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Collected Works Interviews Teresa Bruce, author of The Other Mother

Collected Works Interviews Teresa Bruce, author of The Other Mother

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

CJJ: First off, what should people know about you and your connection to the story in The Other Mother? How, for those who do not know, are you connected to Byrne, Alison, and Duncan. What role do they play in your life, both as a citizen of the world (to borrow from Goldsmith) and as a writer. Furthermore, how can these two magnetic personalities play a role in the lives of your readers?

TB:  I consider myself to be one of Byrne and Duncan Miller’s collected children and Byrne to be my other mother. I’m not the only one – there are still people alive in Santa Fe and on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico that are my siblings-by-Byrne. I never set out to replace my own mother – I was a 22-year-old reporter when I met this 82-year-old former burlesque dancer. I was assigned to “cover” her husband’s fight for experimental Alzheimer’s treatments. But she pulled me onto her stage when I really needed to know that an honest, respectful relationship between a man and a woman was possible. At the time I thought of their love as a fairy-tale. It was years before I saw that part of it was choreographed, by Byrne, to protect her husband.

It was through writing the memoir that I realized how much of a role I played in Byrne’s life too. Her daughter Alison had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 40s and she chose very unconventional ways to hold her family together. By “collecting” children like me – she was able to pass along her dreams and talents without pressuring Alison to be someone she couldn’t.

It’s been so much fun to find out how Byrne and Duncan are impacting readers who never knew them in person. Byrne’s “womenisms” are great conversation starters and provoke vigorous disagreements. Younger people are infatuated with the Miller’s bohemian love story, as I was. But older readers are drawn to Byrne’s strength of character and the reality that we all need and cherish the love of other mothers.

CJJ: Before we get into the book, tell our readers a little about yourself. How did you come into the practice of writing and, always a popular subject, do you have any habits as a writer which you have cultivated to improve your craft?

TB: I started as a journalist – first print and then broadcast – and I found my voice writing long-form documentary films like “God’s Gonna Trouble the Waters.” I really credit the creative constraints of reporting for being able to ask the right questions. There’s a discipline to reporting too – we’re used to deadlines and to being edited, brutally at times. But still I had to ditch any vestiges of my documentary style when it came to this book. My editor, Susan Kammeraad Campbell gave me great advice. She made me come up with a list of defining moments in my life. She called them pearls. I thought of them as scenes.

Then she had me do the same with Byrne’s life. At first that seemed impossible, her story began almost fifty years before I was born, but in the end it gave structure and form to the years of research and interviews. The book is really a dance in two movements, mine and Byrne’s, and Susan strung together the “pearls” into the rememoir.

CJJ: Byrne Miller came to Santa Fe and found an easy in with the community. She taught at St. John’s College and at the Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA). Today, for a new resident coming into town, these would be near impossible feats. In that regard, can you explain a little why Byrne was so easily accepted as faculty to these two prestigious schools and, what did she teach at them?

TB: Byrne had a whim of iron and she rejected rejection. One of my favorite “womenisms” that she used to tell her collected children was that “there is not a contract on earth that cannot be re-written.” It was undeniably ballsy, the way she waltzed into 1960s Santa Fe society and demanded validity. I’m not sure either institute had ever had a modern dance or labanotation expert to compare to Byrne so they accepted her even without academic credentials. It helped that St. John’s was brand new, still inventing itself and that dance has always been deeply valued in the American Indian community.

And remember, too, that Byrne picked Santa Fe because it had a reputation of supporting emerging artists. The Santa Fe Writer’s colony thrived from the 20s through the 40s, and Byrne wanted her novelist husband to follow the likes of Willa Cather and D.H. Lawrence. A major influence in Byrne’s own dance career, Martha Graham, attended parties and soirees in Santa Fe at the time. It was a place where artists supported and celebrated each other. The Museum of New Mexico held un-juried exhibitions for local artists – a marked departure from the artistic establishment Byrne had known in New York. No wonder she gravitated to Santa Fe and fit right in.

CJJ: How did the Santa Fe community (circa 1965) respond to Duncan and Byrne. Those who live in Santa Fe know that it can be a hard community to engage with and find a place within. Was that so of the middle 1960’s?

TB:  It’s hard to say how much of Byrne and Duncan’s success in Santa Fe was the town’s openness or Byrne’s bull-headedness. But within a year of arriving, she managed to snag Duncan a job writing and directing the Fiesta Melodrama so they quickly associated with other artists and writers. She mingled across age groups too, cocktail parties with established writers one night and rehearsals with young actors and dancers the next. When she opened her dance studio on Canyon Road, it was still a dirt road dotted with mostly hand-built homes of other artists. A gallery owner I interviewed while researching the book said that where Byrne and Duncan lived they would have heard gunfights spilling out of bars on a regular basis.

