I was recently interviewed by Ryan Bollenbach, Poetry Editor of Black Warrior Review, regarding my poem “When I Pick Up Drop-Spinning, My Father Asks Me If I’m a Spinster,” included in BWR‘s 42.2 issue.
Black Warrior Review: One of the most pleasurable aspects of reading your poem “When I Pick Up Drop-Spinning, My Father Asks Me If I’m A Spinster” is the humorous and super surprising way that all of the different subjects interact on the page. How did vicuña, Sherman Adams, and the miller’s daughter all make their way into this poem? Was it more of a research-based process? Or are these subjects you’ve carried with you that were simply waiting for a home?
Rhiannon Thorne: I’m in the processes of redrafting a manuscript; this poem comes from Miscarriage, the third section, which is largely a series of poems dealing with the topic of miscarriage and its effects. So the greater subject is something I’ve been working with for a couple of years.
I was back up in Sonoma County, CA, where I was born, recently for a few months. My best friend’s wife Amy taught me how to use a drop spindle. Upon learning about my new hobby, my father, the great adorer of puns, and probably the reason why I’m such a grammar geek, grinned and asked me if I was going to be a spinster now. My dad wasn’t really making a joke about my relationship status—true, I’m unmarried at thirty, but I’ve got a partner, and he’s great—but it got me thinking: what if I wasn’t in a long-term relationship?
Having talked to Amy, I knew there were incredibly rare and expensive animal fibers used in spinning. I began researching vicuña and Sherman Adams was a lucky find. My parents haven’t read this poem yet, but I’d be willing to bet my father knows all about the Adams scandal. He’s extremely obnoxious to play trivia games with, so the inclusion of the ‘vicuña coat affair’ seemed appropriate. It should also be noted, for historical accuracy, that Adams also accepted an oriental rug.
Hand spinning used to be an essential skill, so spinning and spindles show up a lot in fairy tales and folk lore. You have your bad spindle stories (Snow White) and your good spindle stories (Rumpelstiltskin)—the miller’s daughter becomes queen and keeps her child. What a fairy tale to recall shortly after a miscarriage.