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 Deborah Marie Poe.
Lea Graham: Talk a bit about your memories of being a military “brat,” as you put it. How did growing up and moving around work on you and the development of your aesthetics? Do you have any favorite places in your memory? Or places you really detested? And why?
Deborah Marie Poe: Someone in a graduate school seminar once blurted out after class that I moved between dialects. I knew exactly what he meant. There’s a layering and multiplicity in speech and in my writing that comes from living in so many places in my life and getting to know so many different people.
Moving around created an infrastructure that lends itself to distinct aesthetic tendencies: the straddling of vocabularies, putting various dialects/languages/discourses in contact with one another to produce something new, a resistance to singularity, the simultaneous push and pull or drive and swerve (what David Wolach called “getting stabbed in the neck and kissed simultaneously” in his blurb on Goodreads about Our Parenthetical Ontology), my boredom with work that gets caught up only with language for language’s sake (I like meat on my poetry bones).
As for favorite places in my memory, there are so many: my great grandparent’s house between Quitman and Winnsboro, Texas (the white metal bench that moved forward and backwards, the berry bushes, my great-grandfather’s little farm, the worms in the wooden compost bin above my head from which we got bait to fish with cane poles); my maternal grandfather’s house on Lake Travis outside of Austin (the stone-lined porch with mesquites twisted above the concrete, stone stairs which lead to the lake); libraries (the smell of books); Jimmy and Rick’s in Tunis, Texas (the hidden grotto); Pourquerolles on the Îles d’Or; San Sebastian, Spain (a baby bird rescue from the many cats out on the wall by the sea); Berlin a year after the wall came down; hot springs under the Gorge Bridge in Taos; floating down the Guadalupe River; my paternal grandparents’ land in Junction, Texas (all that quartz); drift diving under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge; the roof of Natalie and I’s apartment in Bellingham overlooking the Bay; Soundgarden; Indian Heaven Wilderness in Oregon (picking huckleberries and subsequent pancakes); Stehekin when it snows; Hangzhou’s West Lake; Needles Highway, South Dakota; Bruges (hotel above the plaza, the best head cold recovery); Jujurieux (Pastis with the elderly group coming to tour the nineteenth-century silk factory convent we’d just explored); Xian; Bryce Canyon (a costumed elopement); the pond with the red-winged blackbirds in Endicott; K and I’s little Hudson Valley house and the lake down the hill. I could fill a thousand pages.
LG: You say that you’re a “concept driven writer.” Talk about that some more. How do concepts and the physical reality of place interact for you as a person and as a writer?
DMP: I talk about this in my piece for Atticus Review I think.
LG: Talk about the Northwest in which you’ve described as your “heart’s home.” What is it about that geography that made home for you? You might also talk about this in connection with your having spent a lot of time living in Texas.
DMP: The temperate weather, the smell of the ocean by way of the bay, the evergreens a velvet backdrop, the calm of light rain.
LG: Recently, you participated in a reading at the Center for Book Arts in NYC that commemorated the victims and destruction of the bombing in Baghdad’s Mutanabbi Street, a well-known bookseller’s row and a street named for the 10th century poet, Al-Mutanabbi. Can you talk a bit about how this project, in which you created a book of poems, had an impact on you? How did you get involved with this project in the first place and how has it sent your thinking and imagination off into the world?
DMP: Jen Hofer passed along the call for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project to me. I had heard about the project six or eight months earlier, so I was pretty thrilled.
On September 11, 2001, I was working at Microsoft. I was one of the few people that got to work very early. Someone told me to go check the news when I walked in. I remember sitting down at my computer and fairly quickly seeking out other countries’ newspapers. My immediate impulse was to look at news from England, France, Japan, and Israel. I sought help understanding what had happened from multiple global perspectives. I guess it goes without saying that I was already a little mistrustful of mainstream media in the U.S.
9/11 was one of the precipitating factors for my applying to graduate school at Western Washington University. The attacks, and resulting tumultuous political climate, fueled an already growing interest in global relations as an international program manager. At Western, I was able to begin processing long-time preoccupations around place in very different way, looking more closely at what I already viewed a historically ethnocentric and woefully executed foreign policy, which we continue to impose worldwide.
I co-edited and authored the introduction, Between Worlds: An Anthology of Contemporary Fiction and Criticism, which was published by Peter Lang. As with Between Worlds, the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project allowed me to complicate my thinking about the many difficult questions related to the global human subject and the (im)possibilities of witness. It has been exciting work not only for the ways in which the project connects human beings through literature and the arts but also how (I hope) it nudges exhibit-goers to turn ideas about Iraq over in their own minds.
Photo By: Philip Bouchard