Aozora Brockman Interviews Chloe N. Clark

chloe-clarkMichael: Continuing in my campaign to foster creative cross-pollination among contributors to Reckoning 1, I asked Aozora Brockman, whose poem “Kill or Be Killed” is forthcoming on the site in a few weeks, to interview Chloe N. Clark about her poem “Sidelong Catastrophe”.

Aozora: I love that your poem “Sidelong Catastrophe” surprises us in the opening line (“I’m not sure who the sky is / when it’s not the sky”) by giving the sky a dual identity—at once a “who” (human-like) and an “it” (object-like). In the poem, the perceived boundary between human beings and nature are blurred: a river was once a beautiful woman, and clouds show human-like emotion when they “weep the ghosts / of rivers for days on end”. What, to you, is the boundary between humans and nature? And what can a poem that blurs these boundaries open up?

Chloe: This is such a great question but I’m not sure I have a cohesive/at all well-thought out answer for it. I’ve always been fascinated by boundaries and the blur between them (my love of fairy tales is probably to blame with all their liminal spaces between boundaries). I also think the boundary between humans and nature is a liminal one, or at least a shifting one. I grew up closer to nature than many, because of where (and how) I lived as a child. So to me nature has always been something I exist in, not against or beside, and thus the boundary is something non-existent. However, obviously, this changes—I think in cities, there’s probably a much more defined sense of the boundaries. But maybe that, even, is false—since the natural world still interacts with all landscapes (something that we’ll likely notice more and more as climate change increases the disruption of what we think of as the norm of weather and natural cycles).

I think poetry is always about blurring boundaries. A poem itself is a liminal space—existing between the writer’s intent and the readers’ interpretations. So maybe a poem is the best way to shake us from the boundaries we imagine are there.

One of the coolest aspects of the MFA program I graduated from—Iowa State University’s MFA in Creative Writing & Environment—is that it kind of forces you to constantly be thinking about this in your writing.

Aozora: There is a tension between power and powerlessness in your poem. At one moment you are dreaming of the possibility of solving all of the problems of the world (“sometimes I imagine / that we can solve everything” ) but, a couple lines later, are wholly without hope, drawing “scenes / of decay because that is what / we know”. As humans we know that we have great power over nature—after all, we are the ones that have systematically destroyed our environment. But at the same time, it feels impossible to halt the poisoning of soil, water and air. We are, at once, extremely powerful and extremely powerless—and your poem lays bare this contradiction and tension. As a poet (and a person), when do you feel powerful? When do you feel powerless?

Chloe: I’ve always felt the most powerful, day-to-day, when I’m focused in on something. I cook and bake, so that’s a meditative act but it’s also one where you can feel powerful because you have this mastery over what you’re doing—especially once you became more and more skilled at it. That’s an exquisite feeling. When I’ve felt powerful in writing is when I hit that sweet spot between the last few lines and the ending, when you can see the writing coming together and everything feels like that stomach-jumping feeling you get when an elevator drops a little too fast but you know you’re still safe.

I think there’s so many situations when I feel powerless as a person (which maybe is why I write). It’s that moment when someone you love is hurt and you can’t do anything, or when you’re walking alone at night and the darkness seems a little too shadow-filled, or when you watch the news and the world is so filled with horror. It’s easy to feel powerless.

As a poet, the only time I ever feel powerless is in the poems I haven’t yet written—the ones about emotions that I haven’t figured out or events that are still too close to see right to put into language.

Aozora: What do you think is the role of a poet writing about the environment and natural world? What impassions you to write? And how can we change the world through poetry?

Chloe: I don’t know, to be honest. I think that writing purposefully about the environment and natural world is good, but when people set out to do so—it often feels like just that: something they made themselves do. I’m far more interested in writing that can’t help but be filled with these things. Where it bleeds into every line. So the role might be as witness, more than voice.

Chloe: The things that impassion me are so wide that it’s almost weird to think about: I write because I can’t not (I think I’m stealing that from somewhere, but it’s true). I’ve always been fascinated by stories themselves and I think of poetry that way—as a story, just told in slightly different terms than fiction.

I want to say we can change the world. But often I think I agree more with something Wilfred Owen wrote back during WWI: All the poet can do today is warn. Sometimes warning is the most we can do. But, I hope we can also offer some bit of hope: if only because someone else is noticing the same things as you, or finds beauty in the same place as you, or makes a joke that makes you laugh. I think that can be a lot.

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Daniella Levy Interview: “The Olive Harvest”

daniella-levy

Read “The Olive Harvest” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: Thank you so much for sharing this story with me, and for giving me the chance to pepper you with questions about it.

It seems to me it takes a lot of aplomb to tell a story with this level of clarity and directness. I love a parable, I love a folktale, but it’s not easy to tell a new one in a way that feels fresh.

Daniella: Thank you! I didn’t really know that that’s what I was doing at the time!

Michael: I want to ask what sources you were drawing from. I think immediately of Genesis 1:26, where God grants us dominion over all the earth, that phrase so hotly contested between capitalists and conservationists. But I come from an American Catholic background, and I feel like my grasp of the religious lore is very limited. Are there other references you’re making I’m not getting? What about more recent influences on your style and voice?

Daniella: Yes, this story actually draws on quite a number of sources.

The most recent one, the one that really influenced the rhythm and cadence of the story, is a famous folktale of unknown origin, about a pair of brothers who work on a field together and split the portions evenly at the end of every workday. Each brother is concerned that his brother needs more than he does, so in the middle of the night, each of them takes from his own portion and transfers it to the other’s. Every morning they are both mystified as to how the piles are even again. This goes on day after day, until one night, their paths meet in the field, and they understand what has been happening, and they embrace and weep together. Jewish legend teaches that the Holy Temple was built on the spot where those two brothers embraced.

Obviously, there is reference to the story of the Noah and the Ark in chapter 8 of Genesis. It’s a story about a global disaster brought about by human cruelty, and the image of the dove with the olive branch, signaling to Noah that the Flood is receding and that they will soon come upon dry land, has become a universal symbol of peace.

“Between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal” is a direct reference to a mysterious ceremony mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy (chapters 11 and 27) and the book of Joshua (chapter 8). It took place just after the Israelites entered the Holy Land, on these two mountains, which rise up around the Biblical city of Shekhem, known now as Nablus in Arabic–a hotly contested area in our times.

The purpose of the ceremony was to demonstrate that if the Israelites followed God’s word and carried out His commandments, they would inherit the land and prosper, but if they ignored His commandments, they would experience famine and hardship, and may eventually be expelled from the land. “I call upon the heaven and the earth today as witnesses: I put before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) Every time I read those words I get a tingle down my spine.

Finally, there is a less obvious, but more fundamental reference to Deuteronomy 20:19. At the end of a chapter about the rules of waging holy war, a rather peculiar, out-of-place commandment pops up. God forbids the Israelites to destroy trees that bear fruit in the process of laying siege upon an enemy city. “For you may eat from it,” He explains. “Is a tree of the field a man, to go into siege before you?”

In Jewish tradition, we believe that the Torah (the Jewish Bible) is centered around the experiences and actions of man. That is its focus. But I see this passage as a little peek into God’s relationship with the rest of His creation. “You go ahead and wage your wars and cleanse the world of human evil as necessary,” He seems to be saying. “Just… leave My trees out of it, okay?”

Michael: I confess, the first time I read “The Olive Harvest”, I hesitated–did I want to open the enormous can of worms that is Middle East Politics, even approaching it from the eminently apolitical position of an olive tree? But I get the sense you’re depicting what may be for you a far more immediate reality.

Daniella: Man, I hear you. Thank you for having the courage to take it on. A few years ago I would never have imagined myself writing fiction about Middle East politics. It’s so very polarizing and emotionally charged, and especially living where I do, the stakes are so high.

