Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart (ml press, 2009). Here is an excerpt of the book. Molly is an editor for Keyhole, Willows Wept Review, Twelve Stories, and a contributor for Big Other. She has a face, and hair and fingers, and a place to live and probably a personal computer. Here is an interview I conducted with her:
HTMLGIANT: Can you explain your decision to write a “novel in verse.” How do you differentiate this from a narrative poem. What is verse to you.
MG: The term “novel in verse” was introduced to me by Abigail Beckel, of Rose Metal Press. We were chatting over drinks at some bar in Baltimore, and Abby mentioned Peter Jay Shippy’s novel in verse HOW TO BUILD THE GHOST IN YOUR ATTIC. Interestingly enough, it’s billed as a “book-length poem” on the Rose Metal Press website. Go figure.
Anyway, at that time, I was working on an early draft of WTMA. Though it doesn’t much resemble the final product, that first version was what I thought to be too long to be a poem and too short to be anything else. So when Abby said, “novel in verse,” I thought, “Damn, I guess that’s what I’ve been working on.” I consider that woman an angel of some sort, sent to make my life make sense. Having that term led to a breakthrough, truly.
I’m hesitant to provide an answer about verse and what I think it is. I feel I’m not really qualified to give it a crack just yet. Maybe in a few years, after I’ve taken a few more poetry courses, filled in this big gaping hole in my literary education. From 1999 to 2006, I was always, in some way, involved in a literature or fiction writing course or group. In my time away from school, I seem to have developed an intense interest in poets and poems. I plan to apply to MFA programs this year, and all of them for poetry. I’m looking to find my answer to “what is verse” as well.
HTMLGIANT: Would you say there are any precedents to this book that you had in mind when writing WTMA.
MG: Can you explain what you mean by this? Are you asking if other books and writers influenced WTMA? Or are you asking if I had some sort of personal motive for writing WTMA?
HTMLGIANT: Here is a clarification. Sorry. What I mean is, when constructing your book, did you have any previous book in mind that guided you. I believe you already answered this maybe by stating you didn’t even know what you were writing. But what about other books, irrespective of form. and also, I am now interested in personal motive if you had one.
MG: When I first began WTMA, I did not have any external guidance except Anatomy for the Artist, from which I borrowed chapter titles. That was the beginning, but then I scrapped the first version and moved on to something totally new, from scratch. I borrowed a lot of words from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and started threading them together, into a new narrative.
Personal motive: I think, looking back now, I wanted to be in love. I thought about how being in love, theoretically, could put a person back together again. I thought about how a person might be taken apart. I said, “we take me apart” over and over and over as I drove fourteen hours from Chicago to Philadelphia, and when I arrived, after I closed my fingers around the key to that room I’d rented, I began to write.
HTMLGIANT: I get a sense that maternity and its residue in the child are important themes here. Am I wrong. Elaborate.
MG: You are not wrong. I’m very glad you picked up on this theme, actually. One of the storylines that never made it into this manuscript is that the speaker/narrator intensely desired to have children. Instead, I suppose, she creates other things. And she later returns home to take care of her ailing mother. The roles of mother and child are reversed, for a time. And I wonder if, perhaps, as a result of maternity (and the lack of maternity) “and its residue” within her, she turns to destroying her mother and then herself.
HTMLGIANT: What do you do when you get nervous.
MG: If in public, I wear too much makeup and pace. If in private, I wear sweatpants and bunny slippers and pace.
HTMLGIANT: Can you briefly explain the circumstances surrounding the publication.
MG: I had the above-mentioned ten-page, single-spaced poem. It was well over the word count for a Mud Luscious chapbook, but I queried J. A. Tyler anyway, saying, “Hey, I know this is too long for the chapbook series but I wonder if you’d be willing to take a look anyway?” He wrote back that he’d take a look. I then blogged part of it and said I thought it might be able to become a longer project. When J. A. finally responded, he asked if I’d meant that business about expanding it. I said, “Yes,” and he said something like, “Let’s give you a working deadline and see what you do with this. Pending that, we just might have ourselves a book deal.” Amazing, right? As I type this now, I can’t help but be astonished by how it all went down.
HTMLGIANT: You use second person in this book. Since in second person, the object of the narrative was witness to what happened, second person seems to me to be about confession. Am I wrong here. On page 66 you say “the idea of again binding two or more parts to/make a whole thing/to put together stitch by stitch” i think this evidences what i am trying to suggest about your themes. that “stitching”, which could be seen as a writing act, is the way to take parts, which can be seen as memory or individual consciouses, and make them something new, something new that will still bear the marks of its combination (stitches). I think this is further suggested by the title, “We Take Me Apart.” the title is inclusive, and references parts. That in this taking apart, or invesitgating, two people are involved, and the stitching is the book.
