Reading Backwards through the Yellow – Interview with Carolyn Srygley-Moore by Loring Wirbel

  1. Why did photographic images become an integral part of this book?

 

         CSM: Initially I asked my editor, Azriel Johnson,  if I could include a few photos. He suggested a full mixed media selection, half photo, half poem. However, I couldn’t begin to cut half the poems in the book. As far as i’m concerned, each poem acquires the necessary crescendo toward the end theme and end section, emancipation.

       As for photography, it’s my second creative love after writing. Therefore, Azriel suggested phasing into each of the sections with a photograph. I did not go for theme, really, in selection, just a sense of what was, poetically, to come. The library of photos comes from 2015 to present, commencing with my visit to Nashville, TN to visit my mom. We went to The Parthenon, and I grabbed a few photos there: one of my mom, 89 years old, confronting the giant statue of Athena.

 

  1. You have a unique style with phone-camera. Oblique angles, many black-and-whites, unusual filtering. Did you develop this by trial and error, or were you intending to make a particular vision?

 

CSM: Phone cameras are tricky instruments, as tremendous in rendition possibilities as they are also limiting. The poor man’s photography, as it were : I  shrug. It fits in my back pocket.
Being a visual art , photography became exciting to me when I first began to shoot. I’ve been trying to capture the visual through many modes since I was a little kid. The angles etc that you mention perhaps have evolved for myself since 1970. I love the effects of black and white photography. Just as Ii love black and white film, the juncture and crossover of polarities enthralls me, with the resulting greys, always necessary in portraiture. And in worldview.
The filtering comes and goes with how playful I feel. Or if the shot fails, how can I correct it. Or do I feel like working grain into a pastel or chalk effect. Do I want the lines to appear blurred, or clear with the ramifications of the pure, the distinct. As I work I feel like my bin of art supplies is at once at hand.
I think my photos express the playfulness  I have in interpreting the visual – in interpreting the world: in trying to maintain presence of light within the darkest shot,  and beauty even in the banality of existence. Even in the hovering homeliness, even ugliness, of life.

 

  1. Your last book was themed according to place. This is a series of poems from 2013, except for the last poem. How did you decide on this particular collection, and why poems from that year?

CSM: The two books that are being released in my name this year are both organized around time, each for different reasons. The compilation of this manuscript occurred in scouting my output of 2013 and seeking pieces I most appreciated, found most accessible to others. It has taken this long to publication only because Yellow did land somewhere in 2014: that didn’t work out, not for hostile reasons.

    I did find, while collating those poems, that the book separates as if organically into sections that finally climax with the section “emancipation.”  I don’t recall if 2013 was a year of cutting away the blue parachute strings into an uncertain freedom. But this book indicates the culmination of such a personal achievement.

     These poems of 2013 were largely triggered by a loss in my life. my hound dog Ben. He appears and reappears, as fraction, as fiction or nonfiction,  throughout the sections, primarily in the first, which is why the section is called Ghosts Along the Wall.

     There is a scene in Charles Olson’s poem ‘The Kingfishers’:
“When I saw him, he was at the door,

          but it did not matter,

          he was already sliding along the wall of the night,

          losing himself in some crack of the ruins.”

     This scene recalls to me how it is, being that place of ambiguity while leaving that place of ambiguity, a figure dizzily ripe with anonymity and historical constraint. The will to change, as Olson says, does not change. Yet who doesn’t desire sameness, stasis, lack of transition? Loss of my dog Ben was huge in my world. It infiltrated everything, how I looked upon micro and macrocosm alike. He was a validation of Self and Other amidst human deceit; in this manner, almost the absolute I seek, in the end a dog nearly deified.

 Drawing Hands is the 2nd full section: a dip into the human-all-too-human as Nietzsche wrote.  The human at its worst at its best. But the scope of this section is  circumscribed.  Limiting. Hence onto the next section.
The second to last section, Resisting Plath, is all about trying  survival even when the birds are singing in Greek.
The last section of this book and the theme therein is the acquisition of emancipation. From what? Our wounds are ghosts our human egos our human inhuman experiences: our desire to trespass the margins so much so that we see things as they are or are not. So we hear the birds speak as Wolfe did before her death, or are driven to deleterious ends by the sorcery of language. In the end we leave our limitations. Perhaps via deity, perhaps via agency, perhaps via simply self-actualization. I for one insist on the possibility of redemption, if not by familiar means.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
none but ourselves can free our mind.” – Bob Marley, Redemption Song

This song, and theme, has very personal resonance for me. When I graduated from
Johns Hopkins, I spiraled into a deleterious mental health catastrophe, and as this was occurring, I would sing Redemption Song through the Baltimore alleys, often ghetto, that I walked through on my way to whatever might be my destination.

