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

Reading Backwards through the Yellow

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

A DOLPHIN’S PROSTHETIC HYBRID// a reflection by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

Never wanted to be a victim. Yet i’d sit on the winding balcony jackknife and lighter in my hand with other women and men supplicating wounds by engendering more wounds. It was a way of being for to a point like deathrow dogs or human innocents we had been gutted: of the organs from which voice sourced its grit of cattail pain gathers on roadside.

But never wanted to be seen as victim by self by other. We told. Some compared; what’s that i’0d say. Doesnt matter how many pounds the corrupt hours or minutes or eons seen passing from padlocked closets — the cargo will snap more than a hunt’s fox.

You’d given up on the world a man said. Later. Lazarus. Wheelchairs of the heart. You thought the world had given up on you. Do you know what it means, to fill your body with rusted stopsigns inherited from heroes. Boated shoreward Normandy beaches of Okinawa carrying the boats with engine or red paddle upon their backs some were heroes gouged of speech some were other, gouging speech themselves. Wound jackknife fire set to skin peeling as by sun. Set packs on isolationism shores wanting touch wanting to learn how how to dream again.

Well. Our war was different. Different tools different faces different kinds of dying. Some had no witnesses beyond themselves and were denied. Others gathered testimony testaments video and poem and walked foreward somehow redeemed even redeeming not sought vindicator vindication.

I wasnt a victim. Not in the end. As a kid violence laced my soul white white. The dolphin has a final prosthetic hybrid that she used uses to help her traverse what the sea has become. I had have that thing called love. Joplin sang the Rose and i seek sought a boat like my father’s a dog like my fathers’ but more language than he had ever known. The ocean saved me.

Considering the face of Mars by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

driving into a range of variant spectral where light breaks
like ice & vice versa so when the tyrant reigns
it is only lie: near the Chinese Restaurant, Peking something, the hill cut
child-life into impasse, i considered days of Tennessee clay red red
yarn mote the corner of his eye.
what is assault, when borne against love?
what is love, but a diluted obsession? now i am no child, as they say,
have put away childish things, yet
how we destroy each other, sometimes, as rain erodes
great structures amidst the dunes — are they dunes, seen, we see,
the face of Mars?
eroded by what, but that wish for faraway?
you clear the brush & ivy & thick sapling trunks
from the backyard
where the day-star wind chimes stir, stirring
the rising heat of that Marley song,
settling into the Vee // i will clear the poison sumac
i say
i have no weakness for poison
the stealth the wealth of me.

Walking the track, no, flying by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

you know, it’s been said before. but it was that, like that — molting rhinoceros horns, albino dragons. a man tilts before me on the railroad, shirt red as the boxcar: propels his hands like airline wings, like feather dusters, like the hands of a woman toppling, nearly, catching grit of God in her palms. i saw her on 29th, down by the river where they found that girl’s body, a girl nearly my age: you look like you’re flying, i said, i am, she said, just found out i don’t have cancer. that’s how it goes. toss aside the worn metaphor, wear the white sneakers Alex’s anthropologist father wore the day he died, & dance, grimace covered by the aboriginal mask, mouth ajar as the door without hinges, the pink door, no door, a plank of molecules slipping.

the anthropologist, 1983 by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

the anthropologist existed in the blue corner apartment of that old white house from the 1700’s before fences before more than trampled blackberry paths arrived to Baltimore.
the anthropologist stood in stiff vertical stance, watched, watching her peers snap tabs of cheap beer, seance dogs from the wicks of candles, dig weeds from the garden for makeshift salads.
the anthropologist ushered a man into her chamber each evening, after the sun had eaten the skyline, ushered into her douched V a man who may, or may not, have adored her.
the anthropologist came to the girl once, leaned on haunches over her manual typewriter; came to her, chiding, chided, “man is a social animal, you know…”. & clamped shut the panels, her bread hid from worldview.
how does doubt begin to fill us, infuse us? each of us, constructions of stories, miraculous. each of us, deniers or abolitionists. beauty. “art is a form of communication” said the anthropologist, later, i ran into her. the ball field, the World Series, catcalls of fortune & doubt. communication, i thought, & i took to the paintings, hungry for words spewed forth, the disintegration of Picasso’s women, as he destroyed them, as we destroy, each other, love.

Laying claim to language by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

someone said it (not i) it is all about losses (i just glimpsed the word in a poem) it is not her word though it is not mine. one i read the word snowman in a poem then the word kerosene: i put them together like lemon & tea & was attacked for it. it is my word, snowman, said Lisa. it is my word, kerosene.