MG: Is the second person about confession? I’m not sure. I lifted the use of this particular kind of second person from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. And before I had anything else, I had the title, We Take Me Apart. And the question was, “Who are ‘we’?” I knew I didn’t want “we” to be too simple, with just two people, so I thought, “How can I have more than two people who take a person apart?” This led to a mother, a daughter, and the daughter’s love interest.
The lines you reference are really interesting; you are very perceptive, Senor Pink! I mean, I had never thought of “stitching” as writing. I always thought of “stitching” as, you know, sewing. With a needle. With thread. But in this context, yes, it really does work the way you suggest. Thank you for that. That is really lovely.
HTMLGIANT: Continuing with the thread/stitch/writing metaphor, on page 68 you begin, “a great many things are strong/thread/for instance/which can be snapped in two with a quick pull/can also be wound into binding that cannot be broken.” I think this, to borrow from the title, takes apart the earlier concept of stitching. More specifically, you took apar what was taken apart. When something is stitched, it was once less than itself, and was brought together. It is still two or more things but seen from far enough away is only one thing. Does this represent further effort to explore relationships? If a break in a relationship, like thread, “can be snapped in two with a quick pull”, is it better to entwine slowly with another, to ensure strength in bonding. Speak on this.
MG: Wow, this is a difficult question to answer. The relationships in WTMA are central to the story. They are, as I seem to be bludgeoning to death, the meaning behind the title’s “We” and “Me.” I think, perhaps, that the relationship between the daughter and her mother is strong, wound and entwined, whereas the relationship between the daughter and her lover is easily snapped, easily broken. Yet, both are formative for her; and each lives on to haunt her, long after they no longer exist. The speaker is clearly weaker without these two others in her life.
On a personal level, I’m just not sure. Most of my relationships–and I don’t necessarily mean romantic–have snapped “with a quick pull.” Whether due to moving around so much or being a very private person, I’ve had few lasting relationships. Despite this, those that have endured have certainly benefited from slow entwining. I think in this sense, “entwine” means to in some way have suffered through and survived something together. I guess this is where strength comes from. Odd, then, that something so desired–strong human connections–happens so often as a result of pain and suffering.
HTMLGIANT: Can you please discuss your behavior towards your first crush in gradeschool/kindergarten/preschool.
MG: All the parents and all the kids went to a kindergarten orientation or welcome day or something like that. The kids went one way and the parents another. I said goodbye to my mother and the next time she saw me I was holding hands with a little boy named Michael, who, over the course of the next several months, became my first boyfriend. I think, mostly, this was due to the carpet squares. Each carpet square had a letter on it. We were supposed to grab our letter, put the carpet square on the floor somewhere, and nap. There was only one “M” carpet square. Michael and I had to share. What a good Catholic kindergarten teacher we had. (I have never spent more than three years in the same school / school district, so I never saw Michael again after kindergarten. However, someone later informed me that he went deaf, I think in his teenage years.)
HTMLGIANT: Are you afraid to die.
HTMLGIANT: It seems like fairy tales, maybe pieces of fairy tales, are incorporated in WTMA. What is the place of fairy tale in WTMA, according to you.
MG: Certainly, key objects from the more well-known fairy tales (and, of course, the more well-known versions of those fairy tales) have been recast in WTMA, just as key words (objects) from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons were also recast. As for the place of fairy tale in WTMA, I consciously borrowed the rule of three. There are three main characters (a mother (she), her daughter (I), the daughter’s love interest (you))–and they are the collective “we” in “We Take Me Apart.” There are also three main settings (a village, the rest of the world, and a ward), as well as three main time periods (childhood, adulthood, old age). Fairy tales, too, are almost entirely rooted in the women’s sphere, usually very domestic, so I also borrowed that. But I wanted to subvert the heterosexual fairy tale romance storyline by including an ungendered love interest. And, of course, I hope I was able to escape the need for a happy ending.
In any case, it all started with Stein. There was a lot of food I didn’t really know what to do with. “cocoa,” for instance, made me think of “cocoa bean,” and “bean” made me think of “pea” and “The Princess and the Pea.” Usually, some food item led me to some fairy tale. All of it was very much like this, with the word associations, etc. It has turned out to be a useful method for me. The project I’m working on now uses words from Jeanette Winterson’s story, “The Poetics of Sex.”
HTMLGIANT: I remember reading something about you teaching writing and environmental issues. What is the discipline of your mind when trying to discuss writing and environment, how do you bring the two together and from what perspective environmentally.
MG: It’s true. I’m not much of a theorist–not yet, anyway–but in the years to come I hope to be able to contribute to the field of ecocriticism (the study of literature and the environment). Unlike most ecocritics, however, I’m interested in representations of the natural world that aren’t realistic. There is a place for magical realism in ecocritical discourse, and I intend to be someone who speaks out (or writes) on its behalf. Take, for instance, the rain of flower petals in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the rain of fish and leeches in Kafka on the Shore, the (unsurprisingly, yet still beautiful) metaphorical (but literal) rain at the end of Blindness, and the many forms of rain in Scorch Atlas. Although these rains are not the product of realists, not the product of environmentalists (or nature writers), is the message any less clear? Rain isn’t always cleansing; it isn’t always symbolic of rebirth. This is what ecocritics, I hope, would want people to understand. Texts like these are important contributions to this field, I think.
