Wednesday, May 20, 2009
On the Hood of a Cutlass Tour - Holy Land Stop
In support of her debut book "A Brief History of Time" Shaindel Beers has been doing a blog-interview tour. This is her Holy Land Stop.
And (in case you'd like a chance at a free copy of her book) Shaindel's doing a book giveaway (6 copies) on Goodreads. To enter click here.
Here's Shaindel's Bio:
Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary. She hosts the talk radio poetry show Translated By
RK: The Acknowledgements to “A Brief History of Time” includes, among others, a nod to your students: “To my students who teach me far more than I teach them.” Can you talk a bit about yr experience with the relationship between writing and teaching? I’m guessing for you the one richly informs the other, and vice versa.
SB: For all the complaining I do about the amount of grading my job entails, I love teaching. I think that, as a writer, it keeps me on my toes. Every ten weeks, I get a new group of intellectually curious students, usually about a hundred of them. They ask questions, and it’s my job to have answers for them. If they ask why a certain poet is considered good or how a certain poet accomplishes something, I have to get back to them if I don’t already have an idea about whatever it is. I know that I wouldn’t have that sort of curiosity on my own. Sometimes it’s like I have all of these brains thinking for me. Sometimes I’ll stand at the head of a silent classroom and say something like, “Come on, you have twenty-five brains; I only have one. What do you guys think about this?” and I really look at it that way. Of course, there are those frustrating teaching moments where you think half the class is asleep or comatose, but there are those days when the whole class is intellectually on fire, and nothing can beat that.
Students also have amazing lives and experiences, and those things give me material to write about. Teaching (at the college level, at least) is like having the world’s biggest extended family. I’ve never run the numbers, but I know I’ve had at least a few thousand students so far in my teaching career, and those students are people I care about and write about and write for. Teaching broadens my world the way that most careers wouldn’t just because of the numbers of new people in my life each year.
RK: “A Brief History of Time” could also be “A Brief History of Love.” Of relationships. Of how people need and treat each other. And “Time,” of course, doesn’t really exist without men and women. “Adam and Eve” and everything after. And the voice in yr book looks again and again at how people interact. Love and do not love. All the way to the end: you imagine yourself the “dying man’s wife.” Your thoughts on Love and relationships as a center of the book’s gravity?
SB: I hadn’t really thought about the book as having a center like that, but if readers see love and relationships as the “center of the book’s gravity,” I’d be pleased. I think life would be pretty empty without love. In “The Calypso Diaries,” I have a passage in which Calypso says that Zeus:
can’t understand the curse
of being alone
Obviously, you can be happy by yourself, but I think that an important part of happiness is having someone to share it with. I think that it’s human nature to want to share experiences with others. When you see a beautiful sunset, if you’re by yourself, isn’t it almost instinctive to want to turn to someone and say, “Hey, look at that!” until you remember that you’re alone. And I think that we look at other people’s experiences and imagine them as our own. When we see someone going through a personal tragedy—losing a spouse, losing a child—it’s only natural to wonder how we would handle that, how we would cope.
RK: “A Brief History of Time” champions, again and again, the different, estranged, deformed. The underdog. The “benchwarmer.” The woman dying of cancer. The gnat. The still born child. And, yet, wonderfully, you’re able to keep a sense of humour (a complicated bittersweet sense of humour. I am thinking of the joke like setup of “A Man Walks into a Bar” which leads to more serious reflections. I am thinking also of the lines “Every day around the world, 120 million people make love./ Today is not my day.”) Your book is, in a way, a dark book. But it is filled with hope. With striving. Can you please respond to this generally and/or specifically. As you wish.
SB: For all the atrocities in the world that are caused by people, compassion is a fundamentally human emotion. There are animals that show compassion, but it usually isn’t a smart choice in nature. When we watch shows on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel, and there is the one wolf that doesn’t fit into the pack, humans automatically root for the animal. That isn’t how nature works. That’s the wolf who is chased away from the pack or is relegated to omega status and spends his or her life being picked on by the rest of the pack, eating alone, sleeping separately. Yet, we, as humans, continually root for the omega wolf, the white tiger, all of the ones who wouldn’t normally make it on their own.
As far as this being a dark book with a “complicated bittersweet sense of humor,” I guess that’s me. I’ve had one of those lives that you could make about a dozen “movies of the week” about. Something has to get you through it. I think that art and humor has gotten me through, and I’m grateful for that. I easily could have turned to other things that would have been more destructive.
RK: A note on the back cover of the book says the “poems span a wide range of styles” and indeed they do. One might think that this is the experimenting of a young poet. A finding of a way. Digging around, looking. But, just as much and probably even more accurately, I think this is a sign of your need and restlessness. Your curiosity and passion. To try new things. To keep seeking. Keep plugging away at the elusive shadows of life and poetic form. So, please, tell us about yr fascination with different forms.
SB: I think it’s important to always keep growing, to keep trying new things. And I think it’s important to take part in traditions that a lot of people have given up—so trying old things as well. In the case of poetry, this would include writing in form. I just know that I don’t want to be someone who keeps writing the same poems over and over or the same book over and over. I always want to be new and exciting and innovative. I think that’s important.