An Interview with Elizabeth Kemball

First and foremost, what inspired you to write A letter from your sheets // if your sheets could speak.?

It was actually in a university seminar in my final year; we were dicussing perspectives in poetry and tasked with writing a poem from the perspective of something which wasn’t human. I went through a few different ideas in my head but something about sheets just felt so right.

What drew you to the idea of sheets specifically?

I was thinking about how I could make something inanimate also feel intimate and universal, which drew me to the idea of beds – I like that humans all sleep, and whilst we sleep we’re so vulnerable, and sheets also are physically close to our bodies. Perfect poetry fodder. Two images especially drew me to sheets: the idea of someone tucking all of their body inside of a blanket so that they become nearly invisible, and also the weird marks from the fabric that are left on our skin when we’ve slept in the same position for too long.

The cover image is, of course, absolutely stunning—what led you to choose that imagery?

I wanted to depict something that encompassed the relationship between sheets and humans, a sort of codependecy and desperation, but also simplicity. I like that the image of a hand grabbing sheets could be interpreted in so many ways as well, is it passion, anger, sadness, stretching… it adds another part for the reader to unravel in their own way.

Did you have the idea of this being a micro-manuscript from the start or did this start out as “just” a poem?

It actually started as a performance piece – I wanted to write something longer which would sound good when performed with varied moods and tones throughout and words that felt juicy as they were spoken. It was only when I started splitting the poem into stanzas for the page that I realised this could transform into something very different than a performance piece, a more fragmented manuscript, with more space around each page for the words to breathe.

Do you have a favourite line or stanza from this collection?

My favourite little section is:

‘it’s abstract verbal calligraphy,
too twisted in on itself
for me to decipher.’

Were there any sections you decided not to include in the final version? Or pieces you added later in the process?

There were definitely cuts and changes, but the piece as a whole didn’t change that much throughout the process, it was more the layout and formatting that took a while to perfect.

Who would you most recommend A letter from your sheets to?

Lonely people. I wrote this poem when I was in a phase of life where, no matter how many people were around, I couldn’t help but feel very alone. I think you can feel that when you read it. We all feel lonely sometimes, it’s a good poem for that mood.

What have been your favourite and least favourite parts of the publication process?

My least favourite part is easy: clicking submit. That’s the scariest bit; the gnawing feeling in your gut that you should’ve changed something or you haven’t filled the submission in right or you didn’t proofread it properly. After I click submit I generally submit myself (no pun intended) to the ‘what will be, will be’ mindset. The favourite part was a little after acceptance, when I got to sign the publishing contract – it felt like a huge step in my writing career.

Do you have any advice for those who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Make sure your manuscript is one you’re confident in before you submit. Before this manuscript was accepted I’d been sending around a chapbook which received a few rejections (it was even longlisted by Nightingale & Sparrow) – I was very much just wanting to get a body of my work published and now looking back at it, it’s not right. I can’t explain really how it’s not right because the manuscript is full of poems I believe in, but I need to go back and rework it, change the order, add and remove and so on. This microchapbook felt right as soon as I put it together; from the cover art to the way I split up the poem onto the pages, I just knew that this is something I wouldn’t change before submitting again if I needed to, it was cohesive. I hear a lot of advice saying ‘just send things out, go for it’ and so forth but I think before that, you need to really believe that what you’re sending out deserves to be published and that it will have an impact on other people.

What project(s) are you working on going forward?

I’m currently working on that chapbook I mentioned before, I don’t think it’s a chapbook anymore – it’s a full length collection that needs more of my poems and reordering. It’s going to be centred around sections of ‘light’. I’m also working on a novel! A constant project that, I guess, won’t go away until I finish it.

Besides the amazing work you’ve created here, what’s your favourite piece you’ve ever created? How about your favourite by someone else?

I have always been proud of a poem I wrote called ‘Styx and Stones’, it was the first poem I wrote that really made me feel like a writer – it felt original, it had a voice, my voice. I’ve still not found the right home for it yet, it’s quite hard to let go of. It’s hard to pick a favourite by someone else, for poetry I’d probably say (at the moment, though it changes with mood) the poem ‘Bird’ by Liz Berry.

Editor’s Note: A letter from your sheets // if your sheets could speak. by Elizabeth Kemball

When reading through microchapbook submissions this winter, A letter from your sheets // if your sheets could speak. was one of the first to catch my eye.  I never could have imagined a conversation with my sheets. I wash the sheets each week and battle the cat to re-make the bed afterwards—I never thought to ask how they might feel about that.

Elizabeth Kemball’s microchapbook considers the sheets’ thoughts and feelings.  Her poetry personifies something so seemingly insignificant—bed linens, of all things—and makes them into the star of the show.

Have you ever stopped to thank your sheets? After reading this book, you might want to. In Kemball’s interpretation, they are silent protectors, quiet comforters, a different kind of lover holding you close.  Your sheets watch you through your most intimate moments, think of you when you’re gone from them, and long to call out to you.  Their affections may be unrequited, but still, you return to your bed–to your sheets–and yearn for the solace they bring.

I couldn’t ask for a better title to launch our 2020-2021 microchapbook series than this beautiful little book.  A letter from your sheets // if your sheets could speak. will be available in print, Kindle, and PDF editions next week. Be sure to stay tuned for more information on our other upcoming releases as well!

Author Statement: If your sheets could speak // a letter from your sheets. by Elizabeth Kemball

Have you ever felt like something was watching when you were all alone? Or wish that something was? Laid down at night to find yourself straining to hear anything other than your own breath and heartbeat in the pitch black? Have you dreamt of someone, something, and woken to find only air between your fingers?

A letter from your sheets // if your sheets could speak. gives a voice to that feeling; it explores the idea of vocalising to the inanimate, through imagining a letter written from a person’s bed sheets. When I started writing this piece, I was looking at writing a poem distanced from the ‘I’ which I find myself writing most often; I wanted to instead write from the perspective of something that does not have a voice of its own. Sheets are witness to a huge portion of humans’ lives: sleep, sorrow, romance, sex, death and more. This book is a voyeuristic but gentle observation of a place in which humans are often at their most vulnerable; it is a fragmented narrative, of flashes of actions and images that gives us an insight into the person’s life through the moments that they spend in their bed.

Our sheets are primarily places of comfort and solace, but also isolation. Loneliness is something we all feel – something I certainly have felt, especially when staring at the ceiling lying in bed in the darkness. I was intrigued by what people are like when they think nothing is watching – when they are allowed to be their barest self. It may read like a confession or a love letter, and I think to each person it will vary depending on their own relationship with sheets and sleep (one of the few activities all humans partake in). For some, these sheets may not be sheets at all; sometimes we find our own voices, or others, in the most mundane objects.

Thank you to everyone who reads this book; I hope that, perhaps, this will make you feel more connected to the world. Not everything can speak, but everything says something.