CJJ: At the time of their (Duncan and Byrne’s) arrival in Santa Fe the State Capitol that we all know was quite new. Duncan and Byrne got to play a very imaginative, yet crucial role in its initiation into Santa Fe society. Could you talk a little about that unique role?

TB:  Again it’s hard to imagine essentially two expats in their own country, waltzing into Santa Fe and criticizing its controversial attempt to integrate native design into the state’s architectural identity. How Yankee of them! I cringed, a little, reading the subtitle of Duncan’s fiesta melodrama satire “the sinister secret of the sawdust sepulcher.” But they were nothing if not confident in their own opinions and without that artistic intensity I doubt Byrne would have made as much of an impact as she did. It was a harbinger, when you think of it, of the audacity of a Jewish, former burlesque dancer from New York introducing modern dance to the public schools in Beaufort, South Carolina – her next move after Santa Fe.

CJJ: During their time in Santa Fe Duncan and Byrne witnessed an annual event that, at that time, was relatively new to the Santa Fe community. I am speaking, of course, about Zozobra. The pair found something in the ritual of Zozobra that spoke to them, that seemed, if you will, to inform or mimic their own lives; what was that?

TB:  Zozobra couldn’t have been more personally meaningful to the Miller pair. The idea of burning regrets to start anew resonated, especially since Byrne Miller was beginning to understand that her husband’s mental and emotional state was on a collision course with literary success. She found Santa Fe freeing and exultant and it’s no accident that it was here that she reinvented herself and founded the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre. It was in Santa Fe, also, that she let go of the idea that she could reverse her daughter Alison’s schizophrenia. I chose to juxtapose Zozobra with that revelation in this passage:

“As the embers of Old Man Gloom swirled around the feet of the fire spirit dancers, Byrne wondered if Alison’s absence as the reason she felt lighter. She looked to the sky and instead of a foreboding darkness, she saw only a lack of color. When she shuffled into the inner patio of her adobe house the next morning with a cup of tea, the sky that greeted her upturned eyes was not the heavy blue of expectation and disappointment but the brilliant blue of peace and purpose.”

CJJ: In Santa Fe, in 1969, Byrne and Duncan were involved in an accident. What happened to them is something that continues to be an endemic problem in Santa Fe and the State of New Mexico at large. This occurrence separated the creative pair in a major way. What was it that occurred, how did it affect their lives, and what residual effects did it have?

TB:  Byrne and Duncan’s lives were ripped apart not once, but twice, by rural highways and drunk drivers. The first was the accident in Santa Fe that put Duncan in the hospital for months and the second was in Colorado and resulted in the death of Jane, the Miller’s younger daughter. I didn’t even realize the full significance of the Santa Fe accident until another “collected” sibling filled me in. He said that after it, Duncan was never the same again. So when they received a major settlement, Byrne used it to buy a cottage on the river in Beaufort, SC in part so that Duncan could recuperate near the water. But Byrne always wondered if leaving the artistic fulcrum that was Santa Fe killed Duncan’s chances at literary success. In South Carolina he felt abandoned in “an unanswering sea” without like-minded, driven artists all around him.

CJJ: For those living in Santa Fe and engaging with your book, is there any place (i.e. museum or archive) that a Santa Fe or Northern New Mexico resident could go to further engage with Duncan and Byrne’s legacy?

TB:  In spirit, yes, among the fire dancers at Zozobra’s feet, in the rhythms of the jazz festival on the campus of St. Johns College and in the beauty of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. But Byrne’s papers were donated to the District Collection of the Beaufort County Library after she died, so historians and interested readers would have to come out here to see the beautiful photographs taken from Byrne’s time in Santa Fe. Ironically the same photographer who made those images is the curator of probably the last surviving copy of Duncan Miller’s Fiesta Melodrama – Robert Nugent. It’d make a fascinating research paper – I hope the book ignites more interest in the artistic nomads that have contributed to Santa Fe’s legacy.

CJJ: Finally, I have focused on questions that deal with Santa Fe and New Mexico, but that is a very small portion of the book. What else would you like our readers to know?