 

  1. Tell me about the untitled poem from 2017 that ends the book, using a quote from Dickman, and why it was included.

CSM: The poem of 2017 that I chose to include with a book of 2013 pieces confronts the nostalgia of the book: it was written the week the Big Bomb fell on a cave overridden by ISIS. It was also scribbled in the hour of my exchange with a friend regarding Trump, war, etc. My friend is a 100% Trump supporter. I am not.

(“Do I disagree with her because I am in pain, and she is superior because we
disagree?” – line from poem.)

Through this poem War enters the picture. World is no longer microcosm but
macrocosm. Gandalf is really necessary now. But it is not Middle Earth. The poem
indicates that the writer has not seen the irrefutable maple. They say the only ones
who love war are those who have not seen it. What president said this? And what
is the maple?

             The inclusion of the Dickman excerpt from ‘Returning to Church’ simply reinforces
the wish that prodigality to a world of absolute truths exists. Perhaps redemption,
even, perhaps God still exist amidst the dissolute fragments of the postmodern world.
God has been lurking throughout these pages with what Campbell called his many
faces. At the end the fragments might come to cohere.

  Here is the book’s finish — with a photo of Stella and Ben: “Look Ben, it’s a new window!” (A piece of furniture had been moved.) They are forced upon a new world;
a world forced upon them.

 

  1. When you survey your work over a few years or a few decades, do you see a particular evolution, or is it more a process of circling around, with imagery informed by changes in your life over the years?

CSM: Although my work is deeply influenced by morphing of factors in my personal world, family dogs rescue self God or lack thereof,  I believe it also to be deeply imbued by my greater worldview, the angles taken by my involvement with the world at large in all of its dimensions, many of which i do not know. I have worked grassroots with persons living with AIDS in the late 80s, and later with a variety of persons of need, at present individuals living with traumatic brain injuries, nervous system disorders, or others. The section of the book called Drawing Hands feeds specifically from my experiences with the people I work with, for as I help them, so they help me.

    The imagery of my work can be seen, in part and under microscope, as a process of repetition, nearly of recycling. Just as I may photograph a dog or person over again at new angles new light so in poetry do I return to an image and if I do not use it I warp its resonance.  I’ve been doing this since I was a child and I’ve been told it was a poetic strength rather than failure, the comforting reliable stopping points in the lake edges sea river where I see language settling syllables once spoken. Stylistically my work has merged, although in these pieces I rarely evoke pause through intraline spacing.

     A circling revolution, evolution I mean. Each poem being a revolution of one’s own work. A mutiny of the poem prior as it were.

  1. If you were teaching an English class in the year 2150, would the poetry of Carolyn Srygley-Moore be assigned to a particular school, or would it be completely idiosyncratic and stand on its own?

CSM: My first books have been placed into the classification of postmodern, and although my work certainly reflects the postmodern awareness, one manner in which it differs is this: that school espouses the absence of absolute truths, yet I am constantly in my work seeking those truths, almost as if I believe they exist.

     You’re funny — surely I am not boundary-breaking enough to stand alone in my own school:  I have experienced what it’s like to hang out with other poets and artists who held the same arguments as myself, smoking pretentious cheap cigars, gulping nonalcoholic beers: maybe I will have that opportunity again, although at present my efforts are extremely independent.
Yes, I crave solidarity, I also gravitate toward an almost autistic mode of working language. I want to be original, so much so that I expose myself to the written word in short spells, attention span also being a factor.

 

  1. What’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite cartoon? What’s your favorite song?

CSM: Color? Teal blue. My client says I cannot wear the shade teal green, so I have acquiesced to the blue.
Cartoon? Animaniacs, especially Pinky and The Brain. How wonderful to see a brilliant 
Laboratory mouse and his minion try to take over the world on a daily basis, only to be sabotaged each time, mostly by the minion’s ineptness. Anti-fascism, especially relevant in our time, in all times.

     Song? Bowie’s ‘Changes.’ Olson: ‘What does not change/ is the will to change.” I love the persistence in this song toward a greater meaning of self, of the relation of self to world. I like its affirmation of the voice of youth, that youth knows of what it speaks.
Also ‘Nautical Disaster’ by The Tragically Hip. Great song. I recall when I found this group, and realize now what a loss it will be, with the singer Gord Downie in the final stages of cancer.

Carolyn S-M

Book:
Reading Backwards through the Yellow

Photo
Facing down Athena
The Parthenon. Nashville TN
Robert Srygley and Mary Pierce

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