THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each?
Ocean’s Laughter comes from a line in Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions: "do you not also sense danger in the sea’s laughter?" This collection of lyric and eco-poetry summarizes my 25-year home ownership on the Oregon coast in a small town, Manzanita. I’ve seen the danger in the sea’s beauty – rising sea levels, winter storms, loss of bird habitat from human actions, the threat of major earthquake on the Cascade subduction zone, the erasure of the history of the First People from visible presence in this beautiful land. Then there are the sunny days of summer when there is no place on earth more beautiful to me. When wind whips you back to your true self.
Darrell Salk, my husband, took the cover photo. I asked him to crouch to get the dune grass, the mass of Neahkahnie Mountain on Manzanita’s north end, the sand, and sea.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook/book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
I love Manzanita, Oregon. For 25 years, my vacation rental home there was the one stable place that stayed with me. The Oregon coast is both rugged with old growth and a place for joyous play in sand and waves. There's a magnificent recycling center. Night stars dancing on waves. I witnessed what has changed over that time and share thoughts on laws which allow driving on the beach, harvesting driftwood, and shooting off Fourth of July fireworks over marine sanctuaries. The book has a map showing where Manzanita is and a description of the town’s idiosyncrasies. It is vintage “Oregon coast.” Poetry of place.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
I rewrite and rewrite. I work on the computer. I seldom open a file without changing something. Some of these poems go back to my early days in Manzanita.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
My process is somewhat like laying the pages on the floor, but I used an electronic table. I know the poems so well that I could see what needed to follow what. Some are chronological – like the poem I wrote about September 12, 2001. The world was reeling from the fall of the towers in New York. In Manzanita, the fog on the beach was as dense as I’ve ever seen it. Families were building sand castles. Basalt pebble windows. Gull feather flags. Moats and bridges. One after another up and down the six-mile beach.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
The unexpected turn. The metaphor that makes me say, I wish I wrote that.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
“Pocket Rocks” was the first of Ocean’s Laughter’s poems that was published. For decades my daughter and I collected smooth stones off the beach to put in the rock garden in my beach house’s backyard. A kind of beach combing on a long walk that yielded sandy pockets. She is now an assistant professor in eco-system ecology with a Ph.D. in geology.
Pocket Rocks and Fondle Stones
For GGT, geologist.
Her toddler's hand plucked up
the first fondle stones
as sparkles in salt water,
green or black basalt pennies.
We squirreled them in pockets
gritty with sand, pinched
them in place to pave
our garden’s path with rock money.
Hand warmers, flatnesses
and worry stones for a thumb’s ease.
She understands each,
veined or water tumbled,
like nothing else on earth, singularities,
jewels juxtaposed with scents
of barnacles, brine, kelp, sand, and sea.
Those pocket rocks grew
to bowlfuls; a cracked yellow
cookie mixing bowl, last of a graduated set,
stainless steel pressure cooker from Goodwill,
white enamel stewing pot.
I house old bowls
of bold stones. Mother keeper
of the rocks.
A hand need never be empty or alone.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
This poetry will bring the ocean wind into your hair. Perhaps that is what you need right now.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
I love placing words together. No one likes rejection but I’ve written a poem about how I feel when poems come back to me, like a homing pigeon just rang a bell and it’s time for me to attend to the return. I love to have poems accepted by journals.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
My reading is eclectic. I read several daily science new feeds, lots of poetry, and non-fiction about environmental change.
What are you working on now?
I’ve almost completed a manuscript of poems and prose poems that I’m calling “How I Learned to be White.” It’s a reflection on racism’s impact on me, what I learned from my culture, family, and work. It includes excerpts from letters my my great-grandfather and other relatives wrote to my great-grandmother. The men all fought as Indiana regiment volunteers in the Civil War.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I love Ursula Leguin’s collection of poetry, Finding My Elegy. It collects her favorite poems written over many years. She’s an Oregonian. We’re familiar with her a science fiction; her reflective poetry is lovely. I’m more of a dog person than a cat person, but her poems on cats are lovely.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
Why do you write haiku every day? I love looking at what the world offers up each new day that is striking, interesting, unique. Today it was the very much alive earthworm squirming on my driveway after a hard rain. Sometimes those quick images become food for poetry although that is not the reason that I maintain this discipline. Gratitude is the motivator.
Purchase Ocean's Laughter on Amazon.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.