TB:  We don’t get to Santa Fe until 278 pages into the book but hang in there! Santa Fe is so pivotal to the book, mostly because it was here that Byrne began her life as an “other mother.” Her first collected son was a Navajo dancer at St. John’s College named Ben Barney, who went on to a distinguished career as an educator and cultural preservationist. What I found fascinating about her relationship with Ben is that she wasn’t very good at othermothering, at first. She was a determined woman who didn’t take the time to understand his cultural misgivings about dance as performance. In Ben’s tribe, dance is reserved only for those chosen at birth to use as a form of healing and yet she bulldozed him into performing at the Great Hall of St. John’s College. I don’t suppose she was the first transplant to arrive in Santa Fe and think she knew best. In the end, though, I think Ben’s dance was a healing ceremony – for Byrne Miller. It was a transformation for Byrne that couldn’t have taken place anywhere but Santa Fe and by the time she collected me, decades later, she had become the wise, supportive, championing mother that showed me who I was meant to be.

CJJ: You use very descriptive scenes such as Alison's (I think) hand as it coasted in the wind out the car window on the way to CO. These would seem to me to add a fictional element to your story, or rather something other than hard-nosed journalism or history. I think, for my part, that that makes for better more even reading. I am curious about your style.

TB: You’ve hit on why the book is subtitled a “rememoir.”It’s the truth as I remember it or as Byrne shared with me. And since I’m also a screenwriter I think in visual scenes, imagining how a director would film the characters and events on any given page. So when Byrne told me of her journey west, to Santa Fe, with her troubled, recalcitrant daughter – I could picture Alison’s ambivalence and unease. I visualized her as a young woman, scared and sulking, buffeted by forces beyond her control like a hand surfing in the currents of a rolled-down window. It must have worked, or you wouldn’t have remembered that scene!

I’m actually not a fan of memoir, at least not the kind written by celebrities. I miss the creativity of fiction when a story is recounted and spelled out for me so I wanted to give my readers a different experience. I’m actually thrilled when men (and it’s usually male readers, for some reason) don’t realize that “The Other Mother: a rememoir” is non-fiction until they hit the photographs that ground and connect it all. There will always be a place for traditional memoir and biography, and they are art forms in their own right. But in this age of instant access to information, I think we crave human stories that show rather than tell.



The Other Mother: A Rememoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780984107391
Availability: Temporarily Unavailable with our Distributor (Disregard for Forrest Fenn books - always in stock)
Published: Joggling Board Press - November 5th, 2013

William Shakespeare & Others: Collaberative Plays

William Shakespeare & Others: Collaborative Plays

Edited by Johnathan Bate

and Eric Rasmussen

Shakespeare’s Apocrypha hasn’t been around for awhile, one-hundred and five years to my bookman’s memory, but its contents -that is the characters in its plays- haven’t grown old.

The plays included in Shakespeare & Others are comparable to Middleton, Webster, and the dramas of Fletcher & Beaumont and, at worst, Greene; their focus, humanity. The plays of the period are rich, certainly, with wordplay, war, love and many other fine devices, but their driving force is pathos.

Arden of Faversham is a play of dubious authorship. Often credited to Anonymous, the play focuses on the murder of a rural landowner by his wife. Its plot was drawn from a real-life murder committed in 1551 (on Feb. 14th!), which makes it unique among plays of the period. Arden, his wife Alice, Alice’s lover Mosby and the absolutely unforgettable Black Will were real people of a middle and lower-class bearing; they are wholly different from characters like Richard III, Julius Caesar, or, even, Henry VIII -all figures known to a vast populace due to their socio-historical importance. The intrigue that Arden of Faversham, to my mind, has over any other play of the period is that it dwells in the real world; there are no king’s courts here, no mystical forests or islands. It is a domestic drama played out in a way that many can easily understand. Perhaps we don’t devolve to murder often, but we do express our discontent and argue and mope and fight within our households. We feel underloved and neglected. Arden has all these themes and they read as freshly today as they did in the late 16th century.

Edward III is a masterpiece. It follows Edward during his bloody campaign in France. The battle scenes in the play are on a par with Macbeth; there is a swirling sense of action throughout. Even the monologues take place in a world of action, as opposed to a bedchamber, a court, a garden, etc. Edward himself is an intensely strong figure who, ill-fated as he is, is the model of leadership and kinghood.

New to the Shakespeare Apocrypha is Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. In its own time, this play was enormously popular and, over its long stage career, experienced many rewrites. Dramas of the period were frequently reworked. If a director noticed heads nodding off during a scene, pensive faces during a scene that went too long, those scenes would be rewritten and, often, by a different playwright than the original. Sound strange? Plays were a chief form of entertainment during this time period, comparable to television today. If something didn’t work, new authors, new actors, new stages were brought in to reboot a popular, but not perfect work; of course we see this today with newspapers, comic books, sitcoms and other forms of media. The possibility that Shakespeare did rewrites to The Spanish Tragedy is great. It is likely that Shakespeare began his career as a playwright (do not forget that he was also an actor), reworking passages of plays that seemed to sag in performance.

