Annie Guthrie poetically transfixtures emphatic and empathetic states of semiosis. Jewelry, she explains, is about “noise, rhythm, placement, shape and tools and I think about tension and action in terms of poetry.” A drawing produces intervals of “mark-making and how the gesture is made in language outside of chronology or narrative.” The elements of “poetry [happen] across investigation and encounter and it isn’t separate from life.” Rather, “It’s the score of a call and response of the interior.” This compelling play enunciates how we encounter life and self.
In this interview, we consider Guthrie’s book the good dark forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2014. The tangled economical positions cue “gossip,” “ontological and existential suffering,” “visibility,” and the constitution of this space. The main character tumbles towards desire; intimations of saturated intimacy. “Threat” occurs when “visible” dissolves the speaker’s ability to merge with her beloved. Guthrie shares, “The identity of this beloved is often confused, for her, and for the reader. This is an enactment of spiritual grappling.” It is only when she is able to accept self-difference that conscious calculation is surrendered. This, as Guthrie inspires, “[makes] room for…a spirit-ditch.” Ultimately, “The speaker is seeking self/meaning/god in everything, which includes ‘a boy,’ ‘the visible,’ ‘the body,’ etc. In short, everything is considered. All approaches, conceptual, physical, perceptual, biological, intuitive, spiritual, are considered.”
Annie Guthrie is a writer and jeweler from Tucson. She is the Marketing Director at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she recently curated a national symposium, Poetry off the Page, featuring poets who work in hybrid, multi-media forms and in other art forms such as film, theater, book arts and dance.
Annie has a metalsmithing shop at the Splinter Brothers warehhouse in Tucson where she designs custom pieces in platinum, gold and silver. Her how-to jewelry book, Instant Gratification, was published with Chronicle Books. Her jewels can be seen at http://www.annieguthrie.net and on Etsy.
Annie received an MFA from Warren Wilson and has been teaching Oracular Writing at the Poetry Center since 2009. Annie has poems published in Tarpaulin Sky, Ploughshares, Fairy Tale Review, Many Mountains Moving, HNGMAN, The Destroyer, RealPoetik, Everyday Genius, Omniverse, The Volta, Spiral Orb, The Dictionary Project, 1913, A Journal of Forms, Drunken Boat, and more. Her book “the good dark” will be published with Tupelo Press in 2014.
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer?
In fourth grade, I wrote a “collection” of my “creative writing stories.” The best one was called “fortunately, unfortunately.” It amuses me that my thought default mechanism was already in place. In sixth grade, I won a prize for reading the most books in the school. I think I wrote a hundred book reports. I was trained as a reader. My family was book-centered. In junior high I always hid in the library at lunch time to avoid the other kids. I think writing is just what young readers begin to do. There was never a decision. My Mom always made us keep diaries. I was really into journalism class in seventh grade. Writing was the way I worked out my being. It still is. I grew up identifying as a writer but I really wanted to be a painter.
2.) Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
I like difficult writing. I think I always have. I like to be made to think harder or differently. When I was a kid I loved mystery novels. That has translated in adulthood to a love of mystic/shaman writer-thinkers like Helene Cixous, William Bronk, Bhanu Kapil, Gaston Bachelard, Sofie Calle, Michael Palmer, Virginia Woolf, Paul Celan, J.M. Coetzee, Jesse Ball, Fanny Howe, Fyoder Doestoyevsky, Hiromi Ito, W.G. Sebald, Fred Moten, Susan Howe. When I love a writer I read them for life. Additions are made, but my loves don’t change. I’m very loyal. I’m slinking around the thought-archives of Dalkey and Naropa and the Sorbonne.
3.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
I worked with Claudia Rankine early on at Warren Wilson and she remains a powerful influence and friend. She’s got this ferociously lightning mind on top of this thick, established stratum of calm. An incredible human. Another great thinker that has shaped and re-shaped really my entire approach to writing, teaching, and to life is Kim Young, a painter, and a dream and IChing scholar. My husband Tommaso Cioni is my greatest teacher. He is a great manifester; he writes poetry with his lifestyle.
4.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
I don’t know. The subject of inquiry changes, so the writing changes. I like to think of the writing as what’s left behind of my inductions and transductions. It’s crafted evidence of thought. So whatever I am inspiriting gets its traces all over the pages.
5.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
Absolutely everything has a chance to emphatically and empathically influence me. If I am making jewelry I think about noise, rhythm, placement, shape and tools and I think about tension and action in terms of poetry. If I am drawing I think about mark-making and how the gesture is made in language outside of chronology or narrative. I read a lot of fiction, because I am interested in building and accumulation. I often get a little lost in research when I explore other fields. I am teaching a class called “Oracular Mapping,” and so I am reading a lot of material related to urban planning. Right now I am reading “The Wayfinding Handbook,” “The Image of the City,” and “Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information,” for instance. The poetry happens across investigation and encounter and it isn’t separate from life.
It’s the score of a call and response of the interior.
6.) What are your plans for the future?
