THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each?
I took the title from a poem in the collection called “Wanderer,” and it sums up the spirit of the book. We are all wandering through this world with less direction than we imagine. We wander in our relationships with the universe, with spirituality, with each other. This often feels like the wandering of gathered bones rather than the determined paths of integrated souls.
The cover was chosen by Sarah Hayes at Red Bird. She felt the modern stained glass worked with my collection, and I wholeheartedly agree. These prose poems are surreal, and volley between questions of faith and the challenges of disconnected relationships. The broken and beautiful stained glass on the cover reflects these issues.
What were you trying to achieve with your chapbook? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
I think we all live in the world inside my book. We’re all collections of pieces who work to find an integrated whole. Some days we come closer to finding it than others. I see people as walking billboards: Two-dimensional beings putting on presentations for the world, shilling for some cause. We lose track too easily of our three-dimensional natures, of our greater purposes, because we have to make it through each day. We’re socialized this way. Rugged individualism and the façade of togetherness are too common in our world. We’d come alive more easily if we could see into those billboards to the moving parts beneath, to what really animates our gathered bones, but too often we just don’t feel safe enough to do so.
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?
I arranged the poems in the form of memory. This is not a linear story, as our lives and wishes and memories are rarely linear. They weave in and out of our consciousness, often when we least expect them. And they affect and inform the lives and paths of others in unexpected ways, too. Our struggles with God, with each other, and with our place in the world converge in ways we don’t always understand, but we know they influence each other. I think this collection reflects this sense of disconnection and the perpetual search for something better.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
I love an unexpected ending; twists that at first stun us, and then makes us realize just how much the poem echoes the human experience. A poem that at first seems distant or inaccessible that suddenly becomes our reflection. Where we’re looking in the mirror the whole time, but we think that what’s reflected back is someone else’s image, only to discover that we’re always seeing ourselves.
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?
This excerpt is the first poem from my book. I think it sets the tone for the landscape that I’ve worked to create:
God Marks His Agendas “Draft"
Each evening God emails me my next-day’s agenda, always marked “Draft.” Three or four revisions or addenda appear in my in-box before midnight. When I wake in the morning I print out the final version, and go about my day. On rare occasions an update appears mid-morning, and when it does it always includes something I was supposed to do earlier but hadn't, spelled out in bold block letters. At night I check the news reports and find stories of car crashes and shootings and I wonder if I'd had the agenda earlier if any of these tragedies might have been avoided. I ask to see my neighbor's agendas, and they are always identical to mine.
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer?
Being a poet is about noticing the change in the wind’s direction too many times a day. It’s a state of being in which little goes unnoticed.
I don’t know that writing scares me, per se, though there are times when I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write the next poem. I worry that the ideas won’t be there. But somehow they eventually reveal themselves. The idea of not writing does scare me, however. I don’t know how I’d get through this world without it.
Also, the biggest part of being a writer is being a reader. Reading the work of others brings our own stories to life, allows us to find ourselves. I read all the time.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I’ve spent my life surrounded by lawyers; my father, my uncles, my brother, my husband, all lawyers. I find legal language fascinating, and often inspirational. When my husband was in law school he used to talk in his sleep about his classes. When he’d wake in the morning I’d tell him all about the implied warranty of habitability, or about the intentional infliction of emotional distress, or whatever other tort or case he’d been telling me about without remembering. I’d look these up to find the intricacies and potentialities in each situation and see how much planning and what-ifs are built into our legal system. This feels to me like poetry.
Also, the law always lags behind society. Laws come out of situations that courts don’t consider until they present themselves. Laws on cyber-bullying, for example, were not on the books when the internet went public, and in some places the laws in this area are still insufficient. This because they were unnecessary and unforeseen until the advent of the internet. And until people started to misuse it, the law didn’t govern every facet of its use. This reminds me of poetry. Poems reflect what has happened or what is happening; poetry rarely predicts the future. Instead, it paints a picture of the past and the present to anchor us in where we’ve come from and where we’ve landed.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a full-length book of poetry about the ways in which are all vulnerable. I’m looking at the institutions that threaten us and those that save us.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I’m a book reviewer, so I get to read some really fabulous stuff. Elizabeth Onusko’s Portrait of the Future with Trapdoor and Jessica Walsh’s How to Break My Neck are two of my favorite poetry collections I’ve read this year, but I could just as easily pick ten others to add to this list. There’s so much beautiful work being created by poets right now, which gives me such great hope about the future of poetry in particular, and the future in general.
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.
Maggie Smith, Claudia Rankine, Billy Collins, Jennifer Givhan, Kenneth Koch.
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
Do you write best in the morning? This seems a popular question for writers, and the answer often seems to be “yes.” But I don’t. I’m so unfocused and cluttered in the mornings, so overwhelmed by what I have to get done. So, I write best in the late afternoons, when I’ve largely accomplished what I’ve needed to, and the day is just starting to wind down.
Purchase Gathered Bones are Known to Wander from Red Bird Chapbooks.
Amy Strauss Friedman is a regular contributor to the newspaper Newcity and a staff writer for Yellow Chair Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kentucky Review, Whale Road Review, Red Paint Hill, FLAPPERHOUSE, Literary Orphans, Lunch Ticket, et al. She earned her MA in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. Amy lives in Chicago and teaches English at Harper College and at Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development. Find her online at amystraussfriedman.com.