INTERVIEW: GARY WORTH MOODY
1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.
Assembling a LINE may be the most strenuous and exhausting task, or choice, other than choice of title, undertaken in making a poem. LINE is the CHOICE that locates WORD within space and time. Organically, a line is bound by breath, specifically a reader’s lung capacity, one’s ability to modulate the exhalation which becomes speech or song and the comfortable (or uncomfortable depending on one’s ascetic leanings or aging anatomy) duration of that exhalation. Artificially, (with ART the operative root) it is bound by the layout of the printed artifact, the page’s margin, the impulsive white space in which silence blossoms. Rigor may demand that a line always be the shortest distance between two linguistic points or two inhalations, which implies economy and brevity, a staccato of breaths. Yet the oral tradition subverts line brevity, with each teller adding a few more syllables to the river of sounds that comprise the line, thus making it her or his own. Selfishly, (no doubt in response to my own mortality which I hope to hold at bay for a bit longer) I prefer in my own work a line that undulates across the page’s field, one that denies the tiny (or lengthy) winters of white space, one that creates a fertile space for the inevitable dialectic between narrative and lyric, which I believe essential to poetry. As I revise, I try to impart, not only a rhythm of syllables to the line but also a rhythm of image, in which the image itself becomes a counterpoint rhythm to the syllabic, and marries the breath to meaning. This may be why I tend to write in longer lines than some. I also am intrigued by the innate ability of the line to disguise. I once wrote a set of eighteen haiku, each of which consisted of seventeen syllables, and three “LINES”. When arranged on a landscaped page in three columns, the series of haiku became several different poems, which could be read true to a column, down, then up to begin down again, and again, or as an 18 line poem composed of fractured lines across the page (think Cortazar’s Hopscotch). The aggregate of words in this piece is always a finite set, but the choice of LINE renders that finite set into myriad readings.
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
If we believe science, when we listen to, or write, poetry, the chemistry of our brain changes, and our body’s response catapults us into a state akin to rapture. I am old enough to remember writing with a pen, or pencil, or the point of a knife against the back side of shed pine-bark when paper was not available. In those days the physical act of writing inclined a different motion than most of us use today, the flow of elbow, wrist, and hand vs. the positioned tap of fingers on a keyboard. I often wonder at the physical way WRITING has evolved, from cave paintings, to petroglyphs, to hieroglyphs, to chronicle, to history; or with the oral tradition from word, to fragment, to line, to lyric, to narrative, to epic, and throughout that evolution, it is the body that produces, through some sort of rhythmic repetitive motion, scratches on stone, etchings on kilned clay, breath across the tongue and teeth, vibrations within the ear, understood patterns of word and image, usually about something experienced by the body of the one who records the event, whether in memory or imagination, using the known to evoke the unknown, possible or impossible, it is always the body that writes, that produces a language bound by the body’s mortal capability to express that which is sensed, desired, imagined, by heart and mind. Fortunately, I am well enough to often venture out into the high desert landscape of our world, and as such much of my writing deals with things, events, or creatures I have experienced directly while wandering the environs I’ve had the good (or ill) fortune to inhabit. It is my body’s memory of the plains, sand and waters of the Texas Gulf Coast, the creeks, rivers, and deciduous forests of Virginia’s piedmont, the Siberian taiga, the Sangre de Cristo and Caja del Rio of northern New Mexico, which I tend to draw on as a basis for my writing. My own body as both animal and human, and its relationship to the animals I love (or abhor) whether domestic or wild, lover, dog, hawk, or human, shapes my work. Even in those pieces, imagined rather than witnessed, I try to evoke the physicality of the page-made landscape by mirroring the known reaction to that landscape of my own body or to somehow render the landscape’s effect on the bodies of the sentient creatures that inhabit my work. Ultimately the life of the body, and its inevitable mortality, inevitably and inescapably inform my work.