I’m going to continue teaching “Oracular Writing” at the Poetry Center in Tucson – it keeps me on my toes. Hopefully I can manage a tiny book tour when the book comes out. I have friends in big cities and I will probably just design it around where my loved ones live: Paris, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Asheville…hmm I am forgetting somebody.
7.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?
8.) In the section: “chorus,” the voice of, “*the priest” orchestrates a scenario in which the “Lord performs a test”. The priest has set up “one mirror, in an empty room, the entrance to his home. / And the call to his guests: ‘Come, I’m in the back’.” The visitors are invited to walk through a “secret” opening admitting, “I don’t care for submission. As much as coincidence. / I’m not good at being very happy, / when not spoken to directly.” The request is one to look at themselves in a petri dish of sorts where the priest assumes an omniscient hierarchical presence. If this was a coincidental happening they may succumb in a discourse that places both respective intentions across from one another. However defining his position within his own home is alienating and their participation is black and white. They defensively acknowledge the test. The structure of the test dissolves the intimacy of the interaction. Does the test lack intimacy because of the structure of the environment, or does it lack intimacy because of the structure of the pathos? Which do you believe to be more hierarchical?
The priest is telling a story (an unlikely one for the priest to tell) about the Lord. It’s the Lord’s home, and the Lord’s test that the priest illustrates. However, the priest’s own sermon undoes his intentions, because his characters lose their identity in the syntax: the reader doesn’t know if it is the Lord whispering, or his guests. This is serving to abolish hierarchy. The syntactical arrangement itself is a gesture toward intimacy. Which is what the speaker is seeking throughout all her investigation.
How can the spiritual component of this piece be altered so that the priest is an open presence not lost in a looming controlling based spectrum that is based on fear? Well I wouldn’t want to do that, because it isn’t a tract, it isn’t redemptive. These poems are evidence left by a speaker, a seeker who leaves a trail of ontological and existential suffering.
Is this a critique of monotheism?
No, this is a poem- it contains our loneliness – god’s, and ours.
9.) The voice “*the gossip,” in the same section, is a tavern “damp, dark, filled with enough / to feel invisible.” We learn, “The Visible [is] a violent character here.” We read on, “She’s tethered to a game. The man will play the ground. / ‘What are you doing, protecting your rook?’ he’ll say, taking the queen. / ‘Trying to find a good place to hide,’ she’ll say, letting him down.” This societal reflection juxtoposes girl in her visibility as both victim and passivity. The “game” of social underpinnings is everywhere. “He” is the player. Here “She” lets him down. If she plays him does this admonish both visibility as violent and she as passive? Where in your mind do you see the flexible underpinnings of being both visible and non-violent, active, and cooperative? And why is this gossip?
The gossip tells of an encounter between a man and our main character (“she.”) The “visible” is a spiritual threat to her, she who is trying to mystically dissolve, or merge with her beloved. The identity of this beloved is often confused, for her, and for the reader. This is an enactment of spiritual grappling, but not a sociopolitical commentary. The gesture to want to hide inside of the inanimate and too-small rook reveals the crisis and confusion of the character, she missing entirely he man’s grounding gesture to keep her in the game (in the present.) Gossip is not real, it’s gossip. A poem is a kind of gossip, that is, it can only touch some part of the truth about this kind of crisis.
10.) The character/theme “*gossip” at one point in the “chorus,” shares, “In alongside intuition a certain new loneliness creeps / when she found out she might be the inventor of herself / the light the words her eyes spill.” This is juxtaposed to the transition in the last section is titled, “body,” in which an asterisk is unaccompanied, and “I” is used instead. We listen, “what if wish & love open at the same time? / I ask the glass with a kind of dare // (the difference between fantasy and prayer is innocence).” If the fantasy is towards self it is both love and open. This assumes a type of “innocence”. Does this ask us to reassess our patriarchal lens of competition?
It’s meant to reveal a move the character has made, into perhaps a place without reference. Her investigations are leading her into a reassessment of the lenses she has been using.
11.) The work ends as follows: “I counted truth for my life, recanted – / finding a sameness in things. // The body took the blame / for the deeds of the mind. // It was this kind of human.” “Human” becomes “body”. In sameness we depart from gossip, but how do you see this partaking in language? How does our difference assemble our visibility outside of fantasy and where does the body reunite with the mind?
When awareness achieves “lightspice,” fantasy and difference are momentarily dissolved (the robes fall; dark). This kind of character doesn’t end, and can’t, inside language, do anything but pick up difference again (to spell, to read, is to differentiate.) Perhaps the reunification will happen next: when difference itself is acknowledged, reunification as a goal, might be dropped. Which could make room for.. .
How do you see genders re-equating to each other outside of this pathos in visibility?
This book takes us through a spirit-ditch. I don’t see it as a gender-differentiated place.
The inequality suffered is not happening between genders here in this place. The speaker is seeking self/meaning/god in everything, which includes “a boy,” “the visible,” “the body,” etc. In short, everything is considered. All approaches, conceptual, physical, perceptual, biological, intuitive, spiritual, are considered.