We enter into oil slicked rainbow versions of “Truth”. As poet Lauren Gordon permits, “Truth,” the “big T” discussions are ideologies of our humanity, in transit, communicated though our Art; language. Our communication gives permission to our thumbs. Gordon segments, “We live within a system that has been complicit in racism, militarism, discrimination, intolerance, classism, and injustice.” We know this. However while our ideologies can be masked in the very alphabet we use to prescribe our definitions, the good, the spectrum of this alternate blooms. We grow, the backbones of our tongues, in beauty and even in violence she describes, “doesn’t make that ‘fondness’ any less ‘True’.” Continuing, “The image is powerful. As for finding our way out? Education. Critical Thinking. Literature. Unconditional Love. Self Awareness. Wisdom. Question why Johnny Depp is portraying a Comanche Native American in the Lone Ranger film.”
Gordon’s work traverses these sedimentary scapes discussing in this conversation, “a girl who has a genuine love of her world, which is not always so small … the tension of the self, the tension of the self in nature – and later, with the father and sexuality.” We enter a wonderful inner monologue that entrails our perception in music and imagery. The writing of women in America she states, “has been paved by fierce, brave, crazy, amazing, honest and notable women. I think the road, in general, still needs quite a bit more paving … My vote is for more empowerment, more feminism, more women, more more more.”
Lauren Gordon’s poetry has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Inlandia Journal, Verse Wisconsin, Midwest Literary Magazine, Knocking at the Door from Birch Brook Press, Web Del Sol and has been featured on Iowa Public Radio. Lauren holds an MFA in Poetry from New England College with an undergraduate degree in English from University of Iowa. She currently resides in Madison, WI with her husband and daughter.
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
I have always loved writing, but it never occurred to me that I could make a college career out of studying and writing poetry until a little later in life. I was a non-traditional student at a community college taking night classes when a professor encouraged me to go for it. I was an avid reader as a kid and I loved Judy Blume. She has such a way of marking the deep interiors of a girl’s heart with indelible images. When I was studying at the University of Iowa, I couldn’t get enough Louise Gluck – The Wild Iris saw me through a divorce. Everything has meaning when you’re in pain, but that particular book still moves me. Niedecker and Plath are favorites, too. At this point in my life, I want humor! I want to be tickled, whether it’s from a play on words or in the imagery. David Sedaris consistently has me laughing aloud, but I also really appreciate more subtle playfulness in poetry.
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
I have been so privileged to have the chance to workshop with many wonderful writers and poets. Robin Hemley is the program director at the University of Iowa and I took one of his workshops and was profoundly changed. He questioned the big T word: Truth- and as a result, I spent a semester immersed in being mindful and present in my writing; something that really informed my poetry. He taught me how to write the Truth without writing the truth. I also really valued my mentorship with Ilya Kaminsky who taught me how to sing.
3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
The simplistic answer is that as I change, my work changes. I spent a long time writing what I knew; literally, every poem was about what I knew. I think my poetry now is more about what I don’t know, which is nice, because that is a lot more fodder.
4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
I have a great story. I took a workshop with Michael Waters and before the workshop, I heard quite a few horror stories about how hard he could be on poets. I was a little nervous and had chosen a relatively short poem that related the sport of hawking to marriage (write what you know). Mr. Waters was very praising and approving of the poem which was surprising and amazing – and then he said, “Jesses. What a great word. What motivated you to use this particular word?” I answered, way too excitedly: “Romance novels! I was just reading a romance novel and they mentioned the jesses because there was a big hawking scene…” and I will never forget the look on his face. It was like someone literally deflated him. He said “ohhhhh kaaaaayyyy. Moving on to the next poem…” Hysterical. So yes I’m influenced by anything and everything, even romance novels about the English aristocracy in the nineteenth century.
5.) What are your plans for the future?
I just quit my job as an Office Manager for a small business (like, 2 hours ago) and plan on spending the next year at home with my daughter, Natalie. I’ve been working on publishing the last two years so now I think I will just concentrate on writing, writing, writing. I believe I may return to non-fiction writing. I’ve been toying with the idea of a blog, but I am so not technically-inclined. I’m also really bad at self promotion. So basically I just need a diary.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
A friend on Facebook just posted a link to an article about Jorie Graham winning the Forward Poetry Prize – pretty amazing and wonderful and I believe she is the first female American to win the prize? I think the road in America has been paved by fierce, brave, crazy, amazing, honest and notable women. I think the road, in general, still needs quite a bit more paving. I’ve been bumping the glass ceiling for a few years now. My vote is for more empowerment, more feminism, more women, more more more.