But when I started focusing my energies on short fiction, I found that I couldn’t resist.

I think most people don’t realize how much totally normal contact Israeli settlers and Palestinians have with each other on a daily basis. People from the neighboring village come here to do construction or farming work every day. People from here take their cars over there for repairs and washes. Israeli contractors buy construction materials from Bethlehem and Hebron. There is a lot of small-scale commercial cooperation. We drive on the same main roads, shop at the same supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction. The bizarre paradox of this mundane, day-to-day co-existence alongside the very real violence and injustice is our crazy Middle Eastern reality. It just lends itself to fiction.

I have two other stories on this topic being published soon:Shattered Glass in Newfound, and Scarf Sisters in arc-25 (the literary journal of the Israel Association of Writers in English). The former is about an Israeli settler who gets in a car crash with a Palestinian, and the latter is about an Israeli settler and a Palestinian woman who bond over their identical headscarves at that supermarket. Both of these situations are things that could totally happen to me. (Though I certainly hope the first one won’t!)

Michael: What does environmentalism look like from where you are in the world?

Daniella: Well, the climatic and political conditions of Israel make it very difficult to ignore the environment. It’s a tiny, politically isolated country, more than half desert, with precious little in the way of natural resources. This forces us to be creative with the resources we have. Thankfully, Jews have always been a hopeful and imaginative bunch.

Until very recently, we were entirely dependent on rainfall for our water supply and regularly experienced alarming droughts. One of the responses to that problem was the most well-known Israeli contribution to sustainable agriculture: drip irrigation. I say “until very recently” because in recent years we got some new desalination plants running along the Mediterranean that basically solved our drought problem. These also utilize Israeli innovations that make them particularly efficient and sustainable.

Israel is also a world leader in solar energy innovation. The flat-plate solar heater was perfected by an Israeli engineer in response to the oil crisis of the 1950s, and Israel was the first country in the world to use it on a large scale. Over 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy to heat water.

Thanks to our vigorous afforestation efforts in the 20th century, Israel was one of only two countries in the world to enter the 21st century with a net gain in trees.

The government recently legislated a tax on plastic shopping bags to discourage their use in the big supermarket chains. My local municipality (the Gush Etzion Regional Council) implemented a highly successful waste separation and recycling program a few years ago.

Don’t let me paint too rosy a picture, however. Our two major power plants still run on coal, despite the recent discovery of plentiful natural gas fields beneath the Mediterranean. When I first moved here 20 years ago, the littering culture was truly appalling. Thankfully, this has improved a lot, but there is still much work to be done.

In the Palestinian territories, a lack of functional cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli authorities leads to some serious infrastructural issues, including open sewage. We often see and smell burning garbage in the neighboring villages.

So, there are problems, some of them highly political. But the general feeling I get is that there is motivation to improve things. Like I said, we are a hopeful people.

Michael: Have you found ways to be like the olive tree in the story, to bridge otherness and bring people together?

Daniella: I try to do so through my writing. My blog, Letters to Josep, is a collection of letters to a Catholic friend of mine in Barcelona about Judaism and life in Israel. In addition to my own letters, I invite people from all walks of life to write “guest letters” about their own cultures and religions. So far I’ve hosted letters from a Puerto-Rican-American Catholic, a Chinese-American Protestant, a Palestinian-American Orthodox Christian, a Pakistani-American Muslim, a French Jew, and an American Baha’i, to name a few!

I love to learn about people who are different than me: how they see the world, what is important to them, and what we have in common. I hope and pray that my writing helps inspire others to get curious about each other and see people who are different from them in a new light.

Michael: You mention that an olive tree takes seven years to bear fruit–is it possible to cultivate that kind of patience when there’s so much animosity in our day to day?

Daniella: You know, until you mentioned it I hadn’t even thought about the symbolism in that.

Michael: I ought to give credit where credit is due: Marissa Lingen is the one who pointed that out to me.

Daniella: I think the lack of patience we have in the Western world is a major part of the problem. We want clear-cut solutions, we want to fix things, draw lines, wrap things up in neat packages and stamp a label on them—and we want it now! Things don’t work that way around here. The trees that are native to this region, like the olive, are very slow-paced. They grow very slowly, reaching relatively unimpressive heights, but because of their slow, steady growth, their wood is very dense, strong, and fire-resistant.

It’s interesting to note that during the first afforestation efforts in the early 20th century, the Jewish National Fund wanted to plant trees that would grow quickly, to bring about a quick reversal of desertification and make the land more fertile. So they planted imported pine trees of a variety that is known for growing quickly. Unfortunately, they are also known for being highly flammable.

There’s definitely a metaphor in there somewhere.

Michael: Your descriptions of the olive grove are very vivid–have you had experience with olive trees yourself, cultivating or harvesting them? Do you garden? I’d love to hear a little about what personal experience with nature motivated you to write a story like this.

Daniella: Since I was a little girl I’ve felt very connected to trees. My mom used to tease me for being a natural tree-hugger! I loved to hold my face up to the bark and breathe in the fragrance of wood and sap. As a child in Pennsylvania I favored the maple trees with their sturdy trunks and brilliant foliage. When I moved here, I fell in love with the ubiquitous olive trees, especially the gnarled, ancient ones. They tell so many stories. Though admittedly, they are harder to hug!

Sadly, I have no garden now, but I would love to have a yard with an olive tree someday.

I came up with the concept for the story when I was driving home one day, listening to the radio, and I overheard talk of some concern about possible clashes because of the olive harvest. It’s a time when people are going out into the fields to tend to the olive trees, and this increases the likelihood of flare-ups. In general, there is a lot of tension around olive trees in this area. They are planted sometimes by people who wish to claim land that does not belong to them, and then destroyed by other people who wish to negate that claim, or cause financial harm to the other side. This kind of selfish and destructive behavior is done by both Israelis and Palestinians. And I thought, how ironic is it that this universal symbol of peace has become a target in this conflict?

If there is one thing Israelis and Palestinians have in common, it is our intense and deep-rooted love for this land. If anything, we should be working together to nurture and protect it, and invest in the futures of our children. We have very real grievances against one another and many injustices to rectify. But it is a travesty to make the land pay the price for those grievances.

The tree in The Olive Harvest is not planted by an Israeli or a Palestinian; it is planted by God. This land belongs to God. And He sets before us life and death, the blessing and the curse. We must choose life.

Michael: Thank you again!

Daniella: Thank you!

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Blythe Woolston Interview: “Agapostemon”

blythe-woolstonRead “Agapostemon” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: A disclaimer: I have just had a kid (three days ago as I write this) and thus am just a little sleep deprived, so I have gotten a bit of help with these questions from Johannes Punkt, who wrote “The Honeybee-Maker’s Kiss”, another heavily bee-centric piece in Reckoning 1.

Johannes suggests I ask about your personal history/connection with bees and beekeeping.

Blythe: I have never kept bees. My relationship with bees is quite ordinary and haphazard. When I was little, I played with bees just like all the other children in my school. We would catch them in jam jars, show them off to one another, and then open the lids and set them free. It felt daring. We made pictures of them: black tippies, white tippies, gobs of pollen on their knees.

My most recent encounter with a bee was a few days ago. Warm and sunny, the snow sublimating, dissolving directly into the air. I was cleaning detritus from a patch of herbs. The bee appeared, a honey bee. There was nothing for it. “It’s too early,” I said, but I’m certain the bee knew that as well as I did. I don’t know what became of it. Since then it has snowed.

Ha! This is really quite dull, but I am dull. I am certainly less interesting than a wild bee.

Michael: Can you tell me a little of how you were thinking about wild and domesticated bees when you composed “Agapostemon”?

