In each of our “Boo’s Hollow” issues, Associate Poetry Editor Lea Graham invites writers and poets to reflect on the role played by place in both their own work and poetry in general. This month, we’re proud to share the thoughts and work of Claire Hero.
Lea Graham: One of my favorite things about your work is its commitment to the decaying, the difficult and the odd. Most people when talking about living in New Zealand would mention the movie-perfect landscapes. You focus on its lack of animals. In your chapbook, Dollyland, you deal in surprising ways with the cloned sheep, Dolly. Those poems are strange and elusive in a fascinating way. Can you talk about your drive towards the odd and/or the un-beautiful?
Claire Hero: I’ve got no truck with the sublime. What can one say about beautiful vistas or breathtaking sunsets? There is no imagination there, no language. They are lovely to look at but I wouldn’t want to live there. But the decaying, the unbeautiful? That’s where imagination abounds. My first memory is of finding a broken typewriter at the town dump when I was three years old. That’s when I began writing, and that is where my writing still lives, I suppose.
LG: Talk a bit about growing up in the Midwest. Do you think that had any effect on your “anywhere” or “nowhere” attitude towards place? There is something very “nowhere” and “anywhere” about living in the Midwest. I’m not sure if I can explain it except to say that there’s a feeling of being in the “middle of everything and nothing” to paraphrase the fiction writer, Michael Cunningham.
CH: The “middle of everything and nothing”: that sums it up well. Flat farmland and pro-life billboards, long vowels and small towns. I couldn’t wait to get away. But you could stand outside and watch a storm coming from a long ways away. The horizon was far.
I spent my summers with my sister and grandmothers on a farm on the Rainy River. Canada was on the far shore, and my sister and I would take the old rowboat out and sit in the river, drifting between countries. Was Canada any different? The cows looked the same, and the mud on the beach, but we could never be certain. We never rowed all the way across, and we never dropped anchor. We just drifted and watched and dreamed.
LG: Talk about animals. How are landscapes animal for you? What’s your attachment to animals and when did you become aware of this?
CH: Just today, as I was driving home from errands, I watched two deer sprint across the main street in the village and wished I could join them, veered in my lane as I peered down the side streets, wondering where they had gone. It had been a morning of dull chores and now there was this in the world, other lives running crosswise to my own.
In “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology” Timothy Morton argues for “the ‘extended phenotype.’’” Beaver dams, he argues, are just as much a part of DNA as beaver tails: “DNA is not limited to the physical boundaries of life forms, but rather expresses itself in and as what we call ‘the environment.’” Our lives overlap with others, seen and unseen. There is no environment without animals, and when we pretend that the two are distinct, that the polar bear, for example, is an ornament upon the arctic, his plight a mere sentiment for environmentalists, or make distinctions about which animals are important and which are not, we fail to see the world we live in. Such myopia limits us, as persons and perhaps as a species, as we are starting to understand with the failing bee population or the depleting oceans.
LG: Talk about a place that you have never been, but want to go to. Or if not an actual place, then talk about your imaginary places that you go to. What do those places hold for you? How are they connected to your writing or a place you write from?
CH: I’m torn here between the ruined and the fantastic. I love abandoned places. I’m drawn to the ruined landscapes of apocalypse narratives, places overgrown and overused. When I was a child riding through snow-ragged Minnesota in the backseat of my parents’ Hornet, I’d long to leap from the moving car into the fields and hole up inside the abandoned houses that dotted the highways, fallout from the failing farms of the 1980s. In New York I love to stumble upon the ruins of some lost mansion in the hills, or track the stone walls that meander through the woods like deteriorating arteries. Perhaps it’s that they signify both the chance to start over, the apocalypse lover’s dream, and the knowledge that it is hard to, that the past endures somehow, that history leaves a scar.
But I also dream of fantastic places, marginal places, worlds underground or up in the trees or villages of rafts adrift in the sea. Where would I go? To the mole people of Las Vegas and the treehouse communities of Costa Rica. To China Miéville’s Embassytown and Lewis Carroll’s looking-glass world. I want to travel with Sir John Mandeville or with Italo Calvino’s Marco Polo. These places take me out of myself. Take me anywhere. Take me everywhere.
Photo By: Justin Balog