Monday, August 8, 2022

Q&A with Caroline Goodwin




Caroline Goodwin is the author of the poetry collection Old Snow, White Sun. Her other collections include Trapline.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your newest collection, Old Snow, White Sun?


A: I think the oldest poem in the book is "Star Set," which I wrote for my friend Anne N. Marino, a wonderful novelist who died in April 2014 in San Francisco after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Anne was so funny and smart! She was a superstar of a friend.


The majority of that long middle section of the book, "Mothlight," was published as a chapbook by Finishing Line Press in 2015. The poem at the section's end,"Unreadable Book That Will Not Close," was written in 2017 on a houseboat in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, a year after I lost my husband in a cycling accident.


The rest of the poems were written sporadically in 2018-2020 -- so I guess this is a long way of saying eight years!


Q: I’m so sorry about the loss of your husband and your friend…


With your poems, how did you decide on the order in which they would appear in the book?


A: I wanted readers to first understand that the strangeness and complexities of the mourning process would be a central theme, so the section "Oriar" came first. This section takes its title from a song by the group Heron Oblivion, which Wikipedia defines as "an American rock psychedelic supergroup."


The song feels very mournful, very sad to me. A former boyfriend, Bruce, passed away in 2017, and although I had not been in touch with him for many years, his death just felt terrible to me. I discovered that I was grieving other connections, in addition to Bruce and our connection: my beautiful husband, my own youth, the decisions I made or didn't make, etc.


The "Not, I'll Not" poems take their titles from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, "Carrion Comfort," which for me is about resisting the urge to succumb to despair.


The middle section contains more specific grief poems about people such as Anne Marino, and a writing student named Todd Melick, and finally the long poem for my husband Nick that takes its title from a Roo Borson poem called "Mothlight." Borson is a Canadian poet whose work I have admired for a long time. 

The final section, "Epiphytic," feels more hopeful to me, although it does take a look at some alarming statistics about domestic violence and war. Epiphytic means "living on the surface of plants." It seems to me that all of us are, in a way, living on the surface of plants. I love plants! They are so resilient, so beautiful and diverse, and such givers!


This final poem refers at the end to my friend Nan Cohen's wonderful poem "A Newborn Girl at Passover." This poem never ceases to move me, I think because it is about new life, the cycles we embrace, and that pure love we feel for our children. I wanted to somehow end with a hopeful tone, in spite of all the loss I explore in the work!


Q: The poet Lee Ann Roripaugh said of the book, "In a time of environmental and personal erosion, these gorgeous poems form an elegiac charm against loss while honoring cycles of restoration and transformation." What do you think of that description?


A: I love it. Roripaugh is also someone whose work I've admired for a long time, partly because of its complexity and its handling of difficult topics such as trauma.


For a poet, the blurb is an amazing gift. I always think, wow, a fellow poet, working in this strange and challenging art form, has taken the time to read and digest my poems, and has respond so thoughtfully. Someone gets me! Someone who knows what they're talking about understands my elegaic charm against loss, yay! I am incredibly grateful for this blurb, and for all the blurbs. 


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: So "Old Snow, White Sun" is the title of a song by Kikagaku Moyo, which Wikipedia describes as a Japanese psychedelic band from Tokyo, whose name translates as "geometric patterns." I love this band, and I love geometric patterns, especially ones we can find in the natural world. This particular song can be found on their album "House in the Tall Grass."


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am happy to say that I have been collaborating with a poet friend from Wales, UK, Graham Hartill. This is my first poetry-writing collaboration, and we have been re-visioning, writing around/into, and discussing a beautiful myth based in Llyn y Fan Fach, a small lake in Wales.


This myth, of the Lady of the Lake and the physicians of Myddfai, is part of the ancient culture there, and Graham and I have been thinking/writing/collaborating on its elements. It's been a lot of fun, and I've been so grateful to connect with my deep roots (one branch of my family came to Pennsylvania from Carmarthenshire in the 1600s).


I also had the opportunity to read at a small poetry event in Hay-on-Wye in 2012, and I just had a book published there by Aquifer Press, Matanuska, which is named after a river in Southcentral Alaska, near my home of Anchorage. I think of this book as my "Covid Project."


In addition, I'm just beginning another exciting collaboration with the poet/artist Kim Shuck, who is a beautiful writer and beadworker. In 2019 Shuck was appointed the seventh Poet Laureate of San Francisco; she also explores themes of mourning and trauma survival.


We are each writing and making visual art, responding to one another's pieces, and thinking about the role a creative practice can play in healing. Our project centers around local birds and climate disruption.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Sure! Here is my website:

And a link to Old Snow, White Sun.


I am available for readings and lectures, and I will come to your venue to teach a hands-on poetry writing workshop called "Composition by Juxtaposition" that is a lot of fun!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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