Once I dreamed that I sent Laurel Snyder a package that contained a canvas bag (because hers was old and crappy) and a DVD player. For some reason the package was returned to me while I was at the Men's Wearhouse with a friend. I told my friend all about Laurel's husband needing a new suit. Then I woke up (woke up in the dream, i.e. came into consciousness) in a car with my husband and son. It was June and snowing. I told my husband to get out of the car and take a picture. When he did there was a viscous wolf who tried to attack him. My husband barely made it back into the car safely.
Laurel Snyder is the author of The Myth of the Simple Machines (No Tell Books), a chapbook of choose-your-own-adventure poems, Daphne & Jim, and she is the author of three forthcoming books for kids, including Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, which comes out next month. She is also an occasional commentator for NPR's All Things Considered, an obsessive blogger, and a very happy (though tired) mom to two little boys. She lives online at http://laurelsnyder.com
Reb: Your book is called The Myth of the Simple Machines. I thought poetry was supposed to be about truth? And what's so simple about those machines? Are you trying to make me feel stupid?
Laurel: Yes, I think the goal of most poetry these days is to make you feel stupid.
Seriously, I'm really interested in myth. In the idea that we have grown too smart to trust things. We don't really have faith anymore, since everything around us is perpetually being disproved. but we need something to hang onto, and so we have myth instead. Myth suggests that we already know something to be false, but important.
Like, we don't believe in God, but we need God, so we embrace the idea of God. Or family. Or Fluoride. Meta-faith. That way we get to be smartypants, but also feel safe, or nostalgic. When we embrace myth, and the culture of myth, we leave a door open so we can love our grandmothers without totally disrespecting them. "Aw, it's so nice to have faith. Ain't she sweet."
I hope that the book addresses some of this. It's about poetry, I think. And about how, as poets, we treat things like personal experience and narrative the same way we treat God. We encode them with distance and reflection and intelligence. But underneath it all, we're still reliant on stories and beauty and our own emotions. I say all this as though I've got something figured out. I don't. As reviewers have pointed out, it's a book of questions not answers. I'm still not entirely sure what I arrived at.
Which is also how I feel about God, now that I think about it.
The machines changed as I wrote and then ordered the book. To begin with they were mathematical. By then end they were people. I think.
Reb: You also write children's books. Do you save truth for the children or are they getting a pack of lies too?
Laurel: No, they're getting a pack of lies too. But kids are smart enough to like lies. They take things at face value. Kids don't have to outfox the narrative. They don't think a sweet ending is sentimental. They like words and stories and that's a lot of fun. I will always write and read poems, but it's way more fun to write for kids than it is to "be a poet." Kids clap and stuff. They believe in unicorns. Not ironic ones, real ones.
Reb: When are you going to ditch poetry and write something people want to read?
Laurel: I will never ditch poetry. Not ever. I really do think it matters. Is that cheesey?
See, agh! There! Just now! I called myself cheesey and somehow managed to earn myself credit for earnestly thinking poetry matters, and also being a cynical self-aware gal. I'm having my cake and eating it too. I hate myself.
I'm off to write something about a unicorn. I'll decide later if it's a poem.