All that aside, The Spanish Tragedy contains many elements that are found in Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet: a ghost who reveals a hidden truth, a play within a play, family and lineage issues and, of course, good old-fashioned revenge.

William Shakespeare and Others is a very welcome publication. Any fan of Shakespeare will be delighted to add this edition to their shelves. The ancillary material provided on subjects like authorship, stage performance, and a discussion of other works (not included in the current volume) that have variously been attributed to Shakespeare. These sections are highly researched and well worth the time of even those with a passing interest in Shakespeare or plays of his period.

The quality of the volume is without reproach, and the price is fair for a half-a-year’s worth of reading.

For the right reader, this is the most exciting publication of 2013.

-Christopher J. Johnson

William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays (Rsc Shakespeare) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781137271440
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Palgrave - November 12th, 2013

Collected Works Interviews Eleni Sikelianos

Interviewee: Eleni Sikelianos

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

CJJ: Your latest book The Loving Detail of the Living and the Dead seems to me to be a continuous cycle of poems similar to Ezra Pounds Cantos. Lines that appear in poems reappear as single lines later in the book. Themes reoccur as well as personas. It is obvious that you took time composing not only the poems as individual pieces, but also that you put a focus on the cohesiveness of the book as a whole. Tell us a little about your process in putting this book together; did you have any themes in mind from the start? Or, was this material that you yourself were startled to find in your work?

ES:  Although there is a coherence in the whole of the book, I was actually trying to resist making a single project out of these poems.  My last books have been to greater or lesser degrees project-based, and I sometimes feel that all of contemporary post-modern poetry is serial or a project, so I was siding with the individual poem as well as the collective here.  At the same time, experience imposes itself, and there were a number of things arising death, shadows, and life, for example.

I am not against the cycle its an important manifestation but I wanted to have a different temporal relationship in these poems.  I don't want to take my relationship to time for granted, and I sense at back of our obsession with poetic cycles and serials a kind of chronophobia, a fear of allowing something to be finished or whole.  I'd like to keep that gesture of extensive time while also allowing an object (the poem) to arise on its own terms within that.

CJJ: Among the reoccurring themes in your book there is one character in particular who is mentioned repeatedly by name. Charlene, in the context of the poems, often seems like someone either very young or someone very innocent or both. Is this a portrayal of your daughter and, if so, does she represent renewal in your book as the dead, death, and dying as have their place in the text as well?

ES:  Charlene is someone I knew as a child, my best friend when I was about 11, so there is definitely innocence in her character.  She appears in the poems because I began to dream about her, and in those dreams she took on a variety of roles, one of which was prophetic, but prophecy in its purest simplicity, which might mean represented in seeming opposites shadow and light, life and death, greed and giving up of greed, sleep and day, closed rooms and open fields.

I am hard pressed to say words or characters represent one thing in my poems, because poems for me are iterations of the complexities of the world, but I think Charlene does embody some kind of pure figure the  figure of hope, maybe.

CJJ: You are a teacher of poetry at Naropa in Boulder, CO and the University of Denver. Have you found any preconceptions or misnomers common to first-time poetry students that you must, for lack of a better term, shuck away upon their arrival at college? For instance, while working with high school students in public schools on the craft of poetry I often hear something along these lines, I dont rework any of my writings. To rework my poetry would be the same as to betray the original motivation/emotion that I put into it.

ES: I'm fortunate to work with students who have mostly already dedicated their lives to this art form.  But I do sometimes have to convince undergraduate students that a poet is engaged in a highly skilled activity that requires training just in the way that playing basketball and practicing medicine do.  In such cases I might remind them that they wouldn't expect to step into a surgical theater with a scalpel and know what to do!

CJJ: Do you have any advice to give young writers who are thinking of going to college to further their poetic craft?

ES: Well, I think college is an important rite of passage, but it's definitely not the only (or even the) place to become a poet.  Being in a community of poets and artists and thinkers is the most valuable education you can give yourself and that means with living people, but also with the dead: reading, looking, thinking.  Bobbie Louise Hawkins likes to say "Put yourself adjacent to the most interesting, smartest people you can find."  And, as the poet Bernadette Mayer likes to say, "Work your ass off to change the language."