Blythe: Domestication is the exploitation of an organism’s traits for human benefit. Honey bees offer not only honey and wax production, but a colony lifestyle that makes them easier to manage. Domestication also means that humans are more aware of threats to honeybees, like colony collapse. But, at the bottom, domestication is a tiny window on the actual economy of wild Nature. It sees only those things of human interest.

It’s that anthropocentrism that scrapes me.

I see it in my own life, and I’m not proud of it.

The poem rose from a very selfish moment. I was only thinking of future plums. Last spring, the little trees by my steps burst into bloom—it seemed—too soon. Then Agapostemon appeared shiny, tiny, and green ready for the flowers when the flowers were ready for her. The synchronicity between the bee and the tree decentered me, or, at least, it reminded me that I am not the center, not the purpose, not even able to do the work of a tiny, ground-dwelling bee.

One organism often overlooked among the domesticated is H. sapiens. Over the centuries, that sad animal has become increasingly isolated from the interactions that mark its role in Nature. I think we are being paid in “lesser sugar” too.

Michael: I’ve read a fair amount about the ecology in your part of the world, and traveled there a very little. It seems to me such a touchstone for the American cultural relationship with nature. But what we tend to hear about are the megafauna, the apex predators, and the way tourism and industry and commerce interact with them—not much about the smaller but important parts of our vast interconnected ecosystem, like bees and independent thinkers. What is it like for the bees in the Yellowstone River watershed? What’s it like for you?

Blythe: Yellowstone. The park is iconic, emblematic, and worthy of respect. I think awe comes first. Nothing like a glimpse of Scarface (Grizzly No. 211) to recalibrate the world and my puny human place in it. There are so many kinds of life there: bluebirds, mosquitos, things tough enough to live in boiling springs . . . but that diversity isn’t unnatural or extraordinary, it’s natural. It’s fundamental to life.

When Yellowstone, the river, leaves the park boundaries, it’s like a streamer of life escaping. The river, the white pelicans, the bison: none of them see the imaginary line, but, when they cross it, new rules apply. Bison are slaughtered because they are presumed to be a threat to domestic cattle. Scarface died because he met a hunter; he wasn’t legal prey, but he was a bear and the guy had a rifle. And as for the river: In 2011, a 12-inch pipeline ruptured and spilled 63,000 gallons of oil—that’s just one spill, and that’s just my river, the river that sustains my life. Clean up continues.

Engineering the world to maximize our benefit may be human nature, but it isn’t sustainable. As you wrote, it neglects the vast interconnections that are essential to life. The connections, though, remain. It is possible for human thinking to bend to a new value system, one that recognizes that interconnection. The transition may be awkward. It’s a vision of the world that flicks humans off the top rung of an imaginary ladder; that can sting. But it always was an imaginary ladder, the truth is far more complex and beautiful. Agapostemon and her attendance of the plum flowers is a part of that ecological truth. Tiny, but not insignificant.

Please, Michael, keep planting things in your garden to make the world more welcoming for bees. It changes the world. Thank you.

Michael: Thank you! I definitely will—and this was fascinating, really the farthest thing from dull.

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

James Treat Interview: Four Found Poems

james-treatRead “Four Found Poems” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: Your poems provide a fascinating human perspective on the ways people’s relationship with land and water has changed over time as a result of colonization. I confess they’re the first instances of the found poetry form that have really caught my imagination–of the many poems you showed me, I had to struggle to choose only four to publish. Your intercession as a poet reframes these interviews from three or four generations past for a contemporary audience, but the poems themselves I think only hint at your curatorial role. Can you tell me a little about how you see the task of translating between the interviewees’ experience and contemporary experience? What’s changed in our perception of nature in that time? Do you have any sense of the kind of audience the interviewees were addressing themselves to at the time, what they expected to hear vs. what they were told? 

James: As the introductory note mentions, these found poems are drawn from interviews with elderly citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation conducted as part of a statewide oral history project sponsored by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.  When the project ended in the summer of 1938, it had generated some 11,000 manuscripts bound in more than a hundred weighty volumes.

The collected narratives comprise a haphazard archive, and the typewritten manuscripts can be difficult to read and to search.  They have been referenced occasionally by historians and other scholars, and consulted by private individuals conducting genealogical research.  There is a single book-length publication, Nations Remembered, composed of short, anonymous excerpts arranged thematically while intermingling Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole sources.  But eighty years after its inception, the Indian-Pioneer History Collection remains a formidable and underutilized resource for the study of Oklahoma Indian life.

As an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and a professional student of Muscogee history and culture, I have long been intrigued by this unique but uneven assemblage of Muscogee voices.  There is plenty of repetition and extraneous detail, but also lots of important information presented in matter-of-fact narration, and many passages that sing with vernacular English and the occasional Mvskoke-language expression.  Working through these interviews, I have pondered the possibilities for presenting this invaluable material to a wider audience.  The literary genre of found poetry offers an effective method for recovering orality from archival texts, grounding written language in the spoken word, and for performing the critical retelling that is a hallmark of indigenous oral tradition.

The Found Poetry Review describes the found poem as “the literary version of a collage.”  Working with “traditional texts like books, magazines, and newspapers” or “nontraditional sources like product packaging, junk mail, or court transcripts,” the writer excerpts words and phrases and arranges them “to create a new piece.”  Verbatim Found Poetry prefers simply to “extract a whole passage of text from writing that is not meant to be poetic, and add line breaks.”  I try to strike a balance between these polar approaches, judiciously excerpting and arranging passages while preserving the integrity of each narrator’s voice, and sometimes juxtaposing multiple narrators to generate a dialogue that reflects my own, contemporary interests and concerns.

Michael: I know you’ve published over a dozen poems like these in different venues. Do you have plans to continue or expand on this project? I’d love to see what it might look like if the poetic form were applied the same way to sources from different eras, from our era, or from different Native cultures in different places.

James: These four pieces are part of a book-length manuscript titled “Muscogee Nation I.T.: Found Poems,” which collects forty-eight poems arranged in a loosely chronological fashion and organized in three sections that correspond to the traditional Mvskoke seasonal cycle:  Meskē (Summer), Rvfo (Winter), and Tasahcē (Spring).  There is also an epilogue with several poems offering critical commentary on the various bureaucratic forms used to document the Indian-Pioneer History Project.

The central theme of this book is Muscogee human ecology and how it has changed over time: from origins to removal, from removal to statehood, and from statehood to the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936, which can be seen as an early step toward the recovery of self-determination for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of today.

Michael: I see you’re teaching a course forthcoming at the University of Illinois in the fall titled “Ecological Criticism”—a course I would love to take. That term seems like it has the potential to cover a lot of the kinds of ideas I’d like Reckoning to address. Forgive me if this amounts to asking you to sum up an entire semester’s worth of material in a single question, but what do you think the role of the humanities and the arts is and should be in addressing environmental crisis going forward into this ominous and unpredictable future? 

James: I usually introduce the course by suggesting to students that one way to think about the academic field of “Environmental Studies” is in terms of three broad areas:  environmental science (scientific disciplines such as ecology and climatology), which tries to understand the physical world and our effect on it; environmental policy (social science disciplines such as politics and economics), which tries to understand how scientific knowledge gets translated into public policy; and the environmental humanities (disciplines such as history, literature, and religion), which try to understand the underlying beliefs and practices that determine how we fare in the other two areas.  Or course, the very term “humanities” points to the pervasive anthropocentrism in Western (and some other) worldviews.  Many environmentalist thinkers and leaders have argued that our current crisis is fundamentally a cultural problem that requires a cultural solution, and it is not very difficult to demonstrate this in just a single semester-long course.  The syllabus for “Ecological Criticism” is available online and is linked from my personal website at https://jamestreat.wordpress.com

Michael: Thank you very much!

