Monday, June 17, 2024

Michael Goodfellow, Folklore of Lunenburg County

 

BALLAD

—tide scraped against rusty grate,
against ironstone, in and out of the culvert,

creosote burnished,
and pulled at its bleached beams

and rafters waterlogged with rot
salt had almost been enough to stop

—pulled at graves of the Protestant dead
at Riverport, in Creaser’s Cove,

at whitewashed stones and apple root
washed clean, bright with tawn,

where in some pit the sea rustled
and threw up sand

—d metal flaked off from the world above,
hulls, rock ground off Gaff Point,

wind pulled, sky turned,
salt line drawn,

horizon flat across the river’s face
and blew to keep the gash in place

The second full-length poetry title by Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia poet Michael Goodfellow, following Naturalism, An Annotated Bibliography: Poems (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press, 2022) [see my review of such here], is Folklore of Lunenburg County (Gaspereau Press, 2024). Goodfellow’s latest collection riffs off the volume Folklore of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia (Ottawa ON: E. Cloutier, King’s Printer, 1950) by Dartmouth, Nova Scotia folklorist Helen Creighton (1899–1989), the spirit of that particular collection utilized as a prompt for Goodfellow’s explorations on landscape, folklore and storytelling through the form of the narrative, first-person lyric. According to one online biography for Creighton: “She collected 4,000 traditional songs, stories, and myths in a career that spanned several decades and published many books and articles on Nova Scotia folk songs and folklore.” “A haunting was a dream you had with your eyes open,” Goodfellow writes, as part of “OTHERS SAID DISAPPEARANCE / WAS RINGED LIKE A TRUNK,” “just as the sky was paved with the light of stones. / The forest was a wall that painted itself. / The forest was a door that didn’t close.” As the back cover of Goodfellow’s collection offers, his poems “are rooted in the ethnogeography of Helen Creighton and the otherworldly stories of supernatural encounters that she collected on the south shore of Nova Scotia in the mid-twentieth century. For Goodfellow, these accounts evoke much more than quaint records of a primitive time and place.” Part of the strength of Goodfellow’s lyrics is his ability to offer such precise physicality, composing poems hewn, and hand-crafted with a hint of wistful, folkloric fancy in otherwise pragmatic offerings. “The light how stars are brighter / when you don’t stare at them,” he writes, to open “WINTER LEGEND,” “how a fall day could feel like spring, / how a dog won’t look at you when it’s frightened, // how ash is the last to leaf, / how on certain nights / it was said that animals could speak, // how we named the stars other things. / How often their names were animals.”

Collected across two section-halves, “TOPOLOGIES” and “REVENANTS,” the poems of Goodfellow’s Folklore of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia are grounded in a particular geographic tradition of storytelling, crafted through direct statements that bend as required, offering hints of unexplained conditions and supernatural encounters, extending or turning his view. His is a precise lyric of landscape and dreams, folktales and loss. As he writes to close the poem “GHOST STORY”: “When the ground was cold such things were clear. / Only later did it seem like we’d imagined them.” There is something intriguing about how Goodfellow utilizes the suggestion of outside sources for his framing, from the “bibliography” of his full-length debut to now taking Helen Creighton’s work as a prompt through which to respond in his own way to what he sees, as though seeking an outside lens from which to jump off of, to begin to explore, in his own way, the landscape, stories and people of his home county and province. Through Creighton, Goodfellow responds to both the stories themselves and the collection of those stories. “The stories collected were fragmentary,” he writes, to open the prose poem “MOTIFS,” “not even stories / in some cases, just a line or two about what they had seen.”

 

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Peter Gizzi, A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews, ed. Zoe Tuck

 

Though I’ve given you some of my personal backdrop of the periods in which I composed some of my work, it’s not that I narrate my biography in any of these poems. I don’t really write about my life. I write out of my life and where I am at a given moment of thinking and feeling. I mean to say, you don’t need to know my story to get the work, i.e., to fully engage with it. I’d like to call it a feeling intellect. I feel it’s more useful, and more honest, to interrogate rather than explain away an ungovernable, complex emotional state. I favor sensation over autobiography. It’s like I’m an ethnographer of my nervous system. (YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE—2020 “NATIVE IN HIS OWN TONGUE: AN INTERVIEW WITH POET PETER GIZZI” JESSE GODINE)

I’m appreciating the insight into American poet and editor Peter Gizzi’s writing and thinking through A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews (Boise ID: Free Poetry Press, 2021), edited with an introduction by Zoe Tuck. Gizzi is the author of numerous books and chapbooks, including Fierce Elegy (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2023) [see my review of such here], Now It’s Dark (Wesleyan, 2020) [see my review of such here], Sky Burial: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet, UK 2020), Archeophonics (Wesleyan, 2016), In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987-2011 (Wesleyan, 2014), Threshold Songs (Wesleyan, 2011), The Outernationale (Wesleyan, 2007) [see my review of such here], Some Values of Landscape and Weather (Wesleyan, 2003), Artificial Heart (Burning Deck, 1998), and Periplum (Avec Books, 1992), as well as co-editor (with Kevin Killian) of my vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) [see my review of such here]. Moving through his website, it is frustrating to be reminded how much of his work I’m missing (I’ve reviewed everything of his I’ve seen, if that tells you anything), but interesting to realize that Wesleyan University Press published In the Air: Essays on the Poetry of Peter Gizzi (2018), a further title I’d be interested to get my hands on, especially after going through these interviews.