CJJ: Many American readers may not know it, but your grandfather was also a poet. Angelos Sikelianos was a famous Greek Modernist poet who is often compared to W. B.Yeats in regards to his influence on twentieth century Greek poetry. The Nobel Prize winning poet George Seferis, for instance, cites him as a major influence. What should American poetry readers know about Angelos? Was having such a figure in your family history a main motivating factor in your own pursuit of poetry?

ES: He is notoriously difficult to translate, though there is a Princeton U. Press Selected, translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherard.  Most moving to me is my great grandfather's vision of a utopian community, which he sought, along with my great grandmother, the theater director Eva Palmer, to enact in Delphi.  They were visionaries, not afraid to live a life dedicated to their vision, however eccentric it seemed.

These things didn't play any conscious role in my taking up the path of poetry there have been great ruptures in my family line, so I wasn't that aware of this history growing up but when I remember to meditate on their utopian impulses, and what they made manifest in that pursuit, I draw inspiration from it.

CJJ: A left field question; does poetry have a place in the collaborative arts such as art installation? Frank OHara, for instance, often worked with visual artists in a collaborative process. More recently, the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge has collaborated with artist Kiki Smith on a volume of poetry. Also, poetry has been appearing in unexpected places like on the New York City transit system, where one can read poems by Mary Ruefle on the walls of a subway tram. What are some ideal ways for poetry, in your mind, to break away from its more traditional boundaries? Have you ever used poetry towards a collaborative project?

ES: I am a big fan of bringing poetry out of its traditional boundaries, in all kinds of ways.  I've worked with visual artists (an installation with Peter Cole, poems for the artist Mel Chin's dictionary project, collaborative hand-painted books with two French painters, and for my book-length work The California Poem, a number of artists made work to go with the poem), musicians (including nyckelharpa player Sandra Wong and composer Philip Glass), as well as filmmaker Ed Bowes, to name a few.  For me, such cross-disciplinary work brings vibrancy to and increases the breadth of the possible conversation.

CJJ: Finally, Collected Works continual closing question; what are you reading right now?

ES:  I am reading Mei-mei's new book, Hello, the Roses, as well as Trois femmes puissantes (Three Powerful Women) by the French novelist Marie Ndiaye, and Telling Our Way to the Sea, by my friend Aaron Hirsch, which takes on the state of our oceans by talking about various species in them.  I've been reading, for class, American Women Poets in the 20th Century, and land artist Robert Smithson's fabulous essays.  Of recent chapbooks, I really loved Simone White's Unrest from Ugly Duckling Presse.

The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566893244
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Coffee House Press - April 30th, 2013

The California Poem Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566891622
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Published: Coffee House Press - October 1st, 2004

Body Clock Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566892193
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Published: Coffee House Press - October 1st, 2008

Collected Works Interviews Shaun T. Griffin


Interviewee: Shaun T. Griffin

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

CJJ:  You have been called, “Nevada’s best poet”. How do you feel about this distinction?

STG:  As to comparisons, there are many fine poets in Nevada—north, south, and rural—and I am honored to be among them.  But one of the beauties of living in this place is the lack of competition, of ego, of striving among this same group.  It is refreshing, particularly as a poet who grew up in a city where the notion of community is so hard to foster.  It does us no good to compare ourselves to others; we are all artists at work and the work is far more difficult than any notion of mastery will permit.

CJJ:  Your poems follow many themes, but I find these to be predominate: family, rural life, and community. You strengthen these themes by addressing an often ambiguous “you.” This “you” signifies both different individuals and, it seems to me, sometimes a larger more wide-ranging persona, a “you” that could be anyone reading along or listening to your work. Bearing that latter, wider “you” in mind, what is the social function of poetry? How, do you feel, does it speak to a community, a place, a way of life, etc.?


 STG:  With respect to my themes, there are at least three:  family, landscape, and work for justice in the larger world.  I just finished editing a book about Hayden Carruth.  In it, he talks about poetry having a social utility—in fact the very thing that drew him to poetry was the idea that he could change the world with his words.  Of course, it is not that simple but I believe we write for more than ourselves.  When I put down words, it is in this larger context, the context that I wake up to everyday—the incredible sense of both despair and hope that permeates our existence.  I would be foolish to think otherwise and consequently the “you” of address in my poetry hearkens to that frontier of imagination that wants more from this world than what we settle for.  