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Johannes Punkt Interview: “The Bumblebee-Maker’s Kiss”

johannes-punktThis interview, per Johannes’s preference, shall be in epistolary format. Note: contains some gentle spoilers.

Read “The Bumblebee-Maker’s Kiss” in Reckoning 1.

Michael:

Johannes,

Here is some rambly gushing about your story with questions wedged in between. Please don’t feel like you have to answer all of them, if there are some that hold your interest more than others.

This story does a lot of beautiful things at once, quite deftly, I think, but the thing that made me fall in love with it was what it seems to me to be saying about bees. I love that it moves past the current crisis of bee dieoffs and colony collapse disorder and replaces it with something that is human-made, functional and beautiful. I also love that it moves past the current crisis without ignoring its impact on people–not just in terms of questions about who’s going to pollinate our food, but how we’re going to grieve this loss. The bumblebee-maker is employed making beautiful things to replace the beautiful things we destroyed; what’s more, we get the emotional impact of that loss, but indirectly, transmuted, in the form of Tilda’s unrequited love.

That’s how I think of it, anyway. I’d love to know how you think of it. Am I getting it right?

How does the bee crisis look from Sweden? I’m very familiar with how it looks in the US—some of us (me, for example) are desperately seeking solutions, running around guerilla-planting native flowers in vacant lots, transforming our lawns into pollinator gardens, studying up on beekeeping, while others continue un-noticing; the media keeps referring to the dieoffs as a mystery, as if they couldn’t rattle off a litany of causes. But media in the US is isolating, particularly these days, and part of why I started Reckoning was as a way to learn new perspectives. What’s your experience of bees? What do they mean to you?

How do you find writing in the second person? I know many readers who claim to be put off by it, but I find there’s a certain vaguely dissociative, dreamlike tone for which it’s perfect. Is it a familiar mode for you, or was this an experiment?

Your prose and narrative description are beautiful, and to me, very distinctive. Are there particular authors you’d cite as influences?

I know you work in translation. Do you write in English? How do you negotiate that plurilingual space when you’re thinking about composing fiction?

I’m still a fan of Astrid Lindgren’s writing, and I do think some of her work touches on environmental justice, but I don’t know much Swedish literature otherwise. Are there authors you’d recommend? Anyone in particular you think I should solicit for Reckoning—from Sweden or anywhere else?

Thank you very much!

skull_green_scenebreak

Johannes:

Dear Michael,

Thank you for these questions. I don’t know how to structure this like an interview; I’m a letter-writer so I’m going to write you a letter. I think that answers one of your questions, actually—you ask how I find [myself?] writing in the second person. More than story-teller, translator and poet, I’m a letter-writer. These days I do much more of the letter-writing than any other literary endeavour. I’m at home in the second person, it’s intimate and it’s weird and it’s out of place. When you read someone else’s intimate correspondence—especially when the story seems to be, perhaps, something internal—there’s an otherworldly vulnerability to it. It feels wrong but it feels close. At least, that’s one of the responses I hope for. This feeling you get when you’re in a museum and watching through the glass cage the ink spilled by no-one you’ve heard of. An original letter by Verlaine’s wife. I don’t know if there is such a museum with that specific letter, but I recently read a letter from Tove Jansson to her mother in the ’30s, through glass, so that’s what I’m thinking about now.

I babble, I’m afraid. Does that answer the question?

I think you are right about what I’m trying to communicate with that aspect of the story, and it’s always a relief to know a communication has actually worked. Maybe the beauty isn’t the point, but we humans tend to think it is don’t we? Everyone in the story thinks so.

How do we grieve the future we’re not going to have? Is it okay to feel grief about possibilities? What about inevitabilities? The bees are still here, being shipped about in big trucks all over your continent, dying, surviving, amnesiac and medicated. They’re not all going to die, really. If enough of them die, we go with them nine point nine nine times out of ten.

We don’t seem to be so affected by the dieoffs in Sweden. A British man in a used-book store the other week told me that Swedish honeybees are exported to Britain where the Mary Celeste* still has strong wind in her sails.

Swedish bees are strong, allegedly, but I’m terrified. I’m hoarding knowledge about bees and beekeeping. I have a shelf on my bookcase of just bee-books, and my friends smile at it. In the spring and the summer, I carry a bottle of sugar-water with me to help any lethargic bumblebees I see. More often I see them dead. I might still try to give them water, though. A few weeks after I’d written the opening sentences of the story—where Tilda encounters a mechanical bumblebee that some cruel kid has apparently tortured—I found a recently-dead bumblebee and all I could hope was that it was dead before some kid mutilated it, and I felt sick. The rapid temperature shifts from global weirding are awful for these slow insects.

I take it too personally.

On influences: Ursula Le Guin is a constant lightning strike. I’d also like to mention Dessa and Hélène Cixous (the latter of which I’ve read very little from, sorry) for their powers of extending metaphors. I like to read fiction in translation, and that’s what I try to sound like. Something aptly translated but foreign in origin. I do this in Swedish too. (I used to foreignize my English accent a lot more to sound pan-European when I spoke, because it was an interesting challenge to incorporate enough of other accents to mask my own.)

Oh, one other influence worth mentioning: Karin Boye, the only dead one on this list. She’s amazing. But don’t read her in translation because I’ve never seen her aptly translated. Sorry. Her story is a tragic one, and I wanted to pay some homage to her. I always do. So I’m mentioning this because it would never get excavated from my story otherwise: Karin Boye had a girlfriend named Margot Hanel, who was widely regarded as not being good enough or smart enough for Boye. When Karin killed herself after the Second World War had started in 1941, Hanel was ghosted, turned into a ghost, and people didn’t recognize her as Karin’s girlfriend. So she killed herself, a month later; what I think of as path ’41b. I can’t do anything for Margot’s ghost, obviously, but we can remember something about her. For ourselves.

And I am so out of touch with Sweden, I’m sorry, I don’t know that I can recommend anyone. I would like to hear a Sami voice on reckoning, though.

When I started writing I wrote on the internet, which pretty naturally lead to writing mostly in English, because the potential audience is so much bigger. I still write in Swedish, but it doesn’t get published (or submitted). I’m out of touch, not so much disenfranchised as just outskirted. I don’t know where to turn that’s not someone’s lofty basement mimeograph pipe dreams or dodgy steampunk and fantasy anthologies half a step away from being vanity publishing—I have a very hard time trusting anybody’s literary project. Which brings me to you: thank you for this project. You are a conscientious editor and you are creating something trustworthy, and it means a lot to me.

Do you know about “telling the bees”? When something important happens in your life, such as a death or a marriage or a newborn, you must go to the beehives on the farm and announce it to them. So says the folklore. Do you have beehives near you?

*another name for Colony Collapse Disorder, after the famous ghost ship.

skull_green_scenebreak

Michael:

I had not heard of “telling the bees”. That is great. As far as I know it’s not a custom in the US, but I could easily be wrong. Maybe I’ll ask Marissa Lingen if it’s a thing she’s aware of among Scandanavian-Americans.

Where I live now in Michigan, honeybees seem to be incredibly scarce. I’m lucky if I see one or two in my garden all summer. I do see bumblebees, carpenter bees and various other occasional native bees, and every time I see one it gives me hope. And I plant for them—bee balm, native asters, echinacea, sunflowers, as well as the things I would love for them to pollinate for me—apple and cherry trees and strawberries and tomatoes and peppers. I also do a fair amount to support small local honey producers. Right now I have some four gallons of homemade mead aging in my cellar. I’d keep bees if I could, but I have yet to talk my family into it.

Which is of course part of the problem. I know people who are terrified of bees. I know people who are deathly allergic to them. Humans have always had these kind of interdependencies with other species that can harm or kill them, but the advance of civilization seems to make those interdependencies more and more remote. And we fear what we don’t know. So it’s very reassuring to hear about you caring about investing empathy in individual bees you meet in the world. Thank you for doing that, thank you for sharing it.

