Seattle Author Spotlight (3) — Deborah Woodard
This is the 3rd Seattle Author Spotlight (previous ones were Richard Chiem and Maged Zaher) and I plan on running new ones every 10-14 days because Seattle has plenty of talented and interesting writers. So, anyways, here’s the 3rd installment:
And it’s Deborah Woodard!
When I told one of my new Seattle writer friends that I was going to meet with Deborah they told me I’d love her and that she’s “a hidden gem.” And after meeting with Deborah, and our follow-ups, I can indeed say that she is a wonderful writer–and an open, curious and generous person (Deborah and I swapped books but I feel like I came out on the better side of the swap because in addition to her most recent book, Borrowed Tales, she gave me a copy of her chapbook, Hunter Mnemonics, as well as a copy of her Rosselli translations, The Dragonfly).
With the release of her new book hopefully Deborah will be less “hidden” now. And other spotlights have been turned on her work recently. For example, over at the Huffington Post (click here), my old flame, Seth Abramson, had this to say about Borrowed Tales:
“The poet’s artistry, here, is in resurrecting known and as yet unknown tales in a way that acknowledges the inadvertent infelicities of interlocutors by doing nothing to correct them. Somehow this seems a truer history than any other, as Woodard stain hers subjects–now Shakespearean creations, now characters of varying ages and ethnicities and territories answering to names like Vince, Lorna, Gordon, Martha, Junius, and McGuffey–with the same reek of days and months and years that covers us all.”
Deborah Woodard is the author of Plato’s Bad Horse (Bear Star Press, 2006). She has translated the poetry of Amelia Rosselli from the Italian: The Dragonfly: A Selection of Poems, 1953-1981 (Chelsea Editions, 2009). Deborah’s second collection, Borrowed Tales, was recently published by Stockport Flats. She teaches at The Richard Hugo House, a literary and performance center in Seattle.
Rauan: You mentioned when we chatted that your process now is primarily collage. What pointers would you give to someone trying collage for the first time?
Deborah: Always remove your scissors from your backpack before going through security. Aside from that, collage, as I learned it from Kathleen Fraser, is a good way to shake up material that has become stagnant or that is otherwise MIA. In BORROWED TALES, I also feel that it broadened my range. (See question # 5 for one way to do the deed.)
RK: You co-translated, along with Giuseppe Leporace, a selection of Amelia Rosselli’s poetry (Dragonfly) and have spent time in Rome, Florence and Southern Italy. So, what do you think of the Italians?
Deborah: I’m very fond of the Italians, but they adhere to elaborate cultural codes that take forever to crack. It’s the venerable Old World society versus perennial clueless New World klutz phenomenon. Elevator etiquette, for instance (I flunked). Florence is intimate, so were towns in Southern Italy. Rome floors me, but, when I’m with the Italians I happen to know, it’s great.
RK: To give our readers a bit of a taste of your poetry could you please give us, here, a short poem, or a 10-15 line excerpt from a longer piece?
Junius had always raised dogs. He’d let a river snake pass across his foot,
then let the fishing line drop in. Old Junius would take deviled eggs along.
Didn’t have much use for company. Nope, not him. With their tweezers,
Oliver and Olivia nabbed a grave worm. They were forced to jump over
a pile of fish bones; the cut heads were an annoyance. Oliver and Olivia
could forge ahead now. They brought books where Junius once
sold Dixie cups of worms. Olivia began sketches for a kangaroo zoo.
Oliver pondered invasive grasses and joeys small as a thumb.
Soon the creekside sycamore burned liquid, as though the trunk
had peeled back its bark, as though there’d been a phantom figure
swaying on a leafless branch. No, thank God, Oliver said,
and now let that train of thought be oxidized. Piles of twigs:
they didn’t catch, but Oliver and Olivia kept at it.
Someday, said Olivia, I’ll mimic Junius. I’ll conquer
the muscles of the tongue.
RK: Can you tell our readers a bit about Junius: Junius in your new book, Borrowed Tales, as well as (for those of us who aren’t familiar) Junius the historical figure?
DW: Junius Wilson (1908-2001) was a deaf mute who spent most of his long life in institutions in North Carolina, though he was neither retarded nor a criminal. In my Junius sequence, Junius gets some support from a brother-sister duo, Oliver and Olivia, who buddy up with him and reflect on his life. I think that I was drawn to Junius as an orphan figure. My book is full of orphans who start generating support systems.
RK: You’ve been teaching at the Hugo House here in Seattle for 15 years and have developed many writing prompts for your students. Could you please share with us one or two of your favorite and/or most successful prompts?
My basic cut-up prompt is called Diary of an Orphan / Dreams of an Orphan. Students write a diary based on an orphan-like picture they select from an “orphanage” of candidates I spread out on the table. Then they type the journal entry up and photocopy it at home. They fold the photocopy in half lengthwise and cut between the lines. These half lines (resembling the little slips of paper in fortune cookies) are then randomly selected and taped to a fresh sheet of paper. That new text, once typed up, provides the basis for their orphan’s “dreams.” Note: not all cut-ups need invoke orphans, of course. I don’t run this often, as it is time consuming (like collage!).
RK: To give our readers a 2nd taste of your poetry could you please give us, here, a 2nd sample (short poem, or 10-15 line excerpt)?
The new kid sticks his arm out, screaming at us, as we yell
back at him. He thought he had it all worked out—
gushing toward the sky. The Eagle II was pearl-bright
and moving westward. Yellow glue takes longer than paint
to empty from the cup. The iron-ons are prone to wrinkling.
Breaking into droplets, sweat takes about the same time as glue.
The skin on my scalp was streaming from the charge we got.
The trees were floating. We all hemorrhage through a hole.
There isn’t a good panel on the plane. Soft, weak, digesting: I guess
we’re discussing viscosity. And it probably doesn’t come in a can.
Thinners reduce the number of seconds of violence, but we needed time
to move the leaf in front of the 7-Eleven, juggling our dismal thoughts.
I never talked to that kid again, or remembered his name.
He was cut for telling. He was isolated in himself and overflowed.
Construction-paper notes have been tied to the fence with purple ribbon:
“Karl, we thought your glasses were nice and intellectual-looking.”
Tags in place. No one was arrested. The smell of blood is in my nose.
Suppose a small hole drilled in the bottom of a cup could receive
my bones at last, used and cleaned? I look around at my friends.
I didn’t have the slightest reason to be here. No one did.
RK: When I saw you read at Elliott Bay Books you mentioned “Desire Paths” in conjunction with reading your poems that night in what was for you an unusual order. Can you talk a bit more about “Desire Paths.”
DW: I drew the concept from Melanie Noel’s splendid THE MONARCHS. Melanie quotes from Wikipedia: “The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination.” I wanted to try out various desire paths in terms of poem order. I thought of this in terms of tramping across a field of fresh snow: “In Finland, planners are known to visit parks immediately after the first snowfall…”
RK: Would you rather spare a goose or a rabbit? (and why?)
Best to stew the rabbit, lest my goose be cooked.