  Imagine peace—what an idea—and why can’t it be something that hearkens across the great tradition of poetry?  Or the absence of hunger?  Am I so naïve to propose such in a poem?  Or farther still—what about the love poem as yet unwritten, to some person or thing—a leaf, a tree, a star?  Neruda made a history of this infinite attention to detail and Lorca, like him, a history  of his people in words that transcended that time and place.  That is something that I remember every day as I return to the page:  what will this poem really mean?  How will I finally do justice to the landscape, to those I love, to the metallic taste in my mouth from the ore being driven from the nearby mine?  

CJJ:  A rather large section of your overall work deals with hunting, fishing, being an outdoors person. Though rural literature is a long-standing tradition, very few poets have made such sports a focus of their works. Would it be fair to say that such activities inspire you? Do you draw a lot of your poetic ore from your time in nature?


STG:  Regarding outdoor activities, because I am a watercolorist, I see things in colors.  When a landscape is burnished like the one I live in, it is representative of a feeling, a tone, and a moral and physical sense of place.  I carry that sense with me to these activities but they are only the beginnings of poems.  A place to start.  I am a pacifist; I do not hunt but it was a bad boyhood experience with hunting that led me here.  What I want to write is a poem that is larger than any one experience, a poem that might push the reader beyond the comfort of a physical act like fishing to consider what is not said or heard, but felt.  That is the hardest poem to write—the poem of inference—to name the very thing that has been unnamed.  Since the time of Lucretius we have struggled to get this right.  

  Landscape is similarly inviting and difficult to redress which is why I am so attracted to it.  Particularly the landscape of the Southwest—Nevada and New Mexico have much in common:  the colors, the light, the openness and there we are, small, little creatures in the middle of all this land.  What to say, what to do?  To take a real risk in this place is to try and represent something so beautiful in a poem.

CJJ: You are also a scholar. Most recently you’ve written a book about the poet Hayden Carruth who, as I see it, shares many qualities as a poet with your work. You have also translated some of the poetry of Emma Sepulveda. My question to you is, what is the difference in your mindset when you are working on a poem or a translation or a book of scholarship? Do these works all come from the same place inside of you or are they separate places?

STG:  Whether I’m translating, editing, or writing a poem—it emanates from my desire to know something more than I did before I began.  I have always considered myself a novice—still do—it’s just that I’m too stubborn to stop writing.  Translation is especially rewarding because you must make the poem sing in another language.  It is the greatest challenge for me—to find the language to bring it into the realm of music, the cadence, the nuance, the slippery divide of words that cannot be found and yet must be chosen.  But in truth, all literary work requires exquisite attention, concentration, and for a lack of a better word, prayerful dedication.  Nothing comes easily except, perhaps, that hundredth time you’ve tried to say one simple line.  This devotion to the ephemeral work of the mind requires faith—and not just a faith of belief but of action.  I cannot assent to the words without fully embracing the task.  And then I am consumed—which is what it takes.  Ken Kesey said writing is a corrosive process… so I have to remember to step back when the edge is near.  I have a busy job, a family, although grown, and a woman with whom I’ve lived for more than half of my life.  These, too, must be embraced for the words to return.

CJJ:  When you are working on new material, how do you keep notes or do your drafts? Do you have any reoccurring habits that you have found helpful in your literary career in regards to keeping a notebook? Or do you use some other system entirely?

STG:  When I’m working on something new, I typically write in longhand, although if I’m not able, I will write wherever and however it is possible and then revise the subsequent drafts on the computer.  I write almost all of my poetry in longhand and keep the drafts in journals so that I can revisit them when I have had some distance on the poems.  It’s very important that I know where the poems came from—physically—where I was at the time, what I was doing, so that I can recreate the moment from which it came.  
Prose is different.  I’m comfortable writing first drafts in both longhand and on the computer but it takes much longer to find the clarity and depth of a well-made sentence.  I’m sure that’s because I’m used to the poetic form; I want the snap of a line or stanza that is infrequent in prose.  Of course, many drafts—whether prose or poetry—never get typed because I know when I have completed them that they are frail and so I use the time I have to push the drafts that seem like they are possible further.  There are also many drafts that have died because of my unwillingness to resurrect them.  A Faustian bargain that I cannot reconcile.

CJJ:  What should the reader of poetry know about Hayden Carruth and his contribution to American poetry? What drew you to his work? Also, do you have a favorite poem by Carruth or collection of poetry?