Thank you for sharing all of this, it has been fascinating.

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Goldie Locks Interview: “2222”

goldie-locksRead Goldie Locks’s story “2222” from Reckoning 1.

Michael: You live in Moscow. What’s your experience of nature like? My only knowledge of Moscow is through Russian literature in translation. Are there public parks? Do you visit them? Can you walk down to the Volga in winter and watch your fellow city-dwellers ice skating in winter? Please disabuse me of my romantic illusions.

Goldie: Nature is the best part of Moscow, especially in spring. There are many public parks and recreational forests in the city. Most of them are pretty commercialized, unfortunately, but one can find a pretty old tree away from eating joints and bike sharing stations to come sit on its roots.

Yes, I love visiting public parks, as well as strolling along downtown boulevards.

There is a river in Moscow, but it shares the city’s name. It is way smaller than Volga and mostly dirty. Swimming is allowed only where it enters the city. Nevertheless, it is inhabited by fish, ducks and seagulls throughout its full length. There are some water plants there as well.

I never saw anyone skating on Moscow river. Public skating rinks are quite common in the city. They are safer and easier to maintain than “wild” rinks that can be built on a river. Some (probably most) of the public rinks are free.

Michael: Did you grow up in Moscow, in the city, or did you move there later in life? What has been your experience of rural life, if any?

Goldie: I was born in Moscow, but very soon after that my mother moved in with her mother and sister who lived in a small town, Khotkovo, about 40 miles from the capital. It used to be fairly rural when I was small. I learned to swim in a tiny river floating across a huge meadow rimmed by a forest. When our family dog was a puppy, we once took him mushrooming in the forest and carried him back home in a basket — because no mushrooms met our eyes, and little Sharik was too tired to walk. On a smaller meadow on the other side of my house there was a lonely swing I loved very much. A dairy-woman lived on our street — and she was not the only cow owner in the town.

But as an adolescent and a young adult I witnessed derurification of my small motherland (this is how we Russians call places where we were born or came to know this world). The meadow I used to fly over on my favorite swing was turned into a car park. The other one was partly overbuilt with summer homes. High-rise blocks or brick cottages replaced most wooden houses. Currently there are no cows that I know of. A road to Moscow was built, and city-bound cars became a menace of the town.

Michael: What does it mean to you to write feminist, lesbian fiction, in a language that is not your native tongue, in a place that actively discourages that kind of thought or action? Writing a story like “2222”, do you feel like you’re taking an ideological stand? Are you participating in a resistance? What does resistance look like to you, where you live?

Goldie: “2222” is literally the first piece of fiction I ever wrote outside a teaching situation, and I was quite amazed by the fact that it turned out to be so feminist and politically charged. But, I believe, it was quite natural, because I grew up in an all-female environment (I cannot say family, because it was a more complex phenomenon) which made me a grassroots feminist. The fact that women are strong and able to cope on their own was never a revelation for me, but always a reality.

It was important for me to write about lesbians because I saw it as a way to cope with a certain sad episode of my love life, and this would not have worked lest I was sincere. I needed to express my unrequited love and say a warm goodbye to it. Also, I believe that the world needs more Russian-made books about Russian LGBT. We have to be represented worldwide, because in the times of ascendant bigotry and wall-building, LGBT people of various nations are grassroots (I do love this word — too bad it is untranslatable into Russian) liaisons keeping the world together.

I wrote the story in Russian initially and showed it to a few people online. Thankfully, it is possible and more or less safe to share such texts in Russia so long as you keep a low profile (that is gravely important). My readers praised the story, and I decided it is worth an attempt to publish it. But I suspected it was unpublishable in Russia (probably I was wrong), therefore I decided to translate it into English. While I was at it, I changed many aspects of the piece. Sometimes I think about translating it back into Russian — not for publishing, sadly, but just for showing it to my friends who are not good at English.

Yes, I believe, I was taking an ideological stand when I was writing “2222” and especially submitting it for publication, albeit under a pen-name. I realize that should the story become famous (which is unlikely), it could cause me some trouble. What makes me so brave is the feeling that my voice is too quiet to be heard in high places.

I think I am participating in a resistance — at least, I made a statement of resistance for myself and my friends. I am quite an outsider, though, therefore there is not much I can tell about resistance as a sociological phenomenon.

Michael: I read a fair amount of radical feminist journalism, as it exists here in the US. This month’s BUST Magazine, for example, features an interview with Nadya Tolokno of Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot means a lot to radical feminism in the US, it seems to me. They are icons of defiant, fearless activism. We look to them, especially now, in the era of Trump, as role models. What does Pussy Riot mean to you? Are they accomplishing anything, are they accomplishing any real change, or are they just drawing attention to themselves?

Goldie: Ironically, when Pussy Riot held their punk prayer in the CCS, I was an orthodox Christian. For 4 years, I unconsciously used this disguise to hide my lesbianism from myself. I was not interested in politics and never realized the danger posed by Putin. Therefore, I was not too pleased by Pussy Riot’s action. But I certainly was appalled by their lawsuit and sentence. This disgrace made me start to pay more attention to things outside my nuclear family. If it worked for many people, Pussy Riot definitely made things at least start to change — but, sadly, at too great a price.

I cannot say Pussy Riot are icons for me — for aesthetic reasons. I never kept an eye on them. I even heard that the group does not exist anymore. But of course, I admit that they are (or were) doing important things. As for the attention part, I cannot comment on this, because I am not acquainted with any of the Pussy Rioters personally.

Michael: Who are your literary influences? “2222” reminds me of Chekhov, a bit, in that it relies heavily on dialogue and shows obvious empathy for all its characters; it believes in the humanity of its characters. It also reminds me of Tennessee Williams, for some of the same reasons, and for the subtle way it approaches taboo topics. What do you want readers to take away from the story?

Goldie: Thanks a lot for comparing me to Chekhov. I was fascinated by him as a child, and read almost everything he wrote. He still is one of my favorite writers, although I realized with much dismay that he was a misogynist and a homophobe. When I was writing the erotic scenes of “2222” I was keeping in mind Chekhov’s story “Volodya”, where a boy’s first sexual encounter is described so subtly that I realized the meaning of the scene only when I grew up. Unfortunately, I have not read Tennessee Williams.

My other influences are, of course, George Orwell with 1984 (hence the title of my story), Aldous Huxley with Brave New World and Yevgeny Zamyatin with We. I even had an ambition to write a novel, of which “2222” short story would be the first chapter, but I am not feeling up to such a big challenge. Actually, I wished to give this novel a happy ending. I even started reading books about revolution.

Michael: What kind of a risk are you taking in writing a story like this?

Goldie: Well, it is tempting to put on a solemn face and write about people sent to GULAG for lesser offenses. But GULAG was a long time ago, and the current situation in Russia is not so dire. However, civil activists are arrested and sent to prison. So, there was, probably, no risk in writing the story, but really vocal publicizing of it in Russia could have some ramifications. They depend on the extent of the publicity.

Michael: You’ve lived with the reality of a repressive, conservative regime. Do you have any advice for those of us in the US who are facing a new, dangerous reality of political suppression?

Goldie: I am in no position to give advice. I can only plead: Please don’t stop! Don’t stop your protests. Don’t stop listening to minorities—they are naturally the first ones to feel the screws tightening. Do not stop paying attention even if everything starts to look fine. Strongmen are as sly as power-thirsty. And please try to understand what encouraged Trump voters to choose him over Clinton. What injustices made them see their advocate in such an unlikely person? What can be done for them without turning the USA into a dystopia?

Michael: Will you please write more fiction in English?

Goldie: I will try, definitely.

Michael: Thank you! I really appreciate your talking so candidly. I’m going to go get out my Chekhov and read “Volodya”.

