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 Philip Pardi and Garin Cycholl.
Lea Graham: Having read your work over the years, I am always struck by your recurring interest in the link between geography and music. Can you talk a little bit about this? What is that connection for you?
Garin Cycholl: The American obsession with driving. So much of it is music heard (or overheard) while traveling as a kid—especially oldies on AM radio or Jack Buck’s call of the St. Louis Cardinal games. Listening to my parents’ music then, and now attempting to recall those sounds—rockabilly, Motown, and jazz. The poetic energy seems to come from that attempt at recall, the points of detail that accrue in memory note by note. As Charles Olson says, “the geography of it.” For me, in the Americas, it seems that geography always has “wheels.”
Jack’s broadcast of baseball has left an imprint on my understanding of narrative as well. He was one of the rare announcers who could “tell” a game like a story. Michael Anania and I have discussed that there’s probably a great essay in that—how American poets were influenced by the radio calls of baseball games. Do New York poets show the marks of Red Barber or Mel Allen? You wonder.
LG: Talk a bit about your own home geography. You currently live in Chicago and have for years, but you grew up in Southern Illinois. Where do you see it as Southern territory? Where or how is it Northern and Western? How is it a central (“the heartland”) place for you and how is it on the raffish edges of your America?
GC: My cousin used to joke that Southern Illinois started about five miles south of us. That sense of “border” has impacted my work. How does one make transit from one space to another? How is language a passkey or passport here? How does one “tell” the history on either side of a line? Being on that “edge” was the impulse for the first of the long poems—Blue Mound to 161. Blue Mound Road runs south from Flora and into Wayne County where it T’s with Highway 161. Along Blue Mound, you can see the geography become more rolling. You feel like you’ve made a point of transit into the South.
Similarly, geographical features have initiated each of the long poems. Blue Mound’s “edge.” With Hostile Witness, I reconstructed my grandfather’s story as he traveled between Springfield and Chicago along Route 66 as a point of personal and larger American historical transit. The Bonegatherer attempts to retell parts of the history of an area within Chicago, the West Side, through my father’s story of being a medical student working rotations in the Cook County Hospital ER.
LG: What attracts you to the geography of the long poem? How do you see that form as a way to enter into what you call the “dislocation as the real geography of America”?
GC: The long poem allows you space to sprawl and explore the history’s layers. It’s funny that as the story comes closer to my own, the geographical features have become less and less distinct. The poems here are from Prairied, a working long poem—one that uses the regional designation of “prairie” to explore the politics and religions of water. One of the voices in it is a displaced Tiresias, who examines some of the Americas’ poisoned waters. His dislocation from the classical world creates some poetic energy for me to examine the layers here. Of course, as C.S. Giscombe says, “like the prairie is a joke on us.” Where’s “here?” Giscombe’s play offers some map into a sense of place. That displacement seems essential to understanding one’s position within the Americas. It’s a critical part of all my work—whether it’s Blue Mound to 161 (my great grandfather’s story there, who goes from the Kaiser’s army to some vague part in the unionization of coal miners in Illinois) or my more recent film adaptation of Walker Percy’s Lancelot (where Lance Lamar feels the disconnection of his own times, the early 1970s in New Orleans). I often feel similarly out of place, more like a chameleon than anything with roots.
LG: Describe a place in your past or current life that lives large in your imagination.
GC: Being near the rail for the 1975 Kentucky Derby, the only time that I’ve been at Churchill for the race. Being wedged between screaming Kentuckians in the full process of losing their shit for those horses. And maybe more distinctly, trying to recall the details of the drive home that night—listening to my parents’ stories of what they’d seen that day. The ride home.
In This Issue:
“We Move Through the World One Place at a Time” (An essay by Philip Pardi)
“Back Water – A Usable Distance” (An essay by Garin Cycholl)
“Prairie” (A poem by Garin Cycholl)
“when Douglas Ewart invented the prairie” (A poem by Garin Cycholl)
“Ty’s song” (A poem by Garin Cycholl)
Photo by Robert Huffstutter