I’m intrigued with what American poet and editor Martin Corless-Smith is doing with this venture, the handful of titles he’s published to date through the Free Poetry’s “Poetry and Poetics Series” [see my review of Cole Swensen’s And And And (2022) from the same series here], apparently accepting manuscripts and pitches on a case-by-case basis. A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews, produced as volume two in this ongoing series, compiles nine previously published interviews with Peter Gizzi from 2003 to 2021, from The Paris Review, Poetry Foundation, jubilat and Rain Taxi, conducted by writers, critics and poets such as Ben Lerner, Aaron Kunin, Levi Rubeck, Matthew Holman and Anthony Caleshu. As editor Tuck writes as part of their introduction: “Why interviews? Biography can too easily become hagiography (Gizzi would be the first to insist that he’s a person, not a saint), and memoir carries with it the impulse to smooth life’s unruliness into a single consistent narrative. If readings are poetry’s official ritual, interviews are the cigarette outside: intimate and unrehearsed. What’s more, the interview is a relational form. And the various interlocutors in this collection—a precocious undergrad, notable contemporaries, life-long friends, people from places where Gizzi has traveled—call forth distinct facets of his life and work.” There is something really interesting about hearing the author’s thoughts in their own words, as well as, as Tuck suggests, a directed thinking through not only conversation, but multiple conversations. The portrait that emerges of Gizzi is one that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his work, providing a deeply thoughtful and engaged reader and thinker, one who has read widely, is open to new influences and ideas, and holds firm to his influences, as well as providing curious echoes between interviews (given the range of dates is within a particular boundary of sixteen years, that certainly makes sense). As Gizzi responds as part of an interview conducted by Ben Lerner:

As Ted Berrigan said, “I write the old-fashioned way, one word after another” or, to quote Pound, “put on a timely vigor.” As long as there is soldiery, there will be poets: “I sing of arms and the man,” Virgil begins his tale of the west; sadly, the relation between war and song is a venerable tradition. I own it. There is no easy “app” to the muses. I suspected that your original question about the “perils of singing” was connected to the many discussions, debates, and attacks on the lyric as a substantial form of thinking (I almost wrote “thinking”). Why should I apologize for, or give up on, one of the most flexible and dynamic forms of poetry? So I can download my work? I mean, what do they call the guy who graduates last in his class at a fancy med school? Doctor. It’s scary. But it’s the same for poetic practice. And as is the case with all disciplines, it’s always a question of ambition, of how well it’s done, right? Like every good poet before me, I accept my responsibility to my vocation.

 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Pamela Gwyn Kripke

Pamela Gwyn Kripke is a journalist and author of the novel, At the Seams (Open Books, 2023), and the story collection, And Then You Apply Ice (Open Books, 2024). She has written for The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, Medium, New York Magazine, Parenting, Redbook, Elle, D Magazine, Creators Syndicate, Gannett Newspapers and McClatchy, among other publications. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals including Folio, The Concrete Desert Review, The Barcelona Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction and The MacGuffin. Pamela holds degrees from Brown University and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and was selected to attend the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. She has taught journalism at DePaul University and Columbia College in Chicago and has held magazine editorships in New York and Dallas. She has two daughters and lives near Philadelphia.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I wrote my first book, a memoir titled Girl Without a Zip Code, in 2018. I didn’t realize at the time, as a journalist without much knowledge about book publishing in general and small presses in particular, that I could have pitched the indie publishers. Instead, I sent it to a few agents, who rejected it, so I self-published it, too quickly I think. I love the book, and it confirmed for me that I could write longer than 1500 words. My recent work, a story collection titled And Then You Apply Ice, is similar in all the writerly ways but different, logistically, as it was published by a small press.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I’ve been a widely-published journalist for 30-plus years and have written for some wonderful and prestigious publications. Just before the pandemic, I began writing and submitting short stories. This felt like a natural progression from writing essays, which I’ve done for a long time. During the lockdowns, I started a novel, At the Seams, based on an episode in my family’s history, and it was published in 2023. The collection came a year later and includes a few of the previously published stories.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

If by “start” you mean putting the first word on the page, physically, that does not take long. But the ideas run around my head for a while before I do that. Mostly, I’m thinking about whether something would make a good story or not, whether it has what it needs. I’m not spending time gearing up to write or putting it off or indulging some desire to traipse around Thailand. As a trained journalist, I view the work as my job, so that is what I do. On the sentence level, the final drafts are quite close to the first. I like for each sentence to be great before I move on, as they are a chain. The rhythm of one sets up the next. Sound is important to me. And to my dog, who has heard a lot.