And I promise not to stop paying attention and speaking out.

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Mohammad Shafiqul Islam Interview: “Rivers Lament”

mohammad-shafiqul-islamRead Mohammad Shafiqul Islam’s poem “Rivers Lament” from Reckoning 1.

Michael: We hear a little here in the US about Bangladesh’s low-lying areas being one of the most heavily populated places in the world under threat from rising sea levels, but not much comes through to us about it in the way of media reporting. What has been your experience of climate change so far? Do you see it affecting the people around you, your co-workers, and your students?

Shafiq: Bangladesh is proud of Bay of Bengal, the Sundarbans and hundreds of rivers flowing around the country. Bay of Bengal, the largest bay in the world, is situated on the southern part of Bangladesh bordering India and Sri Lanka. The Sundarbans, the largest mangrove forest in the world and a world heritage site declared by UNESCO, covers the northern part of the country. Bangladesh government has planned to set up the Rampal Power Station that is going to be a coal-fired power plant in Bagerhat, Khulna. Environmentalists, along with left-wing politicians and activists, are protesting against the power station, but the government reiterates that the station will not affect the Sundarbans.

With an area of 1,47,570 square kilometers, Bangladesh is well-known as a riverine country. There were once about seven hundred rivers in the country, but unfortunately, the number has declined. We are losing rivers because of the unrestrained greed of the land grabbers—small rivers in various districts of the country have disappeared. Besides, industry wastes land in rivers, which is why river water is becoming poisonous. The capital city, Dhaka, stands by the Buriganga, one of the important rivers in the country, but its clean water is now only a memory. It is true that low-lying areas of the country are submerged by flood every year and this affects human life severely. Climate change, a global phenomenon, also impacts the environment and life—comfortable weather conditions no longer resonate with the seasons here.

Michael: Could you tell me something about literature in Bangladesh? Who are your favorite authors, your influences as a poet? You’re a professor of English—what kinds of writing do you assign to your students? What do they like?

Shafiq: Bengali literature in general is rich in comparison with many other literatures of the world, whereas Bangladeshi Bengali literature in particular has also drawn attention of readers throughout the world. Translation of Bengali major works into English is taking them across borders and cultures. I should make it clear that the language of West Bengal, India, is also Bengali, and their literature is called Bengali literature. So Bengali literature by Bangladeshi writers and the same by West Bengal writers need to be addressed separately. Bengali literature made its mark across languages and cultures for Rabindranath Tagore who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1913 for his seminal work Gitanjali (Song Offerings). Kazi Nazrul Islam, famously known as a ‘Rebel’ poet, is the national poet of Bangladesh. Famous poets and writers of Bengali literature include Jibanananda Das, Buddhadev Bose, Selina Hossain, Syed Shamsul Haq, Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah, Humayun Azad, Helal Hafiz, Hasan Azizul Haq, Shahid Qadri, Nirmalendu Goon, Mahadeb Saha, Humayun Ahmed, Taslima Nasrin, Imdadul Haq Milon, Mohammad Nurul Huda, Shaheen Akhtar, Syed Manzoorul Islam, Harishankar Jaladas, Nasreen Jahan, Mohit Ul Alam, Moinul Ahsan Saber, Audity Falguni and Pias Majid among others. Some of them are also being translated into English.

Bangladeshi English writing is an emerging field though very few writers including Razia Khan Amin started writing in English in 1970s. Bangladeshi English literature has drawn more global attention recently because of Dhaka Literary Festival (DLF) that takes place during November every year. Writers, poets, artists and performers from around the world gather at Bangla Academy premises to share and exchange culture and literature. Among the fiction writers, Thmima Anam, Zia Haider Rahman, Adib Khan, Monica Ali, Niaz Zaman, Mahmud Rahman, Rashid Askari, Kazi Anis Ahmed, Razia Sultana Khan, Jackie Kabir, Sharbari Z Ahmed, Abeer Hoque, Farah Ghuznavi and Shazia Omar are well-known—some of them are diaspora writers as well.

Kaiser Haq, the most prominent English language poet from Bangladesh, is known and studied across borders—he is the leading poetic voice of the country. Besides, a handful of poets including Azfar Hussain, Rubana Haq, Shamsad Mortuza, Ahsan Akbar, Sadaf Saaz, Mohammad Shafiqul Islam, Sabahat Jahan, Sayeeda T Ahmed, Nahid Kaiser and Shehzar M Doja, among others, write poetry in English.

Many works of Bengali literature, translated into English, are becoming part of world literature. Well-known translators including Fakrul Alam, Kaiser Haq, Niaz Zaman and Shabnam Nadiya, among others, have already translated a good number of books into English, and they have enjoyed warm reception. The notable works of translation include The Triumph of the Snake Goddess (Kaiser Haq, Harvard University Press, 2015), The Essential Tagore (Fakrul Alam and Radha Chakravarty, 2011) and Bandhon Hara: Unfettered (Niaz Zaman, Nymphea Publication, 2012). Dhaka Translation Center promotes translation, and it has already published some wonderful books of Bengali literature in English translation—The Book of Dhaka: A City in Short Fiction (Comma Press, UK, and Bengal Lights Books, Dhaka, 2016) is one of its remarkable publications.

As an enthusiast of poetry, I try to read all kinds of poemst—classical, romantic, modern as well as contemporary. At present, I am doing a PhD on Nissim Ezekiel who is one of my favorite poets. To name my favorite authors is not easy at all—many poets and writers from various countries and languages have influenced me. Keats among the romantics and Eliot among the modernists are my favorites. I also like reading Baudelaire, Neruda, Derek Walcott, William Carlos Williams and many other contemporary poets. I like Kaiser Haq’s poems very much. Sudeep Sen is also a wonderful poet in the contemporary literary scene. Recently, I have read Vahni Capildeo’s Measures of Expatriation and liked it very much.

I usually teach poetry—romantic, modern and contemporary. South Asian poetry in translation interests me as well.

Michael: “Rivers Lament” makes reference to some Anglophone literature—I love your use of Grendel as a representative of environmental destruction—but clearly also draws on your own sense of place. Do you write in English? Bengali? I’d love to hear how you think about combining those influences.

Shafiq: I have been inspired by many influential texts and great writers of English literature. When I find a relevant context, I try to bring some characters or subject matters as allusions into my writing. In the poem “Rivers Lament,” I used Grendel as a representative of environmental devastation—you are right. Those who grab riverbanks, grab land, destroy rivers, devastate nature and torture human beings illogically are modern Grendels. I feel disturbed when I see that our rivers are disappearing day by day, river water is turning poisonous and we are losing green to the greed of modern Grendels.

I write poetry in English and translate from Bengali into English. My debut book, Wings of Winds, is a collection of poems. An anthology of short stories in my translation, titled Humayun Ahmed: Selected Short Stories, appeared in 2016. My latest book is also a translation titled Aphorisms of Humayun Azad that is out in February 2017. I am now at work on my second collection of poetry and a translation project.

I have influences among both Bengali and English writers and poets. I use elements from my culture, literature, environment, and everyday incidents as raw material for my writing. I write in English, but the subject matter of my writing mostly comes from my culture. I learn craft by reading different texts from around the world meticulously.

Michael: Are there other writers in your community addressing environmental justice? Anyone you’d recommend I solicit for Reckoning?

Shafiq: Many poets and writers of Bengali literature address environmental justice, but it is difficult to name even a few who exclusively write on environmental justice. But I can refer to a poem by Kaiser Haq titled “Buriganga Blues,” which is from his latest poetry collection called Pariah and Other Poems. This poem reveals how the river Buriganga has lost its glory and how its water has turned poisonous—indiscriminate urbanization and people’s mindless activities are responsible for this kind of damage to environment and nature.

