Interview with Caroline Goodwin

I am very excited to share this interview with poet and memoir-ist Caroline Goodwin, whom I have known for a couple of years now. We met through OneRoom, a coaching service for creative writers, and I worked closely with her for a combination of 12 months, first when completing my poetry manuscript and now while working on my own memoir.  Please enjoy this enlightening conversation:

Caroline Goodwin moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 from Sitka, Alaska to attend Stanford’s creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her books are Trapline (2013), Peregrine (2015) and The Paper Tree (2017). She teaches at California College of the Arts and the Stanford Writer’s Studio; from 2014 – 16 she served as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County.

The writing process often seems mysterious, even to writers who practice consistently. Tell me a little about your writing practice and how you keep yourself returning to the page. 

I like to see it as an adventure, a process of discovery. When I’m connected to the work (and this has definitely come and gone over the years — I have gone through long and painful “dry” periods), I look forward to seeing what might occur. I find that if I make it a priority to at least look at the work early in the day, then often the rest of the day is at least partially spent connected with the developing poem. For example, I have two texts set up in my kitchen next to the stove, and my laptop opened to the previous day’s work. I make this a part of my nightly routine, like taking my meds. The texts are: Common Plants of Nunavut and Li: Dynamic Form in Nature. I am working on a series of poems that explores the environmental degradation of our precious Arctic region, infused with my grief journey after losing my husband in August 2016. I think of them as a series of love poems, both for Nick and for the Arctic. I have rules: every poem must be seven lines (I am modeling this after my friend Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s wonderful collection Shy Green Fields). I make my tea and stand at the counter until I have seven lines. I love seeing what comes out in each piece, and I look forward to seeing what the next challenge might be. It’s kind of a puzzle, and it feels like a spiritual practice to me because I depend on a lot of serendipity. I am aiming for a full-length collection of these little guys. They are really weird.

I see that you have published two collections of poetry, one with Finishing Line Press and one with Big Yes Press. It’s easy to assume that once a poet gets a book published, it suddenly becomes easy to publish other works. How would you compare your experiences between your first publication and your second? Do you find it easier to publish now than before your first collection? 

Actually I also published with JackLeg Press in 2013 — a print-on-demand book entitled Trapline. So each of my books has been a different experience. Publishing has changed so much in the last twenty years, as we all know, and there are lots of small presses making terrific books. So I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier, because the creative work itself is the same (VERY hard). It’s a matter of hanging in there, networking, staying grateful and showing up, staying committed to the art form and putting your hand out to fellow poets. I’ve found each of the presses lovely to work with and most days I can’t actually believe I have 3 books in the world! I also have a tiny chapbook called Text Me, Ishmael, handmade by the Literary Pocketbook series in Wales, UK. Oh, and two more self-published chapbooks, Kodiak Herbal and Gora Verstovia. I sewed these books up myself, punching the holes for the spines with a push pin. It was fun.

Since you are also a writer of non-fiction, tell me how the two genres dovetail for you. 

Great question. I recently carved out a writing retreat for myself in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. My goal was to finish a memoir about my daughter Josephine’s life and death (I’ve been working on this for more than ten years). However, I went to the Yellowknife bookstore and found a book by the poet Roo Borson. Well, before I knew it, my writing retreat was overtaken by a long poem that was exciting to me, that spun out from a line I found in her book: “unreadable book that will not close.” That line seemed, to me, to speak to the experience of grief. Poetry “won” and I stayed with that poem and the memoir was not completed.

I also have three pieces of nonfiction published now. One is about my daughter Josephine and Sitka, Alaska (entitled ROY) and another recent piece entitled AMARANTH. This one surprised me because I finished it six days before my husband died, and it’s full of these crazy premonitions. And I just published an essay in the South Dakota Review entitled “What They Do”. Currently, I’m working on an essay about online dating. So I think I’d say poetry and nonfiction dovetail and help each other, distract from each other, feed and deplete each other, if that makes sense. At the end of the day, they simply help me to figure out what I really want to say about something. The prose is slow for me, but I do hope to finish that memoir someday, I just have to let my mind wander where and when it will. 

What other creative practices do you pursue? 

