Q&A: poet and author Angela Brommel on chapbook ‘Plutonium and Platinum Blonde’

By Josh Muchly

Plutonium and Platinum Blonde is a collection of poetry from Las Vegas poet Angela Brommel; it is described as “both seductive and devastating; [i]t delivers us to the center of America’s nuclear bomb testing era and explodes in a sweltering ‘Valley of Fire.’ [It is] both a séance in the Mojave Desert and a haunting love letter to Las Vegas” (Letisha Cruz, TLR). Angela was gracious enough to answer some questions about her work.

Informer Media Group: Hi, Angela. What inspired ‘Plutonium?”

Angela Brommel: Plutonium & Platinum Blonde is dedicated to my paternal grandmother who passed the year before it was published.  Her mother was a dancer at the Princess Theatre in Des Moines in the early ’20s. Maybe this is why my grandmother was so fond of old musicals. I grew up listening to her stories about the performers, like Jimmy Durante, that her mother met at the theatre.  She also was a huge Elvis fan but had never been to Vegas.  When I moved to Vegas I was really taken by the lights and performative nature of the Strip. It was fun to call home and tell her all about it.

The world of the poetry collection developed as I explored the valley and its history. While visiting Tule Springs I read a newspaper clipping taped the window of an old building. The story featured a photo of two women in bathing suits by a pool, and they were staying at the “divorce ranch” on the site. That’s how I learned about Nevada’s history of providing residency to visitors seeking a divorce. Immediately I found myself imagining a story, not unlike the movies I had watched with my grandmother.

Informer Media Group: When did you become passionate about poetry? And when did you start writing?

Angela Brommel: In high school, I started reading poetry not just as a reader, but as a writer to learn my craft. My school had an amazing librarian, Kay, who pulled books for me. Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, and Sonia Sanchez were in the first stack that she handed me. At that time I also took English and Creative Writing with Keith Reins, and also gave me extra books to read. I read and wrote almost daily at that point. Sometimes I sat in the back row of classes so that I could keep writing.

I started writing as soon as I learned to read and write. My parents and both of grandmothers were incredibly supportive. Books and notebooks were always available. When I published my first poem in the local paper when in 5th grade my grandmother kept a framed copy of it on her television, and my father kept it in his wallet. The summer after 6th grade my mother signed me up for a summer class called, So You Want to Be A Writer. At that time I still occasionally wrote poems, but I primarily wrote fiction. I still write fiction and nonfiction, but I haven’t submitted any of it for publication. That’s on my list for 2019.

Informer Media Group: Do you have any other published volumes?

Angela Brommel: Plutonium & Platinum Blonde is my first chapbook.  You can find my work in these anthologies: All of Us: Sweet: The First Five Years, Legs of Tumbleweeds, Wings of Lace: An Anthology of Literature by Nevada Women, Clark: Poetry from Clark County Nevada, and Lunch Ticket Special.

My work has been featured in a number of great journals, The Best American Poetry Blog, the North American Review, The Literary Review-TLR Share, Sweet: A Literary Confection, among many other journals, and local art exhibitions.

Informer Media Group: Two pieces in ‘Plutonium’ that stuck out to me are “Love in the Time of Godzilla” and “Home Means Nevada.” I’d like to discuss those in a bit more detail: I feel these two poems actually complement each other — one ends with implied heartache and the next explores heartache. Both explore “running” or escaping. Was it intentional to place them in the work side-by-side?

Angela Brommel: It wasn’t, but I love that connection! Context is everything. I have read my work as part of various celebrations and themed shows, and I learn something new from it each time I read it through a new lens or a reader shares their experience with it.

Informer Media Group: In ‘Home’ you mention Tapestry and Blue – I’m assuming those are referring to the 1971 album by Carole King and the 1994 album by Weezer (correct me if I’m wrong)? … What do those albums mean to you?

Angela Brommel: Tapestry and Blue are in my top 5 (it was actually a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue).  Some of my favorite poets are singer/songwriters – Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen. I listen to Tapestry, Blue and various albums by Cohen to hear how they structure their stories. When I listen to music I find myself “reading” the lyrics to see how the story is told.  There’s a balance of image and word choice that happens in a good song which amazes me not just because the text is concise, but because the writer was brave enough to get to the heart of the story without the extra layers. That kind of vulnerability in the work inspires me.

I took my first poetry classes with Vince Gotera at the University of Northern Iowa while I was finishing an M.A. in Theatre. My thesis was in playwriting, but I had always wanted to take a poetry class. In an early lesson he told us that we all had our own music, and once we knew it we would be able to hear when our work needed adjusting. Many of us were currently musicians or had grown up as musicians, so this stuck with me.

Informer Media Group: Some of my favorite poets are singer/songwriters as well. Now, I had to look up information about these albums because I’m not familiar with them; I actually enjoy doing research on poems that speak to me – do you ever intend for the reader to further explore the contents of your pieces (as opposed to keeping it explicit or self-contained?). Did you intend for them to do that with ‘Home’?

Angela Brommel: For me, it would be a bonus if a reader discovered the art, film, and other pop culture references in the chapbook, but the work has to stand on its own.  “Home Means Nevada” was written after a lecture on the metaphysical poets.  I wanted to experiment with how the world of a poem changes with capitalization, how it can deepen the conversation with the reader. (Note: “Home Means Nevada” won the 2017 Helen Stewart Poetry Award.)

Informer Media Group: You seem to be creating a cast of characters in ‘Home’ – West and East, Heartache and Quest — do you ever explore these “characters” in other works?

Angela Brommel: Not consciously, but I am going to read Plutonium, and the draft of my next book to see if I find these “characters” in other spaces.

Informer Media Group: My favorite line in ‘Plutonium’ is, “He said nothing, but his breath smelled of bitter almonds.” Can you tell me more about what you intended with that?

Angela Brommel: As a rule, I let the work talk and try not to question it. My research area at this time about the use of strangeness in the works of Surrealist women writers and painters. I wrote this poem shortly after waking up from a dream.  Sometimes the work talks to me. When I finished the draft I heard, “Love in the Time of Godzilla,” and I knew my mind was playing with Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez and this quote, “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

Informer Media Group: Why Godzilla, especially? Why not any other monster?

Angela Brommel: Because the poem said so.

Informer Media Group: Interesting. So what’s next for you?

Angela Brommel: I am finishing up a full-length poetry collection which will come out in 2019 with Tolsun Books, and I have started another file for a possible smaller collection of nature poems.

Informer Media Group: Where can people go to learn more about you/ your projects?

Angela Brommel: Right now the best place to find me is on Twitter and Instagram or online at The Citron Review as Editor-in-Chief and Poetry Editor.

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