After I my first book was published, I felt a sort of emptiness that I don’t know if I can explain. It was as if the one thing I had for years been doing was done and taken away from me…
No, it was as if the one thing I had for years been doing was done, and I had given it—my world beyond this world—away.
Worse, there was no time for my sorrow and no way to explain it to anyone. Surely, I wanted the book in print. Surely, I understood that others were not so lucky to have their books taken yet. Besides, I had to do the work my best poet friends said I should be doing: promote, promote, promote. Say yes to everything until the book has legs enough to walk on its own. Then say yes to everything else.
And yes, they were right…
But I was tired, and I missed having lines and words and rhymes I could obsess over.
Soon after my book was released, I was fortunate enough that several writers gave it very kind reviews. And I was foolish enough to read them. One of those reviews was written by Wayne Johns, a poet in his own right.
I searched around for his email and wrote him a note of thanks for his care and attention and honest advice geared toward the future of my work. His response was one I can only describe as clairvoyant. He seemed to know that I was no longer writing since the book had been published. He seemed to know that I was lost without working on the countless revisions that had become who I was.
He asked for my address, said he had a gift for me that would be perfect at that moment. A few days later, I found in my mailbox a book I had never heard of by a poet who friends had neglected to mention. Among the Monarchs by Christine Garren.
Wayne Johns knows all. I fell, again, in love with poetry.
Christine Garren’s poems are rooted in exchanges with landscape. Her turning and shifting and dirtied awe read as if James Wright and Franz Wright have found common ground. Her eye for the oddities represented oddly makes it clear what Jean Valentine has to do with Paul Celan, what we all have to do with Emily Dickinson.
Christine’s most recent book is The Piercing. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in poetry. Her chapbook, The Difficult Here, is now available at 42 Miles Press.
Though I think each of her short volumes is best read in one sitting for the cumulative effect she creates, here is one of her poems I found online:
Small piercing as if in an earlobe
your leaving caused. Air is filling it now, time fills it
the view through these windows fills the tiny hole.
The people on the street, the manic father
the other father carrying his child in pink—this
millimeter's-width opening is for a decade to fit through.
Look, there you go. There I go—there our landscape goes as if
through a fantastical roof's hole, the shingle pulled off, the nail off—
our death is
flying over the city.
Today is Thursday, and I’m thankful for Wayne Johns. In memory of his deceased partner, the amazing poet Rodney Jack, I asked Christine Garren a few questions. Today is her birthday, and here are her brief and beautiful answers:
Jericho: I want to discuss with you being a person your husband in another online article calls “distinctly introverted.” Do you think of yourself this way? What part of this personality trait lends itself to the writing of your poems? Is there anything about it that you think hurts your poems?
Christine: I'm not sure that introversion is a helpful trait for a writer to possess. I can say that it does allow for extended periods of solitude. Beyond the sustained hours of seclusion it accommodates, introversion might just as easily sabotage the writer's effort. More frankly, I think poets need the experience of human interaction and connectedness-- but all that is very dangerous for an introvert. Thus, the conflict. Ultimately I believe it is of vital importance for the writer to cultivate a willingness to engage with, and be vulnerable to, the day's ordinary charms and heartaches.
Jericho: For the few of us who have yet to be properly introduced to you, can you discuss how you came to poetry and what drew you into its arms? Who were the first poets you loved? Did you always know you wanted to write? Did you immediately begin studying writing in academic settings like undergraduate school and the MFA program? Why or why not?
Christine: I experienced the effect of poetry at a very early age when I accidentally discovered a typewriter and began to type rhymed words. The experience was memorable, even profound at the time, as the rhymes offered an almost spiritual stability. Though I no longer explore the comfort and security various rhymes can offer, nevertheless back then, I felt suddenly imperial in a household that was full of chaos and absent of prediction. Later as an adolescent, I was drawn to Dickinson, Blake, Yeats, and Rilke. I came to the study of prosody and the study of writing poetry in my early thirties, as I resisted the thought, however immaturely, that one needed any sort of formal training to be a writer.
Jericho: While your three books and your chapbook have in common your distinct voice and mastery of silences as well as sounds, they seem to me very different in their scope and in your speaker’s interests? Looking back, will you discuss what you think these books have in common and how they are different? What about your writing process changed with the composition of each volume? What about your concerns and intentions as a poet changed with each volume?