I knit and crochet (I love Granny squares) and hang out with my pug, Jimi Hendrix. I also like to go boogie boarding in the ocean whenever I can and I’m working on my home garden.

I know that you are a writing coach with OneRoom in addition to teaching, writing, and publishing. How do you juggle it all? 

Very, very, very, very, very chaotically and with a whole lot of help from the Universe. My motto is “slow and steady wins the race” and to give myself lots of slack. If I show up for my own creative work, even if I just look at it briefly, that’s a good day for me.

Would you recommend writers get an MFA in creative writing? 

I have always seen the MFA as a gift to the self. I went to the University of British Columbia partly because needed to get out of a relationship, so I didn’t apply anywhere else. I just knew I needed to leave, but still be close to Alaska. Luckily I had the resources to do so. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. I still am in touch with and admire the poets in my workshop from grad school. It’s a privilege to have an MFA and I remain grateful for the experience and all it taught me about how to be a poet in the world.

Are you working on any projects now? 

Yes, the manuscript is temporarily called Common Plants of Nunavut. Nunavut is the newest, largest and northernmost territory of Canada. I like the name, and the fact that it was nearly named “Bob” (true story). I love the Arctic; each poem’s title is the common name of a plant. 

When I was in Yellowknife I learned that the city is sitting on 237,000 tonnes of arsenic, the byproduct of a shut-down gold mine, the Giant Mine. That’s enough to kill every human on earth. The landscape is incredibly beautiful, and fragile, lots of colorful rocks and lichens. Many of my childhood weekends were spent on a lake north of Anchorage, and these experiences were profound for me. Going to Yellowknife was a spiritual journey back to the landscape of my childhood, so I’m writing about that. I started another manuscript entitled Old Snow, White Sun, which takes its title from a song by the Japanese acid rock group Kikagaku Moyo (Geometric Designs) and is about a recent love affair among other things. I also hope that my writing might play a small part in valuing and preserving this beautiful earth. I studied biology as an undergrad, so I love plant names. Plants are magical. They are the producers, really the only living thing that MAKES something helpful. They give us everything, really. So when I write I let the sounds of the names and also the ideas and emotions evoked come onto the page, interact, be weird, and possibly add up to a poem.

Can you share one of your poems with ZPR readers?

In a Time of Mourning

Manumission: A Codependent Romance by KJ Hannah Greenberg

I gladly waived the earring ritual.

In order to watch the dust puff up
As your footfall took you away.

In affranchisement of beloveds,
Releasing damaging ownership,
Is letting go confining outcomes.

Never did I mean to enslave. Rather,
You clung like bubblegum requiring
Scraping, ice cubes, other surgeries.

Stitching, yoking, enthralling’s
The stuff of mixed-up partnering.
I’m about liberation, unfettering.

All the same, only jagged words,
Chilled hugs, groupings of sorrow
Unshackled your elect possession.

These days, I think on past events,
Question ever talking again among
People, fear repeating our rapport.

In the end, I determined vending
Seized my dependence, realized
Proprietorship thieved my power.

KJ Hannah Greenberg captures the world in words and images. Her latest photography portfolio is 20/20: KJ Hannah Greenberg Eye on Israel. Her most recent poetry collection is Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound CONTENT, 2017). Her most recent fiction collection is the omnibus, Concatenation (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2018).

Postcards from the Knife-Thrower’s Wife by Alex Stolis

August 2 – Woodstock, N.B. Canada

I’m a girl on a dragon-fly on the back of a horse heading
straight into the wind under an unbreakable sky. You are
not here. You are made-up words in an invented language
spoken in whispers. I remember every detail of the world
we created from scratch. I remember that day the moon
eclipsed the sun and for a moment the earth turned cold.
The sky turned deep green no stars in sight. You wrote me
of a dream you had; lost, afraid and miles away from home.
You heard the low beat of wings. You felt the steady pound
of hooves and I readied myself for flight.

