I’m finally comfortable with my body and sexuality and at peace with the individual understanding and exposition of myself – although, I will admit that I do still struggle in makeup stores! If I need mascara, I usually just order it online.
BM: I keep thinking about your recurring use of dirt and dirty. I noticed it in the poems, “Muse,” “Second Date,” and “When He’s Been Drinking,” to name a few. TORN UP is about addiction and grief and coping mechanisms. What kind of misconceptions do you think people have about this kind of dirt?
CC: Since I was a kid, I’ve always been characterized as “different” or “wild.” I’m used to being the one with the weird ideas, taking things too far, and making impulsive decisions. Being a little rough around the edges adds fuel to the fire, but when you add in drugs/addiction society often takes a few steps back. I think the term “dirty” for me represents those of us on the outskirts of society, sort of doing our own thing, fucking up and admitting it, and proudly running with the underdogs.
BM: The poem “8:05 am” describes a day of survival. Our world is a bit bleak right now. What does your survival routine consist of these days?
CC: That day of survival was based on those feelings we have a few days after someone has died – nothing matters and there are no rules.
There was a period of time right after he died that I had no rules – I was doing some pretty unsavory things.
I still struggle with everyday life, but my survival routine consists less of narcotic scraps and more of Netflix therapy, Tik Tok videos, restoring old furniture and trying to get houseplants to survive.
BM: I think it’s important to hold tight to hope. What makes you feel excited to be alive right now? Or what’s something you’d like to talk about that no one has asked you about recently?
CC: Hope is really hard for me to hang onto, mostly because the past several years of my life have been overwhelmed with tragedy. I constantly need something to look forward to or life becomes a struggle. I hope to keep moving in the literary community to meet new friends who share the same ideas on mental health and life itself.
I’m also really interested to see where TORN UP will take me – I love talking about mental health and my experiences with addiction. I’m hoping I can make an impact on someone who needs it.
BM: Finally, the silly question. If you were a refrigerator, what item would you hate holding?
CC: Anything with peanut butter. The smell of peanut butter is absolutely disgusting, and I will dry heave until the smell is far, far away from me. I would likely refer said peanut butter item to my colleague, Trash Can.