Accents Editor Christopher McCurry interviews Jeremy Paden about his newest collection, ruina montium (Broadstone Books, 2016), which uses poetry to tell the story of 33 miners in a Chilean mine who survived for 69 days before being rescued.
Christopher McCurry: How do you approach disaster/tragedy in a poem?
Jeremy Paden: I approach disaster carefully. Actually, I avoid it. I avoid it and avoid it and avoid it until I can’t. And, I think the only way to answer this question is in the specific way I responded to this unique tragedy. This singular event.
Tragedies and disasters all share pain, all unfold according to a script of grieving and mourning, of anger and loss, of faith and loss of faith. So in that sense they seem universal—everyone has known loss—and our response to tragedy seems also scripted—whether the gawking, or the schadenfreude, the fear and helplessness, or the money given to charities, even the quick forgetting. But each and every one is singular and unique.
As this disaster unfolded, a colleague and good friend of mine kept telling me I should write about it. At the time, and for several weeks, I felt that the most disrespectful thing to do would be to write about it. I thought it would be a form of ambulance chasing, and I wanted nothing to do with ambulance chasing because that seems so self-involved.
But the days dragged on. And contact was established. And letters and food and videos were sent back and forth. And then on the night of October 13 they were brought up one by one. I didn’t write a poem that night. But, when I saw Byron, the son of the foreman, breakdown crying as his father stepped out of the capsule, I started voraciously reading all I could about the men and about the rescue. And I began to write, compelled. It was that hug. That young boy sobbing in his father’s arms told me, you can write about this, about them, just stay true to that moment. (more…)
Christopher McCurry: Let’s start with this. I see this first question as a version of the “origins and influences” but take it where you want of course:
As a multi-genre and medium artist what does poetry do for you?
Bianca Spriggs: That’s a complicated answer. Poetry does a number of things for me. It is not my first art-form, but it is the terrain where I am at my most confident. I use poems to create problems that require solving or to process abstract concepts, obsessively at times, sometimes over the course of years. I think about every other genre or discipline through the lens of a poet. And what I learn from other areas informs how I think about how many, many ways there are into a poem—it’s not always through the front door. Sometimes I get it in through the second story window. Sometimes I’m coming up through the floorboards.
Poetry also reminds me not to take myself or my work so seriously that I don’t continue to experiment and play and recognize failure as an integral part of the process. I believe that for artists, you stagnate when you think you have nothing new to learn. So, in writing poems, I learn to balance process and product. In an attempt to fit what I have to say into a container, for lack of a better word, I’ve learned through poetry, to remain in an interrogative state, to surrender or get out of the way of what a piece wants rather than impose my own will, and to not ever despair during a drought. I either work through the “bad” pieces because even they have something to teach me, or I remember that even drought is part of it—just because I’m not actively creating what I want at the moment, doesn’t meant that my subconscious isn’t working on it, so I’ll go do something else and wait for synchronicity to weigh in. (more…)
Last month, the Chevy Chaser and Southsider published an article I wrote about the 100th installment of the Holler Poets Series (click here for event info). For the article, I interviewed Eric Scott Sutherland during a slow night at Al’s Bar. I recorded our 45-minute conversation and later transcribed it.
Below is a story Eric told that I wanted to share. This story came up because I asked, “What got you into nature conservation?” (more…)
Christopher McCurry: I just picked up your beautiful new book, Mother May I (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016) from The Wild Fig. How did it feel to hold your debut collection in your hands?
Tina Parker: Thank you so much for supporting my work in buying my book! To hold my debut collection in my hands? In many ways, I still can’t believe I have. It feels surreal and gratifying, and I am filled with gratitude.
It’s my pleasure! What I’ve read so far I really like. Kind of an off-the-wall question here, but most of my favorite books of poetry are from local authors, is that true for you? And if so, do you think every city/state with a thriving writing community feels the same about their immediate and living writers, or are we just lucky?
We are so lucky in Kentucky! I often wonder if it’s true in other places, or perhaps our state just has the perfect mix of talent and opportunities for emerging writers to interact with those established Kentucky authors. I’ve had the chance to take workshops with and/or be mentored by some of my favorite poets: James Baker Hall, George Ella Lyon, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, Leatha Kendrick, Bianca Spriggs, and Rebecca Howell. I am incredibly grateful to them, and to the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning and Wild Fig Coffee and Books for providing the venues for my learning. (more…)
Christopher McCurry: You’ve got two new books out, Our Father in the Year of the Wolf (WordFarm, 2016) and These Intricacies (Wipf and Stock, 2015), what’s it like honoring and promoting each work? Because, honestly, I’m imagining having two newborn babies needing your undivided attention.
Dave Harrity: Oddly enough, this is a pattern in my life—my wife and I have two kids 11 months apart. Finally found something I’m good at. Ha! In earnest, it’s been tough giving them both their fair due. The saving grace of the whole things is that the books are quite different—These Intricacies is spiritual and meditative, as well as accessible and straightforward. Our Father is another matter—it’s conceptual and more transgressive. The book is also experimental or ecstatic in some places, playing with a diversity of motifs, texts, and tropes. For me, this means I’ve got two different audiences to consider. I tend to read from one or the other based on the audience, or steer a potential reader to one or the other once I understand his or her preferences. When I go to teach a workshop, I tend to sell These Intricacies; at a literary reading, Our Father. But it’s most dependent on what the person in front of me is looking for from poetry. (more…)
Let’s talk about Fat Crayons!