Alex Stolis lives in Minneapolis; he has had poems published in numerous journals. Recent chapbooks include Justice for all, published by Conversation Paperpress (UK) based on the last words of Texas Death Row inmates. Also, Without Dorothy, There is No Going Home from ELJ Publications. Other releases include an e-chapbook, From an iPod found in Canal Park; Duluth, MN, from Right Hand Pointing and Left of the Dial from corrupt press. The full length collection, Postcards from the Knife Thrower was runner up for the Moon City Poetry Prize in 2017. His chapbook, Perspectives on a Crime Scene was recently released by Grey Border books and a full length collection Pop. 1280, is forthcoming from Grey Border books in 2019. 

http://greybordersbooks.jigsy.com/alex-stolhttp://greybordersbooks.jigsy.com/alex-stolisis

City of Bread by Marc Janssen

It was a gray day,

Unrelenting gravel clouds shouldered past Mt. Shasta and filled the sky with its dirty dishwater color when the whistle sounded.

And the mill closed to the shout of the first gobbed flakes slinking down.

Now the rusting bulk of former buildings provide the resting place of discarded beams inside wind battered walls and crumbling roofs only briefly made invisible by the smothering blanket.

On the streets everyone is gone like the jobs before them, and snow has come to salve your wounds.

Marc Janssen is an internationally published poet and poetic activist. His work has appeared haphazardly in printed journals and anthologies such as Off the Coast, Cirque Journal, Penumbra, The Ottawa Arts Review and Manifest West. He also coordinates poetry events in the Willamette Valley of Oregon including the Salem Poetry Project, a weekly reading, and the Salem Poetry Festival.

Clemens Kalischer by Mark Jackley

In his pictures of people arriving from Europe after the war,
his subjects are bone tired.
Some are slumped like luggage,

a few of them fast asleep. They are watchful in their dreams.
Most look to be as ancient
as an elephant’s eyes.

They too escaped the hunter’s gun and will never forget.
They are dressed for the occasion
in suits and ties, dresses.

Two girls on the dock are
whispering and laughing, beaming like the secrets
of a morning star.

Mark Jackley’s poems have appeared in Sugar House Review, Fifth Wednesday, Talking River, and other journals. His latest book is On the Edge of a Very Small Town. He lives in Purcellville, VA.

“To the Mother of the Suicide Bomber” by Tricia Knoll

To the Mother of the Suicide Bomber –

Our eyes may never meet. I don’t know whether you cover your head, veil your face – what catches the free fall of your hair. Perhaps you think now of the toddler who squirmed his toes in sand. The child that pulled your fingers and asked for more, for more and yet again more. Sometimes with eyes, sometimes lips and fingertips, you gave him more.

This way we mother. His itchy spot on his shoulder blade you scratched telling a story of how he lost his wings. Now you face less. The less of pieces you bury, along with lullabies you wove as you soothed his cowlicks.

Does a wind in your ear suggest you should have done something? Or haunt you? The video clips over and over and over again? All how bombs twist into smoke? You still see him whole, don’t you?

We are the world’s mothers. Had it been in your power, would his life have exploded into sirens, ambulances, funeral after funeral? Do you hide? From our neighbors? Yourself?

We expect our children will bury us. I would touch your hand. Or sit outside the locks on your door if touch is too much. You would not need to look me in the eye.

Your door slammed shut to those who come to question you about the fragments you buried.  The door you never open without looking to see who is there.

I feel you inside and respect the door you’ve closed.

Bio:  Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet whose work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, earning 7 Pushcart prize nominations. Her most recent collection, How I Learned To Be White (Antrim House) focuses on how education, childhood and ancestry contributed to the her sense of white privilege in a multicultural world. Website: triciaknoll.com

“A Body Found” by Will Reger

The last snow mantle
drapes your shoulders,
covers your dark readiness.

Secretly,
as I drive past along
my corridor of labor,
I love you.

Secretly,
white-laced,
wet and open.

You are the field
I will lie down in, to wait.
Crops will grow up around me.
They will scrape you bare again,
leave you bleeding, confused,
your ditches still unmown,

and there I will be.

Will Reger is a founding member of the CU (Champaign-Urbana) Poetry Group (cupoetry.com), has a Ph.D. from UIUC, teaches at Illinois State University in Normal, and has published most recently with Front Porch Review, Chiron Review, and the Paterson Literary Review. His first chapbook is Cruel with Eagles. He is found at https://twitter.com/wmreger — or wandering in the woods playing his flute.