Hayden Carruth

STG:  Hayden Carruth’s love of jazz and rural Vermont formed the core of much of his poetry.  He created multiple new poetic forms including the “Paragraph,” a highly evolved fifteen-line sonnet, which he used to write his book-length meditation on love, The Sleeping Beauty, which many feel was his strongest work.  But the poems from Brothers, I Loved You All, captured his humanity, his abiding concern for the values of his fellow “cowshit” farmers—thrift, community, labor, and sacrifice for one another when it was needed.  These values finally drew me to him and the more I read the more I wanted to tell his story.  He was neglected by many in the literary world but his closest friends, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Wendell Berry, Donald Hall, Galway Kinnell, Jim Harrison, Carolyn Kizer, and many more thought of him as someone who made poetry new.  They respected his desire to live far from the literary mainstream and yet make such an impact on literature.  He is perhaps most widely known as the editor of the anthology, The Voice that Is Great Within Us.  My favorite poem by Hayden Carruth is Paragraph 25 from Brothers… with these haunting lines:

Reading myself, old poems, their inside truth that was

(is, is!) crucial, tree stark in lightning glimpse, hidden

mostly by the storm:  complexities

modes, names, manners,         words laden

with terror.  What true voice?  Where?  Humiliated, in throes

of vacillation, roundhead to cavalier to ivy league to smartass—

never who I was.  Say it plain….

CJJ:  What should readers of poetry know about Emma Sepulveda? What kinship have you felt towards her work, and can you speak a little on the art of translation?

STG:  Emma Sepúlveda is a Chilean exile that came to this country when Salvador Allende was assassinated in 1973.  She has been a tireless human rights activist since immigrating as a college student.  She is a photographer, journalist, poet, and prose writer.  She has written numerous books and co-authored books with and about other Latin American writers.  I met her when I was editing the anthology of Nevada poetry, Desert Wood.  I knew immediately I wanted her in the book and yet, had never translated a poem.  I suggested we try and nearly three years later, we finished her book, Muerte del silencio, (Death to Silence) which Arte Público Press, published in 1997.  This led to several collaborations on translations of Latin American poets and prose writers for three books edited by Marjorie Agosín.

  What I admire most about her poetry and art is her unrelenting desire to tell the truth about her homeland and the consequences of Pinochet’s dictatorship.  I learned immensely from her example and had to teach myself so much about Latin American history and specifically, Chilean writers, to be a part of her artistic conversation.  Translation, as I have said, is deeply rewarding and if I had more time, I would translate often but—the poet has to speak to me for the translation to be fully realized.  I have tried to translate some Spanish poets and it has not gone well.  I try and write poems in Spanish but imagine they are limited in their reach.  Emma and I also translated a volume of poems by children of the disappeared, From Nowhere We Shall Pass, for which we have not found a publisher.  Those poems are heroic and beautiful and need to be recorded in the history of Chile’s long struggle for independence.

CJJ:  Having read your book This is What the Desert Surrenders a few time now, the poems in the section entitled “Winter in Pediatrics” continually strike me. The poems there haunt the back of my mind and sometimes remind me of Miguel Hernandez and his poetry dealing with the loss of a child. These poems are charged and that charge is fueled, I find, by both hope and sorrow. If you feel comfortable, can you tell us a little about these poems, their motivating factors, and their after effects (if any) on you as a poet?

STG:  The poems from Winter in Pediatrics (from The Harvest of Lesser Burdens:  Art in the Fields of Medicine) were written during a two-year residency at what was then Washoe Medical Center in Reno as part of their Healing Arts Program.  I was one of three artists—a photographer, Stephen Davis, a painter, Sharon Maczko, and myself—who spent time in the various parts of the hospital to record the journeys of the patients.  Our cumulative experiences resulted in that book (The Harvest…).  I worked in Pediatrics and Pediatric ICU.  It was one of the most profoundly moving experiences I have had.  Every week I spent a morning in the hospital and when I left I tried to record what happened.  Some days I wrote a journal entry but could not write any more.  Some days the sorrow was overwhelming.  On other days, I got lucky and wrote a poem.  I always asked if I could share their experiences and became very close to several of the patients and their families.  I have the highest regard for the nurses in that unit.  Over time, they let me sit in on their rounds.  Their humanity was unlike any I had seen—over and over again, they returned to the bedside and the family to administer care—whatever the circumstance.  More often than not, they brought the family through the long period of suffering.  They, like the young patients, were equally resilient.  Few people have so much on the line when they walk into work everyday.  Perhaps the poems are acute because there was nothing imagined save the fear that was everywhere and could not be spoken.

CJJ:  Finally, what are you reading right now?