Here’s the kicker: I’m no nature lover. I don’t hike, I don’t camp, I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I don’t garden, I don’t commune. I’m an indoor type of gal who enjoys, occasionally, a walk on a path, a cabrewing trip, a county fair. Still, I believe in the balance of our ecosystem, in the reality of global warming and potentially catastrophic and irreparable climate change. As human beings, we need to have more awareness of and care for the natural world. Engaging in literature and exploring its relationship(s) to the natural world, publishing stories and poems that do the same (Willows Wept Review), I hope to help (maybe subconsciously) create that awareness (among other bookish and indoor types, who don’t care any less than the next person).
HTMLGIANT: Does fairy tale have a specific tendency for environmental address.
MG: Absolutely. And what a good question, Sam! You get bonus points!
Nature is perhaps the most consistent character in fairy tales, across the board. If not as character, then certainly as setting. There are woods, fields, meadows, moons, bodies of water, magical animals and trees. I worry that the Disney versions of the fairy tales we know only help to perpetuate this problem of ours–how we humans so sorely mistreat the rest of the world’s creatures. In these versions, the natural world and all its inhabitants serve to aid and/or rescue the human characters (the pumpkin chariot and seamstress mice in Cinderella, the boar’s heart in place of Snow White’s). This goes back to Christianity’s creation myth, does it not? God provides animals (and plants) for Adam (man) to name and possess. They are his to do with as he pleases; they exist to serve him. It’s something to be aware of, is all I’m saying–the why and how we got to where we are today. Literature may play a larger role than we’re willing to admit, and if this is true then literature must also do what it can to undo damage. Which is, of course, where ecocriticism comes into play.
HTMLGIANT: It is 37 degrees in chicago, what is the temperature where you are at right now.
MG: It is 45 degrees. Cold, gray, and rainy. I love it, except when I have to be out in it. It’s perfect reading weather, though; I love reading in a dark, lamp-lit room, listening to rain and branches tap the window. Makes me feel like I’m not living in this so-fast modern world. Sort of makes me feel like I could be anyone, in any time. One thing that would change all of that, though, is the Snuggie. My housemate has one, and I’m jealous.
HTMLGIANT: If you were to witness the reaction of a random person finding your book in some snow and then reading it, what would you like the reaction to be, or what do you imagine it would be.
MG: I would like that person to either (1) carefully brush off the snow from the cover with the edge of her sleeve because the words she’s read make her want to preserve the book in some way or (2) lick the snow to see if it’s any better than the words, and, if so, toss the book back into the snow, or, if not, pocket the book and bean me with a snowball for being the weird creepy person watching her.
HTLGIANT: Have you ever cut your own hair.
MG: I have. I had long hair in junior high, and my parents wouldn’t let me cut it. So I cut the front sides just below my chin. It looked like I had short hair from the front and long hair from the back. I tried to fool them by only letting them see me from the back. It didn’t work. They got me back by taking me to a hair guy who gave me a terrible haircut, the kind of thing some 70-year-old woman might pull off. Recently, I cut my own bangs. It worked out a bit better, but not much.
HTMLGIANT: Have you ever violently attacked someone.
MG: I had a sister. I once pushed her from behind when she was running. She fell, of course, face first into the concrete. Her two front teeth were completely busted. Her face was all bloody. I don’t regret it. I also don’t miss her. She once put a bunch of rotting, decapitated birds in my bed, which I took outside and buried. From then on I slept in the bathtub because it was the only room in the house with a lock on the door. No one knew for years. She also ripped the claws from my puppy’s paws, while “taking him for a walk,” by dragging him for blocks while his legs were locked and pushing against the gravel. He survived, but not well. We had to put him down.
In anger, shortly after all of that, I tried to throw a chair into a wall, but I couldn’t pick it up all the way and I dropped it more than threw it, and one of its wheels broke off, and I had to sit in a rolly chair that no longer rolled, had to sit at a funny angle because my parents wouldn’t buy me a new desk chair. I would look down at that broken leg and think, “This is ridiculous.” I have never, since then, acted on any violent impulses. I left home and went to a school where I could study writing. I became someone who called herself a writer. Many years later I graduated from high school and went to college where I could continue to study writing. I am still studying writing. I think that this study has helped me to become a peaceful and very calm person.
This is the first time I have ever publicly spoken (or written) about my sister. It feels strange. Things are what they are, though, right? Thanks for the interview, Sam. I really appreciate your time, and your close attention to detail.
HTMLGIANT: Don’t thank me, thank the undying power and will of the GIANT.