This is the third in a series of interviews profiling authors and poets scheduled to appear at The Burning Chair Readings’ Ozark Small Press Poetry Festival set for April 26-27 at Nightbird Books in Fayetteville.
The festival is a celebration of newly-released issues of two Fayetteville-based, hand-bound, poetry magazines – Cannibal and Bestoned: The New Metaphysick – and will include readings from 21 poets, eight from the Ozark region and 13 from as far away as New York City and Denver.
Cannibal, edited by Katy and Matthew Henriksen, originated in a Greenpoint, Brooklyn apartment in 2007 and moved with them to their current apartment behind Nightbird Books. Bestoned is a new magazine edited by C. Violet Eaton, a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop who currently lives in north Fayetteville.
Farrah Field, who will read at the festival, answered some questions via email for Matthew Henriksen. Field is the author of two books, “Wolf and Pilot” and “Rising,” both from Four Way Books. Her poems were selected by Kevin Young for the The Best American Poetry 2011. She lives in Brooklyn and, with the poet Jared White, she runs Yardmeter Editions, an event series, and Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop, a small press bookstore.
You lived for some time in Arkansas and lived in many places before ending up in Brooklyn. How has moving from the rural to the urban played into your writing?
Ozark Small-Press Poetry Festival
When: April 26-27, 7-10 p.m.
Where: Nightbird Books, 205 W. Dickson Street
More info: Facebook event page
I guess I will always feel sort of woodsy, but I know especially of late that my work is beginning to take on urban qualities. I’m not sure what that means exactly. Is there such a thing as a rural versus an urban poem? Probably. For me, rural versus urban has more to do with the space between people and poetry, for me, sometimes exists in that space. In my new book, “Wolf and Pilot,” there is a real push-pull between what is urban and what is rural. I’ll talk more about this, but a motivating factor behind the book is the fairy tale. More often than not fairy tales don’t take place in cities, but my fairy tale is riddled with complications indicative of urbanity. The witch in my poems, for example, has orgies and can change her gender. She’s not smog or a skyscraper, but her proximity and access to people makes me think more of the city than the country. The four girls of “Wolf and Pilot” often speak in one collective voice and that makes me think of protests I attended in New York. I often think of collective voices while in loud restaurants or bars, as though everyone crowded into one place were there together, and we all are to a certain degree buzzing together, and you can just sit there eating your pizza or drinking your beer and feel very much included and taken in by the tide of voices.
Many of your poems deal with childhood experiences and at times adopt a child-like perspective or voice. However, the poems always feel like someone is talking about the experience from a much later time. How do you see memory and perspective interacting in your poems?
Hopefully this won’t sound too strange, but I picture myself as a kind of protector of memory. My sister died when we were both in our twenties and as the surviving sister, I feel protective of our childhood, that it exists solely within me. I guess no matter what I’m writing, I write back to that.
Other poets know you as a thoughtful, sweet, and generous person, but your poems are emotionally charged and often deal with pain and violence. You seem both to have endured hardships and traumas and found happiness. Do you find that poetry has the power to transform the poet?
For this question, I wish I could present the answer in person, speaking rather than writing. Here I am writing it all down and in doing so, organizing my thoughts and creating a tone that is more like my inner than my outer. Yes, and duh, any artist can be transformed by her own work–Grace Paley once said that your poetry is smarter than you–but I wonder what exactly it would mean or how much therapy it would take for my brain to reconcile speaking and writing. I guess brain here is superfluous because what I’m talking about is my gut. I write from my gut, which burns through a ton of anger and the rest of it, but I speak from my head if that makes sense. I may have told you this before, but there was a time my husband and I were getting into an argument while boarding a plane. There was someone else sitting in our row, so we continued our argument on paper. While writing back and forth, I was surprised by how succinct I was and at the time I wondered why I had never before written down my hurt feelings, my exactness, and handed them to someone straight away. I should mention here that I would never have an argument on a dry erase board because they are disgusting. What’s important to my gut apparently is paper. Caitlin Wheeler, a book maker here in Brooklyn, was instrumental in helping make blank notebooks that my husband and I gave away at our wedding. I carry one of these notebooks around with me at all times and sometimes I just need to look at it or touch it. Perhaps it is their handmade nature or it is paper itself that my gut needs.
I think your first book, “Rising,” was much darker than your new book, “Wolf and Pilot,” which takes on a more playful attitude. I would say there is some benign teasing going on, lots of ironic turns, though the seriousness of the first book persists. In what ways do you see your second book continuing or departing from your first book?
Although the same kind of darkness and humor exist in both books, “Wolf and Pilot” felt very different because I created the fairy tale-ish world in which it takes place and I wanted it to feel very much like a story. What’s funny is that both books deal with telling in their own way. “Rising” has a kind of telling that addresses my sister’s death and “Wolf and Pilot” portrays the emotions of a story that is not quite but sort of clear.
You run Berl’s Poetry Bookshop at flea markets with your husband, Jared White, and you had a baby recently. Nevertheless, you continue to give readings and remain active in the poetry community. Though you haven’t had much time to process the changes, I wonder how you imagine your future as a writer unfolding. How do two writers maintain a family amid all their projects?
Ha! You tell me! So far I’ve been able to work on new work, but I haven’t been able to return to notes and things I was in the middle of before the baby. When I returned home from the hospital, Dan Magers asked me to contribute text for a series of paintings Matt Bollinger was working on. Since I have moved around so much my whole life and been on so many road trips and love Matt’s work so much, I stayed up between 3 and 7 a.m. every day until I had something to send to Dan. Luckily, it has turned into a huge poem that I have continued working on. I pretty much don’t sleep anymore. What’s incredibly challenging is that since we are both poets, it’s difficult for both of us to find time to write. Jared signed up to write a poem a day this month and it has been a challenge for me to be able to take that time every day too. Having a baby has really taught me to prioritize my time. I am also learning to get things done without sequestering myself away in my office. I take notes and sometimes pound out a quick poem while holding and playing with the baby. Having a baby is kind of like learning how to enjoy chaos.