STG:  I’m trying to read for pleasure again.  After so long on the Carruth book and other books, I have thoroughly enjoyed returning to fiction for joy.  I just finished McCarthy’s The Road—years later I know—and I am about to start on a biography of Robert Laxalt:  The Story of a Storyteller.  A friend gave me The Boat by Nam Le and I may swerve to get to that one first.  The choices are endless even as I read manuscripts like Stephen Liu’s Entering the Valley of Peach Blossoms, another excellent book looking for a home.

Halloween continues with Wilke Collins' Dream Woman

I want to tell you about “The Dream Woman,” an 1855 horror story by the English novelist Wilkie Collins, but first I need to tell you about something that happened to my friend's cousin's friend's girlfriend:

A teenage girl who worked at the mall in town was closing her store for the night. She cashed out her register, set the alarm for the evening and walked into the parking lot, which was empty except for her car.

She was unlocking her car door when she was approached by an old woman wearing a floral print dress and a fancy hat. The old woman, who was clearly upset, told her that she had missed the last bus leaving from the mall and she was afraid to walk home. Could she get a ride? Her house was in a rural area outside of town, but it wasn’t too far of a drive. She promised to give the girl gas money.

The girl took her up on the offer, but started getting a strange feeling about the old woman as they drove away from town. Without saying a word the girl quickly pulled into a gas station parking lot and ran to a payphone. She called the police. 

The police arrived to find the girl's passenger door hanging open. There was no trace of the old woman anywhere near the gas station. When they asked the girl why she called she told them that, as the car passed under a streetlight, she saw that the “old woman” had hairy knuckles, a thick, tattooed forearm and that she was reaching into her shopping bag for a meat cleaver.

Tell your friends about this story because this madman hasn't been caught or even identified by the authorities. He could still be dressed as an old woman. He could still be hunting for potential victims in malls across the country. Who can tell?

Urban legends like this one scare me more than most horror stories because they sell a plausible worldview of ambiguity and cosmic indifference. They tell me that at any moment the city I live in could cough up a faceless killer like the one mentioned above. This person is a murderous cipher. His past is unknown. He can't be explained or exterminated. He is void. His whole being is a set of grisly motives armed with a sharp object. 

Urban legend pyschos are rarely caught by the police. If the protagonist is lucky enough to escape them, the killers sink back beneath the murk of urban life, lost to the authorities and our quaint ideas of justice. The audience to an urban legend is denied a positive resolution. These stories suspend the audience in unresolved horror, compelling them to place themselves in the roles of potential victims. One of these killers could be watching you from across the street as you read this. There's no sure way to protect yourself. You must be on your guard. Forever. 

“The Dream Woman,” specifically a shorter edit of the story available in ghost story collections like Edward Gorey's The Haunted Looking Glass, resonates with the same kind of horror found in modern urban legends. A doctor visiting a remote inn in the country wants to put his horse up for the night, but he finds the inn's ostler sleeping in the stable. Sleep, however, isn't really an accurate way to describe what the ostler is going through: He's soaked in sweat, screaming as though he's afraid for his life, pleading with someone in his dream to leave him alone. 

As the ostler's night terrors continue in the background, the innkeeper tells the doctor how he came to be that way. Many years ago the ostler had a horrible dream, or vision, or visitation; it's hard to say for sure. 

About a year after the nightmare the ostler meets a distraught woman on the streets of his home town. Collins presents this woman as someone who is dark and attractive, but he bleaches out most of her troubled past, telling us there's no need to go into detail about it. You've already read dozens of stories like hers in the saddest kinds of news reports. 

This woman could be anyone. 

This woman is no one. 

The ostler marries this woman against the wishes of his longsuffering mother. As for what happens next, I'll only say there's a reason why urban legends warn you not to adopt pets you find while vacationing in foreign countries. 

Longer edits of “The Dream Woman” focus more on the story's fate and occult aspects. But although Collins turns these versions into perfect circles of iron block determinism he sacrifices much of the ambiguity that I feel is so important in horror. Fate, even if it moves toward a nightmarish end, is still a plan and plans imply safety. The length of these versions also give Collins more time to dwell on his outdated attitudes toward women and that's best avoided. 

Try to have a fun Halloween this year. Collins wants you to know that the city you live in is murky and deep. You're being hunted by monsters. Check every piece of candy for razors. Never start your car at night without looking in the back seat first.

Bill Rodgers lives in Santa Fe. He writes weird horror-comedy on Twitter as @SleepawayChamp.

The Haunted Looking Glass (New York Review Books Classics) Cover Image
By Edward Gorey, Edward Gorey (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780940322684
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: New York Review of Books - February 28th, 2001


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