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  • Writer's pictureMarías at Sampaguitas

Interview with Beth Gordon

We know that you returned to writing poetry after a significant hiatus in order to process a number of tragic events in your family. If it is not hard for you, would you tell us about this process?

Looking back, I did not immediately realize I was processing grief through writing. My 7-month old granddaughter, Daisy, died of SIDS in November 2013. She and her mother (my daughter) were living with me at the time. While I know grief is different for everyone, I’ve talked to enough people to see some common themes. One of those is that during the first year following someone’s death, while you are in some ways completely immersed in unbearable sadness, you are also in shock from the trauma. One of the benefits of shock is that the brain protects you from the reality of the situation and I found myself continuing to live my life much as I lived it before her death. I was functioning through habit and instinct. In March of 2014 (after another funeral), I met another writer and started writing again for the first time in almost 10 years. Although I was out of practice, I was able to write through instinct, through my memory of being a writer for essentially my entire life. It was another six months before I deliberately began to write about loss and grief, and it was a very powerful way to express that pain. As I rounded year one and headed into year two, writing was a life preserver, because once the shock wore off, I realized that this loss was now a permanent part of my existence.

Do you think that personal traumas stimulate creative minds? I think personal trauma is one of many things that can stimulate the creative mind. I believe that the most powerful art is both connective and transformative. Whether it’s about trauma or love or eating breakfast…I think that people want to know they are not alone. And for myself, I want art to make me think about familiar things in new ways or open me to new ideas and experiences.

In your poetry collection, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, your main themes are deriving between grief, loss, mortality, and how we can find moments of beauty through the darkness. Do you think that writing poetry is a way surviving from grief?

So, I don’t think there is such a thing as “surviving” grief, because there is no finish line. You can “survive” an illness or an accident. There is a point where those events are over, and you move on (for example, I’m a breast cancer survivor). Grief is never over. It changes, but it never ends. I have three grandchildren now and I am grateful for them and want to celebrate their lives…but that doesn’t change the fact that I lost my first grandchild and still think about her every day. For me, poetry is a place to put my pain, to explore what it is to live with loss, to understand how loss has changed me, how it shapes my relationships with the living and helped me reimagine what my life is and can be.

Of your process, I read on your book’s press release that, you said: “Notes on receipts, on my iPhone. I have a part of my brain that is always listening for scraps of poems.” What do you think about the musicality of your poems?

So, I don’t know if I think about musicality when I’m writing, but I do think about the fact that poetry is meant to be read out loud. It’s a spoken art form. Almost every poem I’ve written for the past 5 ½ years, I’ve read out loud to my writer friend/muse, John Dorroh (JD), as part of my editing process. Like many writers, I live in my head so much of the time, it’s very important to listen to my own words. Also, music is a big part of my life (as a listener…I cannot carry a tune), so it only makes sense that music would be part of my poems, whether explicitly stated or not.

In your poem “I’m Inventing a New Language”, I enjoyed reading these lines: “I’m using a 3-D printer to build a labyrinth from nursery rhymes and the lingering thunder of Emily Dickinson’s burial gown, reimagined fortresses of quartz, of bloom, reading the instructions to redesign my DNA, the source of my malfunction in mitochondrial couplets, like the astronaut who returned to Earth only to discover that he was no longer his twin’s perfect genetic double.” Like the astronaut who returned to Earth, how do you connect the world and the languages? Creating your own language may give you a new world?

I love that you chose that poem to ask me about, because it’s one of my favorites. Partly, because it was my response to writer’s block and partly because it is a great example of how many of my poems come to be. I hear a phrase, read a news article, a song, a painting, a headline….all these snippets and I know they are somehow connected. I may not know immediately exactly how they are connected…but I know they are. I start tinkering with it in my brain. I can almost visualize these ideas floating in my brain, like asteroid debris in space. Puzzle pieces. I’ve learned I can’t force the connection. It requires patience. And then (usually at the most inopportune time like when I’m in the shower) I see it. The poem itself becomes an act of discovery. In the case of “I’m Inventing a New Language” I discovered a way to described what it feels like to experience the trauma of a sudden, unexpected death. I do not feel like I am the same person that I was before Daisy died. There was a shift in my reality, and I’m a new person. A new world was handed to me and I’m still navigating. Maybe poetry is my map.

Do you think that your poetry makes you immortal? I think human connection makes us immortal. For me, poetry is part of that connection.

When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? I was very lucky that I grew up in a house filled with books and music. I don’t remember not being able to read. I memorized Mother Goose rhymes when I was 3, and wrote my first poem when I was 6 or 7.

What do you want the readers to know about you? I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I got my MFA when I was 26 years old. I then spent the next 25 years focused on being a mother and (sometimes) wife. I wrote occasionally and kept it separate from my “real life”. If I have a regret, it is that I thought I had to choose between my family and my art. I wish I had shown my children my authentic self when they were growing up. The good news is that all three of my adult children are very supportive of the new me and of my poetry. Also, for any writer who is reading this and is discouraged … I am proof that it truly is never too late. My first book was published this year and I am 55 years old. Write and submit and get rejected. Then write and submit and get rejected some more. There is a place for your words. Keep going and you will find it.

Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information:

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