7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?
AnnMarie O’Connell. Joanna Penn Cooper. Jen Hope Stein. Lea Deschenes. Jillian Mukavetz. Anchia Kinard. Maria Teutsch. Christine Hamm. Julie Vick. Cinnamon Stuckey. Kirsten Sundberg Lunstrum. Ivy Page. Lisa Sisler. Every single one of these women has written something that has stayed with me, moved me, surprised me, awed me. Goddesses.
8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
Short. In every sense of that word.
9.) Little House, Little Song, is a sing-songy beauty of a tale built into the logic of danger. The magic is simultaneous and clean in music as it disguises the violence of the structure in song and lullaby. Here God is hateful and nature cut and restrained. Take for example your passage, “Ma scraps the boiled orange / from a shredded carrot to color white butter, // presses it into pretty / strawberry leaf molds for Pa’s haying supper: // (blackbirds, blackbirds, baked in a pie shot you down from the prairie sky / blacktears, blacktears, watched you cry / grinding up the flour for the chicken fry).” As readers we can feel absence in the architecture of the pretty premise. Can you please speak to how illuminating this proxy acknowledges the homage to these violence structures and how you see a way out of these modes of thinking?
I think this comes back to Truth, big T. We live within a system that has been complicit in racism, militarism, discrimination, intolerance, classism, and injustice. I have always loved the Little House books and even though I get them out and reread them every few years, I consistently find myself wanting more grit, more Truth. I supposed what I discovered while writing this series poem is that you can have fond, nostalgic memories that take place within a catechism that is complicit in violence and it doesn’t make that “fondness” any less True. I think Art (capital A) can sometimes benefit from a healthy dose of pragmatism. The image is powerful. As for finding our way out? Education. Critical Thinking. Literature. Unconditional Love. Self Awareness. Wisdom. Question why Johnny Depp is portraying a Comanche Native American in the Lone Ranger film.
10.) This passage particularly struck me: “Make it sweet, Ma, / sweet prairie grass sweet, Ma. / Hit it with spittle, / hot striking stranger eyes / all over my body. // Look at me strangely, Ma. / Say it with biscuits, say it with blackbirds: / Sweet are the uses of adversity — // There isn’t a single fucking rabbit left in this country, mother.” The intimacy between mother and daughter here is exonerated in the alienation between the two. “Sweet are the uses of adversity,” seems to commend, but also celebrate the sacrificial components of self in the interaction. How do you reflect on these relationship dynamics as you provide a social stage to encourage difference and promote change?
Sacrifice is the perfect word to describe every single one of the Ingalls women. “Sweet are the uses of adversity” is a line from As You Like It:
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
Don’t you love the image of tongues in trees? Nature informs every aspect of my Laura and I include “human nature” in that sense, too. This is a girl in the throws of puberty dealing with her mother’s grief, her mother’s fears, and her mother’s tenacity. This is a girl with a serious whispering demon on her shoulder telling her to just be bad. However, this is also a girl who has a genuine love of her world, which is not always so small. The tension between the mother and daughter is a reflection of the tension of the self, the tension of the self in nature – and later, with the father and sexuality. I think these are pretty legit dynamics that can speak to a modern audience, even if Nature seems much more abated now (abated in the sense that technology has allowed us some mastery of Nature).
11.) Can you describe the poetic choice in your use of form and how this interacts with the melopoeia, logopoeia and phanopoeia of the lullaby?
In some of the verses, I used colloquial language to create a “truer” inner monologue for Laura’s voice which lends to the melopoeia and I relied very heavily on repetition to create the lyrical lulling that has to occur throughout the poem. The verbal impact of the refrain is what allowed me to be playful with line breaks:
No light had we: for that we do repent it.
Mary, sweet violet, I never really meant it
And God hates a liar
The italicized line that occurs throughout the poem is a line from Lord Tennyson’s “Late, Late, so Late”. Laura Ingalls Wilder was connected to the poetry of Tennyson so by using a few of these lines, I could mimic form, break it apart, play with it and use it as a catalyst for Truth (that T word again). Isn’t phanopoeia a great word? The Little House books were so successful in their phanopoeia that the only way I could make this series poem work was to attempt to write equally memorable imagery.
It doesn’t hurt to have Ilya Kaminsky edit your manuscript, either.