Michael: Thank you! There’s a lot here for me to dig into, I really appreciate it.

Shafiq: Thank you for this amazing publication! In this world of climate change and global warming, Reckoning, no doubt, plays an important part for environmental justice.

 

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Kate Schapira Interview: Climate Anxieties

kate-schapiraMichael: Kate Schapira’s Climate Anxiety Project is a fascinating creative experiment in which she sets up a counseling booth (in the style of Lucy from Peanuts) in a city square, invites people worried about the future of humanity to come and talk to her about it, records the results, and finds creative ways to respond. Her “Three Alternate Histories” in Reckoning 1 are just the tip of the iceberg.

I love your blog; I am so impressed and inspired by the Climate Anxiety Project, and I’m very glad to find out you’ll be doing new sessions in 2017. Thank you for agreeing to talk to me a bit about it.
I wanted to ask your impression of the reaction to it. I know the project has had quite a bit of press already. I wonder if you’ve seen any kind of momentum building from that. For Reckoning, I’m very interested in fostering community, of encouraging people to think together. Have you seen anything like that as a result of your project? Have you made any friends at it?

Kate: That thing of encouraging people to think together, of enacting community with each other, is something that the booth proper doesn’t always lend itself to very well, because everyone’s talking with me but it’s pretty one-at-a-time, they’re not necessarily ever talking to each other. Sometimes one person will jump in on a conversation that another person, someone they don’t know, is having with me, but I don’t know if any ongoing relationships ever come out of that. And I don’t collect data—contact information, stuff like that—because I think that would change the dynamic a lot. I have made a couple of friends, and there are people who are sort of regulars—people who aren’t necessarily coming back for more sessions, but who will come talk and catch me up on their lives when no one else is talking with me, and if I see them around we’ll say hi.

But one of the things that’s come out of the booth conversations is how isolated people feel, and how unable they feel to act together. One way I’m trying to respond to that is with this series of weekly neighborhood gatherings called Interdependence Days that I and a few other people started this summer. We share stories and food, we learn skills or make things together, we let each other know of more opportunities for neighborly actions and then sometimes we do them together—for example, somebody came and talked to us about a city ordinance to increase police accountability and transparency, and then one other person from the group and I went doorknocking about it. But we also do things like draw, or do reflective exercises, or make something together—we’re trying to practice ways of being with other people that differ from the ways our world most easily makes available to us.

About five people living in other places have at different times expressed some interest in operating a Climate Anxiety Counseling booth of their own, but so far as I know that hasn’t moved beyond interest. I would be beyond thrilled to help someone create a version of this that works for them and their city or town—I would bend over backwards to do this—so people who think they might like to try it should get in touch with me.

And I guess the last thing thing is about the alternate histories, like the ones you’re running here: while they’re obviously not literal instructions–they don’t taken nearly enough into account–they are suggestions. I wish people would try to follow them and see what happens, and I invite anyone and everyone to do so.

Michael: Can you share with me something you’ve learned in the course of listening to and addressing people’s anxieties? Do you think you’ve gotten better at it over time?

Kate: I’ve definitely gotten better at it over time, and the specific things I’ve gotten better at are listening and asking questions rather than volunteering information or making suggestions. This means that more of the conversation comes from the person who’s talking to me, and they have more opportunities to consider and understand their own thoughts, and I have more of an opportunity to be responsive to what they’re actually thinking and feeling, so that the conversation is really between the two of us and not a conversation I’m having with myself. This is key for people who are trying to work together to make something happen—both in the “what should we try to make happen” part and the “how should we do it” part. I’ve absolutely used this practice outside of the booth to do things with other people and it’s made both the process and the outcome better.

I’m not trying to get people not to be anxious, so the “addressing” part of it is really just about recognizing and being responsive, and maybe thinking through the “what do you do when this happens” of it a little more, and I think I’ve gotten better at all of those things. I do sometimes make recommendations, and I think those recommendations are less, “Go do this, it’ll be okay!” and more like, “Try doing this and see how it feels to do, and what you learn from doing it.”

I think the other thing I’ve learned is how real and true interdependence is, and how fake independence is. And from that, I’ve gotten better at talking about the flow between the human and the nonhuman, to kind of pierce the mental wall between “a person” and “the environment”—to be able to not just tell people that they’re connected to and interdependent with all these systems of life but to lead them to see and feel it.

Michael: Does doing this make you feel better about where we as a planet are going? Has it changed your expectations at all about what’s to come?

Kate: Not at all. Everything I see, both firsthand and reported–not just predictions for the future, but observations about the present–says that we are in the middle of a hard time that’s going to get harder, more painful and full of loss and grief, falling unevenly according to who’s already suffering or exploited. I don’t feel better about anything, ever, anymore, except in little tiny patches.

But those tiny patches matter to me and I want to nourish them, and I thin one of them does have to do with the way that people behave toward each other: the listening I spoke about a second ago, the ability to then align with what each other wants and needs, and the ability to imagine, together, something different than what’s happening. How we behave in this bad time—who we align ourselves with and what we try to do together, what we see as our responsibility toward each other, what we try to protect each other from and enable each other to do—is in the realm of things that we can help, that we’re not helpless about. And that “each other” includes humans and other beings as well.

Michael: Have you gotten many negative reactions, like the one I see someone has posted on your blog’s about page? How do you deal with those?

Kate: Not that many–it seems like people who think I’m stupid or wrong mostly don’t get into it. There was a little rash of that kind of response this summer, I think because a climate-change-trivializing blog found my page and linked to it, and some of the comments on that blog’s post—not mine—were rude in a personal way as well as disparaging the project, commenting about my appearance and stuff like that, but incredibly mild compared to what some people say to women online.

You probably saw that I didn’t respond to the comment on the Climate Anxiety Counseling About page, just put it up and left it there. Someone tried to have a Twitter fight with me about it too, and I just kept it factual and low-key and like, “You’re mistaken.”

Someone else wrote me this very long and concerned email, and I kind of treated it like a booth session: I said a little bit about where I was coming from, but mostly I tried to ask questions about where they were coming from, why they wanted me not to be worried, what they thought was an appropriate response. I don’t think I moved them at all, though.

When people have come up to the booth saying that climate change isn’t real or that it’s pointless or stupid to worry about it, sometimes I’ve reacted in a way I feel okay about, where I feel like we connected as people, and sometimes I’ve reacted in a way that I don’t feel good about, where I let irritation or impatience show in a way that didn’t let either of us learn anything. Anger is important and useful, but it’s better if you wield it on purpose.

I’ve included links to those posts from this summer in the list below, as well as a couple of reflective notes that people might like to see, and an explanation of the alternate history stories.

Thanks so much for putting Reckoning together—it’s amazing.

Michael: Thank you!

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Johannes Punkt Interviews Marissa Lingen

marissa-lingen Michael: I asked Johannes Punkt (whose story “The Bumblebee-Maker’s Kiss” is in Reckoning 1 and goes live on the site next month) to interview Marissa Lingen about “How Far Are We From Minneapolis?” because he’s from Sweden and I thought he might have interesting things to ask her, and because I’m trying to do everything I can to foster cross-pollination between Reckoning authors, artists, readers and yes, editors.

Johannes: I love how you write nature as something incredibly personal. Who do you write like, do you think, on your best days? Who would you like to write like?

Marissa: I want to write like my best self. I am inspired by so many other writers, but I have a hard time saying, “I want to write like Jane Yolen” or “I want to write like John M. Ford” or “I want to write like Octavia Butler.” I want to talk about relationship and society the way Octavia did, I want to have the interplay of ideas Mike had in his work, I want Jane’s range in talking to all sorts of audiences. I try to learn from everything I like, to see what makes it go. But at the end of the day, I can only write like me. If I’m lucky and work very hard, I can write like the best me.