The manuscript was produced largely during Lexington Poetry month. (I’ve produced 2 chapbooks and 1 full-length manuscript over the course of 3 Lexington Poetry Months!)
I began writing the Fat Crayon poems after I’d been writing sonnets, so they have the sonnet form embedded in them, even though they are prose. I consider them prose sonnets. I’m still using this form now, after several years, after several other series of poems have spun off. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever use a line break again, but of course the line breaks came back for The Wendy Bird Poems, so I’m not sure what I’m worried about. Maybe it’s because I feel that prose is underrated in the same way that chapbooks are underrated. (more…)
Wash the Dust from My Eyes crosses genres, modes, and time periods. It has the sense of boundless nice. What was your process for creating this work like?
Recognizing there is a time stream, I thought of a young man preparing for war as the same for all wars.
At the heart of this story is love. It seeps into the language and reminds the reader that romantic love may only be a fraction of the depth of the emotion? How do you see love functioning in your work?
Given that our human race is bestial, territorial, and pugnacious, it is only conscious caring that can uplift us, one at a time. (more…)
What did you go into the selection and editing hoping to find? Were there any surprises?
I won’t speak for Katerina, but I didn’t go in with any expectations other than hoping to learn more about the wild women in people’s lives. I knew that we were going to get a spectrum of work depending on a person’s interpretation of what makes a woman wild. So, we saw everything from sort of the more quiet storm women to full out pedal-to-the-metal types and everything in-between. I think I was most surprised by how fast the word spread about the anthology and the enthusiasm when people submitted. It didn’t feel like a business-as-usual submission for many people—poets were saying in their emails that whether their work was selected or not, they were excited about the premise of such an anthology and wanted to get a copy. I also was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been probably, by how many Persephone poems were submitted. (more…)
Although there are autobiographical poems scattered throughout Evidence, Lost and Found is more consciously autobiographical throughout. This is not to say that every poem in it is literally true, but, taken together, they amount to a Rorschach ink blot representing my intellectual/emotional/spiritual evolution over (so far) 71 years. The reader is free to interpret the blot as he or she wishes, relying, I hope, on intuition at least as much as logic.
I admire how delight and playfulness are a staple of your poetry, you seem to insist upon it, even in the midst of the reflective and somber. What attracts you to it when writing poetry?
I don’t insist on it. It’s just there, part of my DNA, I think. My father and his family were German Jews who fled to the U.S. in the late ‘30’s. My mother was an atheist/Jewish/Socialist intellectual from New York. Humor was a key to their sanity. The darker the situation, the more important it was to find something to laugh about. A classic Jewish telegram sums up this perspective: WORRY NOW. DETAILS TO FOLLOW.
Many of these poems take place or look back on the past, given the title, what is the speaker trying to reclaim? And is there a loss in that reclamation?
I’d turn the question around. It’s impossible to reclaim what one has never owned or controlled. But in each loss there is something to be found. The title poem, about the Challenger explosion in 1986, is mostly about loss, but there is a nugget of discovery in it as well. A number of the poems are directly about losses in my life—of my father (“Timing,” “In the Woods,” “Downpour”), my sister (“Perspective”, “A Fleeting Dream of My Sister”), my mother (“Shorts”); also the loss of my own innocence (“Shorts” again, “The Day I Crossed Over to the Dark Side,” “Across the Street from Graceland: a Professor’s Epiphany”). I found something while writing each of these. I also discovered a great deal while writing “Autopsy,” about the imagined aftermath of my own demise.
One of my favorite poems in the collection is “Of Moose and Seuss”. Will you talk about the process of writing that one?
In 1991, when Theodor Seuss Geisel—Dr. Seuss—died, I was writing a weekly column for the Boston Sunday Globe. The good doctor was a lifelong hero of mine. I wondered if I could write a tribute to him in Seussian style. I immersed myself in the old books. Once I had settled on Thidwick, The Big-Hearted Moose, the poem came easily. I should add that the adrenaline rush of a tight newspaper deadline helped a lot.
Do you have a favorite poem or section of the book?
That’s kind of like asking which of my children is my favorite. But I do tend to favor poems(as well as children) that bring me joy: “Yukon Go Home Again,” for example, and “The Interrogation” “Chemo,” and “This Music.” I’m not saying these are among what critics might consider the most accomplished poems in the book; they’re favorites because they make me smile, even if, in at least two cases, I’m smiling through tears.
Next Door to the Dead (University Press of Kentucky 2015) is a book of poems that takes its inspiration from the fact I’ve lived with my family in an old country church, built before the Civil War, and “next door” to a little graveyard for over twenty years. When we first moved into the church and began turning it into our home, we were told that the graveyard was full—that there would be no new burials. And for sure most of the tombstones were old and crumbling, but after we had lived there a few months I came home from the grocery store to find a hearse in my driveway. I write about that experience in the poem “Living Next to the Dead Acre.” In the years that have followed, I’ve been in my laundry room, pulling towels out of the dryer and have looked up to see gravediggers at work in the cemetery. I never know when they might show up—which is a sort of metaphor, isn’t it? After all, life is temporary and we never know how long we will be given. (more…)