3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
There are a few aspects of the POULTRY BIZNESS, that I truly abhor, things that I find discouraging, stultifying, and strangling. However, I confess I have been blessed and fortunate to be associated with a terrific and kind local publisher, Red Mountain Press, which has been patient and supportive with my idiosyncrasies. And, as any of us who live in Santa Fe know, we are all blessed with an extremely supportive and huge poetry community, containing generous venues for reading such as Teatro Paraguas and James McGrath’s Orchard, fine literary bookstores such as Op-Cit or Collected Works, and numerous writing groups that support each others’ work. Those are the good things. The harder thing is the economic reality of trying to get one’s work published and out in the world, given formatting constraints of presses, distribution costs, consignment costs, time and effort to publicize the work or reading events through social media. This second book of mine OCCOQUAN, became quite an effort. Originally the press and I decided to go with a wide paged book on somewhat oversized paper to accommodate the poems’ long lines, then bowing to costs, we selected the standard 6” x 9” which meant a complete reformatting of the text and redistribution of my usually long lines. About ninety percent through that effort my computer contracted a fatal virus which even infected my back-up files, causing the need to completely wipe my drives and begin all over again. Then there are the horror stories I’ve heard from other writers, the books finished, edited yet never published, bookstores that never pay the writer for the books they’ve sold, presses requesting that poets work on fundraising, the artificial caste system of published vs. self published poets, the puppy-mill way MFA programs turn out an unlimited quantity of graduates who are doomed to the slave-world of being underpaid adjunct faculty forced to live below the poverty line., What might be most troubling about the POULTRY BIZNESS, is the inevitable epiphany (or perhaps suspicion) that we who suffer the addiction to writing actually suffer from the modern plague of grapho-mania, the certainty that each of us need to be a writer, that written or spoken art is still somehow important to humanity, and without which we will surely perish from this mortal earth, but at least, if we afford a book or possess a library card or find a hook-up to the grid we can read some of the most glorious stuff, ancient or current, ever created.
Gary Worth Moody’s first collection of poems is HAZARDS OF GRACE (Red Mountain Press 2012). His second, OCCOQUAN, (Red Mountain Press, 2015), depicts the struggles of women for emancipation and suffrage, in the environs of Virginia’s infamous Occoquan Workhouse. He is currently working on a third manuscript with the working title SKINNED LIGHT which considers witch burnings, martyrdom by fire, immolations, catastrophe’s of flame, and the burning of Moctezuma’s aviaries by Hernán Cortés. A falconer, Gary lives in Santa Fe with the artist and writer, Oriana Rodman, two dogs and a red-tail hawk.
There is a sound that is not the first sound that comes
after the cartridge clicks into place inside
the rifle’s chamber,
after-the shot cottontail’s mewl,
or the scuff of dragging its shattered spine
across lava toward unsheltering
yucca after boots crush cinders before the bleeding
rabbit is lifted and the furred neck
twisted into its dying
crack, and the quiet of the dead thing being lain on
the bait tab of the just now set steel trap,
rusted jaws contorted
into position to sever anything innocent enough
to place paw or muzzle
against the husk that once bolted
through light quick enough to be almost invisible
before the hollow point bullet shattered
its life, before the long road under
spinning clouds takes me to the canyon’s mouth
where I park in settling dust
the southwest wind sifts from the jeep’s tires,
climb out and open the door for the already prancing
black-tongued dog, and empty
a water bottle into the plastic
bowl for the must be completed ritual before she runs,
a blurred thing, across desert
as I wander under morning
sun, face down, searching for flaked points, jasper and obsidian
hunters, the corn-growers’
limed shard remnants, and lava hollowed by hands grinding grain,
until agony shrills from the arroyo’s
cut just off the road as the dog
jerks against the trap’s fast chain, biting the metal that holds,
screams as I reach
for her, trying to steady the iron,
as her jaws find my hand’s blood, clamp down until
with foot and hand I finally
separate the steel’s grip from her left
front leg just above her tan paw and then she is loose and running
again though only on three
legs as I bleed under sun
and the sounds I hear are breath and juniper creak beneath a raven’s wing
blistering November wind
just as the uncaught pup
finds her fourth leg and, without lameness, races
out of the canyon’s crease
into morning’s untrapped light.