Interview with Jessica Goodfellow

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

My first introduction to line was to the line in geometry class, not the poetic line. By this I mean notions such as that the shortest distance between any two points is a line, and that between any two points on a given line there are infinitely many more points. The expectations of both these characteristics of a line I brought with me when I began to think about poetic line, and having these ideas in mind has served me well.

Concision, choosing the right words with no excess wording, is one of the ways I have taken the idea of the line as the shortest distance between any two points. Going deeper within each line is one of the ways I interpret in poetry the notion that between any two points on a line there are infinitely more points. Likewise, one can go deeper and find a point between two points one has already identified in a line of poetry, but there is always still deeper to go, still more intermediary points. It is the job of a poet to find a way to honor them.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

I’ve long thought it interesting that we speak of an artist’s oeuvre as her body of work. Not her soul of work or the spirit of her work, but the body, the actualization, the physicality of it. My natural proclivity is to live inside my head, rather oblivious to the world and my body in it, though in the past ten years I’ve been working hard to be more in my body, in the world, in the moment. In the meantime, I am comforted by the notion that I’m at least making progress on my body of work, which is largely my way of being present in the world.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

Like many poets, I deeply dislike the promotional side of writing poetry. But that’s an easy, expected answer. What’s more important is what I like about being a poet. My novelist and non-fiction-writing friends always express dismay at the fact that I cannot make any money from poetry, that I spend so much of my life in a profitless endeavor. But I think that’s one of the most liberating aspects of writing poetry: since it is never going to earn me a profit, I am free of market influences and the temptations of the market, free to do what I want, write how I want, and about what I want. It’s a kind of liberation.

Jessica Goodfellow’s The Insomniac’s Weather Report, Three Candles Press First Book Prize winner, has been reissued by Isobar Press (2014). Mayapple Press will publish Mendeleev’s Mandala (2015). She’s had work in Best New Poets, Verse Daily and Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, she lives in Japan with her husband and sons.
Letting Go of Letting Go
Only after we had already crossed it
did my husband tell me the name
of the old stone bridge in his hometown.
It was The Thinking Bridge.
A train to catch, I had no time for turning
back to where a thousand years ago
a monk had stood alone with his reflections
on the water. Between whichever two
anchored points his thoughts had been suspended—
like a life—they had not saved him. A hooded crane
flew low beneath the bridge and disappeared.
In the pocket of my coat, I touched the green stone
I’d been carrying concealed for nearly nine months
as if it was a charm, a child, a code: stone
for permanence, green for impermanence. Too late
to throw it from the bridge, I dropped it in the road.
Turns out I was wrong—the words landscape and escape don’t share a root.
Instead escape is from the French for the cape you shed in your pursuer’s hands
as you flee, while landscape first was Dutch, for the being-ness of land, a word
from the dyke-builders, culling land from sea: landship, like friendship and kinship,
in the Masters’ dark caves of thick paint. Not, after all, are landscape and escape
opposites, antidotes, the solace I’d held on to. Turns out you can’t slip off the earth
like a cape, can’t flee for someplace else unseen and scape-less. Could the opposite
of scape, then, be space, that ever-expanding realm in which everything moves
away from everything else, flees, while I am still here, still life. The scapegoat
in the wilderness shares its root not with the landscape it roves about in, abandoned,
fled from, laden with the sins of others thrust upon it like a cape, but instead is rooted
with escape, though whose?  Even when I die, dirt is where they’ll bury me—land
is where I’ll rest, or be said to rest, shrouded in its surface, my last-grasped cape my body,
the sin-bound scapegoat I am tethered to, as space moves cleanly and facelessly away.
The Daughter-in-law, Newly Pregnant, Considers the Water Cycle
Water in the bucket takes
the shape of bucket and
the river is not bereft.
Water in the jug, the cup,
takes the shape of jug, of cup.
The clouds are not bereft.
Edge to center. Puddle
to vapor to sky. Droplet,
rivulet, droplet.
Do not pity water
its ancient edgelessness.
From a holy highway of birds

rain thinks of you as a souvenir.

The poems are forthcoming in the collection Mendeleev’s Mandala.

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