My name is Eric Scott Sutherland. I am a lifelong Kentuckian and advocate for its beauty. My fourth collection of poems, pendulum, is a tale of light and dark set in Lexington’s Central Library where I spent eight years managing a small cafe. The scene is overlooked by the Gatekeeper, yours truly, who watches the daily carousel of humanity coalesce and collide before his eyes. There is despair everywhere but the light of hope remains lit amid the struggle.
The epigraph of the book and the epigraph for the first poem create a kind of Tension. Merton’s “suddenly [seeing] the beauty of [man’s] heart juxtaposes Matthew’s “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction.” What drew you to these two passages?
There is so much beauty in each human, despite the flaws. Merton’s 4th Street epiphany is so captivating. He suddenly knew in a deeper way that each and every one of us is connected…to god or whatever you want to call your higher power. It began as an epigraph for one of the poems, but as the editing process moved along it became apparent that this quote was the perfect opening to the book. As far as the Matthew reference, I also found it to be the natural intro to the poem “the gate.” It fed right in to the mood of the book and expressed in a sacred way what I was trying to express in the poem and the book as a whole.
I think when you care about the people you are writing about, it just comes naturally. They aren’t stereotypes; they are real people with hearts and minds, loved ones, and worries… just like me. I’ve always been an empathetic person, a people person. I guess being able to “get to know” these characters daily for eight years, really brought their real personas to the forefront. Of course, many I couldn’t get to know because of the barriers they place between themselves and others. In those instances, I was able to be present in their presence and capture the feelings and stories they conveyed through subtle channels-what clothes they were wearing, what their expressions were, etc.
The backdrop is a city teeming with danger and violence. What do you think lurks in what man creates?
It’s a mess we’ve made of this world. The way our society is set up, as a competition, lends itself to winners and losers. There is certainly a dark side to what we have created. The amount of collateral damage from our so-called progress is staggering. I was witness to countless shattered psyches and lives on a daily basis. There is such a need for healing it is heartbreaking. Our tendency is to move on to the next plateau, the next conquest, when there is so much left damaged in the wake of our material ascension. Our whole way of thinking has to change from one of violent separation from our habitat to one of peaceful coexistence. With healthy habitats, we regain the health of our communities and people.
The pendulum swings throughout the entire book, marking time and place, when and how did it become the symbol for the book?
The Pendulum was at the center from the beginning of my notes and scribbles. In fact I named the earliest version of these And the Pendulum Swings. It’s the perfect metaphor for the setting: Central Library or the dim rotunda, as it is called in the book. Of course, the pendulum in the center of the building was hard to overlook as my life and the lives of these folks played themselves out to its rhythm every day. The pendulum moves from joy to pain, light to dark, depression to celebration, life to death. It is ever present and continues to mark time no matter what happens around it. The character’s lives unfold as it swings throughout book and there is no judgment.
In some of the poems I feel advocacy and passion for Kentucky. How central is that to your poetry?
I love my home place and am passionate about its people. I use all of the avenues poetry has opened as a means of helping preserve the natural beauty and cultural heritage we possess.
I would hope that they would turn the light inward to their own dark corners and take a look at judgment, their prejudices, biases, mistakes and faults, etc. and in the process find that they are no different than the characters that populate the pages of pendulum.
Are you currently working on any projects we can look forward to?
I have a manuscript that was being fine tuned when pendulum was picked up for publication. I’ve published and read many of the poems over the years – my earth poems, tentatively titled Earth is My Church. I would like to get it cleaned up and find a home for it when the hoopla over this book’s release dies down.