Marissa: I’ve been reading more personal essayists lately as well as writing this piece–usually I write fiction. So I can say more particularly that I am inspired by Elizabeth Dodd and by Karen Babine, in this form, and I’m always looking for more inspiration.

Johannes: Since you wrote about wilderness—what is your favourite wilderness in writing?

Marissa: Since you’re Swedish there’s some chance you’ll actually know what I mean when I answer this! My first wilderness in writing was the robber’s woods in Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daugher, and I think that that writing about being a little girl in the forest, sometimes with her little boy friend, imprinted itself and the forest on my heart when that was me too. All the others since then have been paler echoes—some of them wonderful, but none as vivid as that first literary wilderness.

Johannes: Reading your piece, I couldn’t help but think about it and about how notions of private/public property shape the landscape and, in turn, those who grow up there. Have you and your Swedish cousins talked about Allemansrätten [A Swedish law that means that even if you own land, you can’t stop people from going there/temporarily sleeping there, &c. That’s the gist of it. In English it’s called “freedom to roam.”]?

Marissa: Yes! They had us out to their country house when we were visiting last year, and it came up then, because we walked out on the road but came back through a field and some woods that were adjacent. I had read about what a large percentage of Swedes go berry-picking or mushroom-picking—an even larger percentage of Finns, I think, under the same type of law—and it totally makes sense compared to here, where people mostly don’t do that. My best friend does urban foraging, but she always asks very carefully. She goes to the door and knocks and says something like, hi, I see your mulberry bushes are full of fruit going to the birds, would you mind if I picked some. And then she makes jam. And of course I don’t want random strangers wandering in and eating my tomatoes, but having a common understanding sounds appealing indeed.

Johannes: Related to the previous question: You write about wildness and wilderness, like a stewardship of nature almost. How do you feel about ownership of land, tamed, half-tamed, or not? (Is it something that elicits emotion?) obviously you wrote that the waterfall was “[y]ours” but the two feel like very different kinds of ownership, no?

Marissa: They’re very different indeed. My feelings about land ownership get complicated. We own a house on a third of an acre here, with woods in the back. When we moved in, the woods were part of a long strip of forested land that crossed ten or twelve people’s private property in going down to the city park. It wasn’t a large woods, but it was nice. Now several of our neighbors have chosen to cut and landscape that, which changes the feel of the whole. And of course that’s their prerogative, but it makes me gloomy.

The kind of possessiveness that I feel about Minnehaha Falls is an entirely non-exclusive possessiveness. It’s mine, it’s ours—and I want that “ours” to be as large as possible. I want all the people who live around here and even visitors to feel that they have some relationship with the Falls, some responsibility to see that it’s cared for. I think under our current system having it be a public park is the best way to do that, but if it can be a public park that makes people feel that they are part of the public, even better. I fear that too often “the government owns it” ends up feeling like “no one owns it, no one takes any responsibility,” when it should be a collective feeling of *everyone’s* responsibility. Ownership should feel more like “I need to take care of this [possibly with some other people]” than like “I can do whatever I like with this and no one can stop me.”

Johannes: Your piece discusses adjusting to disability. I got mine relatively early; I can hardly remember what it’s like to be “normal.” You seem to ground yourself with those memories and patterns; what do you do when the world is too xenoformed, too alien to adjust to? If it ever is.

Marissa: Oh, it is sometimes. Yes. There is a level of vertigo that results in dreams of being on a malfunctioning space station with the gravity going haywire, because that’s how completely disoriented my body is about up and down, and that’s the metaphor set my science fiction writer brain has to process those sensations when I’m unconscious. So my brain is literally saying: this is beyond our planetary reference frame, this is an alien environment.

What do I do practically: well, there is a practice my best friend refers to as “Marissa is brachiating again”: that is, going from branch to branch like a monkey. Only I am doing it in the house: getting around without falling over by reaching for the next thing to steady myself on, going from touching a wall to a chair to a countertop. That’s one of my best coping mechanisms in my small, immediate world. In the larger one–my assistance needs and coping vary a lot depending on how bad a day it is. Sometimes my cane is enough. Sometimes I need to take a friend’s arm. Sometimes the only thing that will work is patience, waiting for a day when the world and I are better lined up.

Johannes: And, lastly, it’s a new year and stuff. What are you looking forward to reading this year?

Marissa: I have Maria Dahvana Headley’s Aerie at the top of my stack of Christmas books. I loved Magonia, and I’m looking forward to Aerie very much. Last year I read Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, and I’m now going through the rest of Solnit’s work a little at a time. I also read my first Gerald Vizenor novel, Treaty Shirts, which I loved, so I’m reading the rest of his stuff a little at a time too. And of course there are new things coming out that I’m eager for—Thoraiya Dyer’s debut looks pretty great, and our mutual editor has been talking up Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas, so I’m excited for that.

 

Read “How Far Are We From Minneapolis?” in Reckoning 1.

Johannes Punkt writes with an accent. Previously published in Minor Literature[s], Pamphlets for the Apocalypse, among others. Studies translation at Lund University, Sweden. Email: johannespunkt@gmail.com.

Facebooktwittertumblrmail

Erin Hoffman Interview: “Transition”

erin-hoffmanMichael: My brilliant friend Erin Hoffman has ideas spilling out her ears and plates spinning from here to the next century. To celebrate the occasion of publishing her poem, “Transition”, in Reckoning 1, I managed to corner her to ask how she might envision a community forming around Reckoning not just to foster new ideas and beautiful art on the subject of environmental justice, but to be some actual change in the world. Here’s just a bit of what she sent me.

Erin: I love the magazine itself and the fact that it exists. We pan-seared some mushrooms in honor of the Reckoning launch, local chanterelles and oysters. Maybe that should be your launch event—have people cook local flora dinners and message you pics.

Michael: I love this idea!

Erin: What I think would be really cool is if the readers and writers for the magazine could become some kind of genuine community that could share information on what can actually be done, re the activism side of the magazine. I feel like it’s beneficial to me to even just keep hearing about your work in permaculture . . . keeps me thinking about these things.

Michael: (Makes note to ramble about permaculture here at some point. We’ll get to that. We’ll get to all of it.)

Erin: I have this idea about trying to promote backyard farming here in Palo Alto. We have a vegetable garden and because of the idiosyncrasies of where the sun is it happens to be in our front yard. Results in a lot of commentary from neighbors, which is surprising to me because these gardens are not uncommon—we have the most active garden in our cul de sac, and probably only 1 in 15 houses has one that we can see. Anyway . . . their interest was interesting to me, and I thought it would be interesting to try to make growing food more accessible. I was inspired by this segment of the TED radio hour on giving (there was also a whole “the food we eat” show that was great). What I’m messing with is this idea of just telling people to grow one thing . . . and then keeping a community map of gardens where people can share vegetables. So I might decide I’m just going to specialize in asparagus, so I’ll build a planter and just fill it with asparagus and people can come and take it. I might put out recipes in a box alongside the planter. The funny thing about this is that I don’t even think it’s easier to grow one thing than twelve things, but I think people don’t know that. They think growing food is hard. If they had a community purpose around it I wonder if a lot more of them might do it, and then it might also result in actually talking to your neighbors, which would be a nice thing around here.

Anyway, that’s a wild digression. But I do wish I had a community to talk about these ideas with, and it seems like Reckoning might be that place, if it were a place. OH MAN I COULD SET UP A MUD. ReckoningMUD? 😉

Michael: (Laughing.) I am not promising a MUD . . . but a community? I really want something like that. The magazine showcases only one facet of the brilliance and unique thinking of all these authors and artists. That one facet makes me want to see more. It makes me wonder what they could do and make and change if they came together.

Read “Transition” in Reckoning 1.

 

Facebooktwittertumblrmail