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 Jennifer L. Knox and Mary Biddinger.
In This Issue:
“I Like My Places Dirty” (An Interview with Mary Biddinger)
“The Poem Is Always in Your Hometown” (An Essay by Jennifer L. Knox)
“Love Song for the Lakes and Bricks of the Midwest” (An Essay by Mary Biddinger)
“The Mutha of Invention” (A Poem by Jennifer L. Knox)
“And Then There is California” (A Poem by Jennifer L. Knox)
“Grape Soda and Gin” (A Poem by Mary Biddinger)
“Revitalization Yields Questionable Results” (A Poem by Mary Biddinger)
Lea Graham: I think of you as being one of the funniest poets I know. I am wondering if you feel that your humor—which has a great edge to it—comes out of this desert landscape you’re from? Can you talk about humor as coming out of a place. What does that mean for you?
Jennifer L. Knox: Humor’s definitely a product of place, and in this case, a place of chaos and irrationality. The desert is irrational—at least to live there, it is, like, I know it’s 110 degrees outside but I’m going to wear these rainbow leg warmers, goddammit. Gallows humor takes better in the desert than satire. But my dad was a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan so I got both.
LG: Your use of pop culture in poems has both play and relevancy to it. After reading your essay, I was struck by the connection between that usage and California as your early landscape. Do you think that being from that state influenced you in your materials of movies, actors and the like? If so, how?
JLK: Absolutely, it did. My childhood was spent watching TV. Back then on weekday afternoons, all that was on were reruns of classic TV shows—I Love Lucy, Bewitched, Leave it to Beaver—old cartoons and old movies. I used to have dreams about the little clown hand puppet in the Jerry Lewis movie, The Errand Boy. As a teenager, I hung out with kids who could recite entire Bugs Bunny cartoons—twenty or thirty in a row—when they were high.
LG: You live in New York City now and I’m wondering how that has changed the way you think about landscapes. To go from the desert to the uber-urban Northeast seems like it could have an interesting effect on your approaches to space and place.
JLK: I’m sure it has, but I can’t say how. I haven’t lived there since I was seventeen, and I’ve lived in a million different places. When I go home, which is rarely, I’m overwhelmed by how beautiful it is. If I could live anywhere, it’d be at Devil’s Punchbowl which is this steep bowl of rocks along the San Andreas fault. As an adult, I took a friend from L.A. out there once and she said, “What would somebody do out here?” And I said, “I don’t think it’s about that.” I don’t know what I meant by that, but I meant it.
Until then, I’m moving to central Iowa at the end of September. Wide open sky with plum trees under it. Compared to New York City and the Antelope Valley, it seems gloriously rationale.
Photo by Travis