Christine: I didn't frame the books in the way other poets have a sense of continuity or architecture before they begin. I am thinking of books like Crow or North or Averno, all of which are built on very clear tenets. Up until about seven years ago, I gathered poems as I discovered, after the fact, that they shared similar impulses or preoccupations. For example, The Piercing's concern is with a general sense of detritus. Afterworld used for its nucleus a sense of spiritual otherworldliness among the here and now. Lately, I have reversed my approach and am speaking through various and particular characters. The scaffolding of the poem is almost totally eclipsed by emotion.
Christine: Being in love has had a profound influence on my work. My husband, Sam Garren, wrote his dissertation on Kenneth Rexroth's poetry, receiving first his undergraduate degree from Davidson College and then his PhD from LSU when Donald Stanford and Louis Simpson were there. My husband's deep education in literature and criticism might suggest that he has a conservative slant in his literary tastes. But like Rexroth he is a very independent thinker, very open. As we have been married for thirty-one years, I feel I have assimilated his education into my own, and I am extremely grateful for that. He introduced me many years ago to poets like Rae Armantrout, Susan Howe, and Rosmarie Waldrop. It is through him that I understood less conventional ways of approaching a poem.
Jericho: How did you come to decide to write the chapbook, The Difficult Here, and what led you to 42 Miles Press? I don’t want to preempt something you may still be figuring, but I fell in love the lengthy fragment of “Anoikis” you published in The Boston Review about a year ago. Are you consciously moving toward writing longer poems. If so, what led to this? As a poet, what opportunities are you finding that the writing of longer poems offers?
Christine: The editor of 42 Miles Press had asked to print a chapbook of my work. Harkening back to my romantic notion of the Beat poets and their generation, I have always liked the idea of chapbooks, and so I agreed. Initially I imagined The Difficult Here as a collection of all “Anoikis” poems, but the editor suggested I place the 'paragraph poems' among the “Anoikis” work. I can say I have been obsessed with that long poem for nearly seven years and still envision it as one extended body of work. Perhaps it was the simple way a Harvard physician described the word's meaning, “a cell would rather be homeless than in the wrong home,” that inspired me to create a character of that name and inclination.
Jericho: In an interview you did a few years ago with storySouth you seem reluctant to talk about new work. Do you ever feel rushed by outside forces as it relates to what you’re writing now? Can you say the reasons why you may not want to talk about poems/books that are in process?
Christine: At that time I was about two years into “Anoikis,” and I was alarmed at how odd the poems seemed-- how different they were to me. Yet I could not write any other poem for a protracted period of time. It became an all-consuming passion. Now I must have hundreds of Anoikis poems in addition to two other works that are perhaps half-complete. Of the new work, “Alice” is a long poem that posits the joys and sorrows of delusion against the more pronounced grief of alienation. The other “Celsus Domus” imagines a lively house of characters who are in constant turbulence and argument, whose dramas are made animate in the celestial realm.
Jericho: What poets writing today do you most admire? What about their work attracts you as a reader? Is there anything you read that you love but consciously do not attempt in your own writing? Is there anything you read that you find yourself trying to manage in your own work?
Christine: One way to answer your question and address the issue of influence is that I noticed some time ago many writers return to ancient myths as a structural tool for their work. I hoped that I too could borrow from history and antiquity a specific vehicle for my own emotional vent. However, it simply didn't suit my mind. I say this because I look to other writers first for companionship and solace, then as tutors for how they organize, by whatever means, some sort of recognizable world that has emotional charge. I imagine most poets struggle with transcending the confessional and anecdotal. But to find an organizing principle that might elevate the individual's anguish and joy into the universal is, for me, the task. So I have returned an innumerable amount of times to works like Crow, Mr. Cogito, The Wild Iris, Other People as demonstrations of collections that possess a driving and unifying vision above and beyond the individual scope of each poem, that serve also as cultural vision and commentary.
Jericho Brown worked as the speechwriter for the Mayor of New Orleans before receiving his PhD in Creative Writing and Literature from the University of Houston. The recipient of the Whiting Writers Award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Krakow Poetry Seminar in Poland, Brown is an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego. His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including, The American Poetry Review, The Believer, jubilat, Oxford American, Ploughshares, A Public Space, and 100 Best African American Poems. His first book, PLEASE (New Issues), won the American Book Award.