Please enjoy a preview of the featured interview in the Spring 2014 issue with ROAR contributor and Idaho Writer-in-Residence Diane Raptosh. Own a copy of the entire issue by visiting our Subscribe Page!
The following interview was conducted over email by Sheila McMullin.
Author of four books of poetry and a graduate of the University of Michigan MFA Program, Diane Raptosh serves as the Idaho Writer-in- Residence (2013-2016) and the Boise Poet Laureate (2013). Her most recent book of poems, American Amnesiac (Etruscan Press), was longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award. The recipient of three fellowships in literature from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she holds the Eyck-Berringer Endowed Chair in English at The College of Idaho, where she teaches literature and creative writing as well as directs the program in criminal justice/prison studies. An active ambassador for poetry, she conducts writing workshops, gives readings, and lectures on poetry in a variety of locations ranging from university auditoriums to maximum security prisons, school buses to riverbanks.
One of the many reasons I come to poetry (and I’m sure for others as well) is for a lyric moment that breaks my heart to encourage a putting together again, just this time with more reinforcement. These moments contribute to what I’ve been calling “bravery training,” sometimes “empathy training.” These revelatory moments within the poem provide opportunities for the reader to inherit language that could serve them during a difficult period in their life. The language becomes a resource to inspire decency between human beings. I found many moments like this in your writing, but the one that shined the brightest I found in your newest collection American Amnesiac. American Amnesiac takes a hard look at American corporate corporeality through a male perspective. In the midst of our speaker John Doe “stripped of his memory” reviewing his life from when he was Cal Reinhart– the corporate mogul–you write: “the kinder you are the stronger/ your immune system.”
So simple, so memorizable, these lines hold the physical and the spiritual tightly together. Speaking to a material intelligence as well as an emotional intelligence, I was hoping you could expand on what a line like that means for you. Could you speak to your efforts of balancing this dichotomy in your book-length poem?
This question is so beautifully framed—so layered and soulful and so very like a poem itself that I hesitate even to try to put an answer to it. I love your notions of poetry’s part in “bravery and empathy training.” I, too, think these to be among the highest aims of poetry, and I return to the poets and writers who offer these gifts in abundance: Adrienne Rich, James Baldwin, Eduardo Galeano, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Elizabeth Bishop, and many others. Calvin Rinehart, the speaker of American Amnesiac, himself sets out to locate “the spine of a possible decency.” In the process of so doing, he realizes he must cast off much of what formerly defined him, namely, preoccupations with wealth and status. During this journey he takes on the “Everyman” moniker John Doe, and, within the process of taking stock of self in its thousand localities, he “falls in omnidirectional love” with everything and everyone from James Brown to the bowl of pluots his nurse brings him. But he is not content to stop at reinvention of self; he next begins to reconceive and refigure America itself and in the end renames it Anamika, the Hindi term for Nameless One. In the end, then, the “anonymous” John Doe and nameless nation-state merge; the one entails the other. Or, to put it in terms of the line you quote in your question, the kindness of the “you” must in the long run come to characterize—and become indistinguishable from—that of the larger system: call it the immune system, the socioeconomic system, the largest possible regulatory organ of which we are all a part.
All of this is by way of saying I believe a poet’s job is to . . . reinvent the language—yes, and this idea is not new. I believe with even more fervency that a poet’s job is to continue reconceiving what it might mean simply to be—more specifically, to be a self in a community as large as a nation or world. And so why not reinvent America (in this book, anyway) while we’re at it? The emotional world is necessarily entailed in the material world, the spiritual realm within the physical one. I guess I wouldn’t have known how to meditate through poetry on one half of this presumed dichotomy without its other side. Poetry is the ideal field for “thinking in feeling,” as the book suggests; it is the field in which all apparent binaries might at last be reunited like twins too long estranged. In the end language seems to insist that all such emanations are one. I am merely language’s tagalong, helping to pull certain specifics through in its service. This may sound cheesy but feels very true.
To continue reading the interview in full visit www.moonspitpoetry.com.
A Clean Garage by Diane Raptosh
featured in ROAR 2011
The sheen of its floor she finds garish. And doesn’t the
room preserve certain rage, so many objects aging in
there? That pair of rags flung forward and back-the
noun and verb bunched up in garage: In that word is
almost garbage itself. Gobs of popped balloon and
chicken legs cleave in the bin behind the overhead
door and wait to be trucked to the dump, shoehorned
into crypts. Refuse preserved into perpetuity. A village
can mature for years in history’s cask; Garage sounded
too much to her like the town Gorazde, safe area in
the Bosnian war, until tanks and bullets blurred it to
a grave. Sometimes a sole American house will take
a back seat to four garage doors aimed at the street
like linked, discrete front lines. Maybe a clean garage
helps people feel saved, every extra roof tile in its
place, cat box liners lying piously besides the season’s
anti-freeze. Almost any American garage is car lodge.
Perhaps behind one of those doors lies an hygenic fix-
it shop in which someone wears an oil-stained monkey
suit and goggles at a lathe. And doesn’t a clean garage
finally mean too much time on the hands? Let such a
someone lean on in to start a sop landfill ooze finding
its blind way to groundwater. Rag, rag, rag, she thinks
to herself. Better a keen barrage of kindness, an idea’s
clear lingering, a quick bite of ling cod at the first chink