4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I’m new to writing book-length works, so I’m not sure there is anything usual about it yet. The novel began as a newspaper column, which prompted the idea for a memoir, which ultimately turned into fiction when I hit too many dead ends in the research. After having a few stories published in literary journals, I had the idea to group them. So, I analyzed them for common themes and then wrote new stories, with some recurring characters, that would live nicely with the original ones.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

With At the Seams, I began doing readings. Though I’ve taught classes in rooms of people, I don’t really love speaking in front of groups. The beauty of writing is that people hear your voice without your having to talk. But, the marketing. So yes, I do them. I enjoy answering the questions that people have more than the actual reading. I’d love it if someone else would do that part.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I’m interested in the ways that beings interact and specifically, how the actions of one can affect the life course of another in tumultuous and presumptuous and also welcome ways.  

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think that writers offer ways to see the world. We’re all seeing the same thing, but what affects us, what the story is, is different person to person. So, I guess that we give readers a look at what they may have seen, too, from a completely different vantage point. The result of that, or maybe it’s a goal, is to broaden perspective and help people to be more tolerant and generous. I think we’ve hit a low point with generosity.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I’m used to working with editors as a magazine and newspaper reporter. And as a freelancer for a long time, I’ve worked with many, most of whom have been excellent and generally make the work better in some way. I’ve also worked as an editor, so I understand and respect the process. It’s always interesting and helpful to hear what other experts think.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

When I began pitching pieces to magazines and newspapers, I’d be ecstatic when a story was accepted and pretty upset when one wasn’t. A musician friend advised me to rein it all in, to be just a little bit happy or a little bit annoyed. He said to only put the work out there when I believed it was at its best. That helps to maintain an emotional equilibrium regardless of one person’s opinion.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to memoir to essays to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?

It’s been easy and fun. And, each genre uses different muscles, so one sharpens the other. It’s kind of like cross-training.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Now that my kids are out of the house, my dog is responsible for starting the day, and he does it well. We are outside by 7, typically, earlier with the time change. For years, I had tea and plain toast upon our return. Now, it’s coffee, and the toast is topped with avocado and tomatoes. Without it, the world is crooked. I check the usual things on my computer - mail, the headlines in The Times, my book’s amazon page - and then I continue writing where I left off the day before. This is never at the end of a paragraph or a chapter. I’ll always begin the next chunk of writing, even if it’s a few words, which makes for easy entry the next day. In the afternoon, I do the work that pays most of the bills, the teaching and editing and assorted assignments. There is exercise at 3:30 and often, a return to the words after that.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I take a walk or do an errand in the car. The radio is tuned to a country music station. Though I’m a New Yorker, I spent 17 years in Texas, my daughters’ childhoods, basically. A lot was difficult for me there, but it’s where my kids grew into the people they are now, so I love it for that. Listening to songs about trucks and sundresses and heartache is nostalgic, and that feeling gets me thinking creatively.

13 - What was your last Hallowe'en costume?

When my kids were little, they insisted I dress up with them. I remember being a flower child, a ballerina and a rock star in a pink Betsey Johnson. But my favorite costume came before they were around. For a grad school party (I was studying Journalism), I dressed up as the NBC peacock. I constructed the feathers from wire and crepe paper, in one piece, pinned to my back. They extended over my head and beyond my shoulders; I remember having trouble getting into the cab.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

The arts and science have been long standing interests. I’ve always made things with paint, fabric and yarn and still do. My grandfather was a dressmaker (he’s a character in my novel), and my mom sewed, too, and painted. I grew up covered in oil pastels and all else, and I played instruments and danced. Creativity was valued and encouraged. My dad was a surgeon, so I also learned about spleens and cell organelles way before kids typically do. Many of my characters know about all of these things.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I try to read a lot of different things…short stories, newspapers, essays, novels. I’ll read sappy women’s fiction and also scholarly articles on legal topics.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I’d like to choose a suitable boyfriend.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I may have become an architect. I’m both artistic and analytical, and I love houses and buildings and dimensions and design, so I think it would have made sense.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

My mother says that in second grade, when the other kids wrote a paragraph, I wrote six pages. Apparently, my teacher, Mrs. Roman, stapled them up on the board, one paper on top of the other like a book. Even for a year and a half in college when I thought I’d be a doctor, I worked for my college newspaper and radio station. I’ve always carried a pen and paper. When people talk, I see the words in typeface.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I’ve just started Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell, which is promising to be great. And I loved the film, Nyad.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’ve just begun work on a novel about a mid-life relationship. See question #16.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;