…………………………………………it’s like that. working from the underground of the inarticulate, working for the snuffed birthdays of Pompeii. celebrating fire with fire, even as the fire came down! i sat at a table in a Chinese Restaurant, Irvine, California, able to hear the cabbage speak.
……………………..what? you’ve never been there, that place, suffused in plastic wrap, wax paper. lain like a kid’s prom rose, yellow, between dictionary pages, where language is unclaimed like land behind my grandmother’s outhouse, or my mother’s white stone bench, from which she plants red flowers
……………………………………………………..which don’t cost much, she says
which always come back she says.

Disco Balls Swinging by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

i’ve never i guess i suppose
never felt like this before: ducking as bomb descends, slow, red shaft of gnats & shadow, upon what i’ve known as real, valid. that ball swings upon my dwelling, a disco ball sparkling upon my yellow dwelling. when i was 22 & ill, i felt terminal. when i was 50 & my hound fell sick, my Netherlands friend said “he is terminal, Carolyn.” & he was. i worked with those living with AIDS, when it was “struck”, struck as by thunder: i heard Ray, as he ran to the car stopped, ran, pounded on the windows eyes kaleidoscopic we drove spinning away. away from lights, stopped; from the lightning of a grown man, pounding for the reason, soon taped into paper pull-up diapers. i write of such things because we must: own the sirens, sing for the sirens, rather than be possessed by them. ruins descend. offended by a movie set in Austria 1942, flags long surfeited, & after the daily bombs fell a young boy, in his black ankle boots, climbed the still smoking hushed rubble of his neighborhood. i thought it a parable of numbing & perhaps perhaps it was; yet isn’t that, wedged bluefish gutted, how we live past these personal hells, these quaint plum-red Armageddons, how we make it, humming, alive.

Not like this, the Death i’ve seen by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

not like this, the death i’ve seen: not like this. all day, weak, weakening i guess, i did not suppose. a steady weakness. (don’t hit it, my child says, don’t hit the deer, running silver like a travesty of justice) an afternoon, exhaustion, sun like conch shells singing in my ear, her ear. the nurse visits, blood pressure, temperature, says she’s ok, just weak, weakening, i guess. a week hospitalized tires you out, you know, a roommate’s news headlines blaring, the screams down the hall, the ear buds yanked from your memory. (i saw her, i say, i saw the doe) an afternoon, lilting falls of the chest, is she breathing, yes, yes, she is breathing, does she respond as i call her name, name. six pm i say hey, Beth, your favorite show is playing, Father Brown, it’s six pm, Sunday dusk, the shaded slats stringed shut, the small blue doorway lamp switched on. (that’s what it is, my friend said once, a switch on the wall, & something to do with God’s closure, disclosure) not like this, the death i’ve seen, the crash, the crash: speaking of the murder plot, the beloved characters, Father fumbling like Columbo did, the woman with sucker red lipstick forgiven, in the end, redeemed for falling into the desires of international spies — & she drowses, in & out, eyes in & out, shifting falling the way amoebas move & stay still at once — i touch her, call her, go into the kitchen, look at the cookies, call her name & fumbling call 911. not this kind of death, i’ve seen, i’ve seen the chosen death, the girl on the bed waiting, axes & gentle guillotines, Hey Jude, not this, the crash, the unresponsive, the paramedics in black with red badges, where is her DNR, does she have a DNR, this woman who rallies over & over again, to remain in this existence? (strip malls & the unidimensional unreality, i think of Fischman, murdered in his apartment, for opening doors to an unknown man). the unknown enters, disguised like the Emperor disguised like the invisible man. slits of blue eyes, dropped eyeglasses, i return to pick up the mess, the wonder, wondering should i have summoned the people of equipment sooner? i saw a friend nearly die last night. not like this, the death i’ve seen. (blue stag on the cusp of bitters) i see the deer i tell my daughter. i do not swerve. i see the goddamn beautiful deer.

Peeping Toms by Carolyn Srygley-Moore

i hear someone calling Mommy. a child, an adult, i cannot say. pay it forward, the seller tells me, dropping charges for the greyhound bust, detailed, i am giving my brother.

Mommy! an arc almost husked, like Indian corn, ethereal & inedible.

i am counting down like the countdown of Major Tom, of the shuttle’s delirious advent. each birthday is a victory, but do i want the challenge? i lay down the fencing sword.

over my shoulder, peeping through my windows, first story apartment, where the yellow eyed black cat named after a squirrel comes & goes: the term of endearment,

is that my husband’s voice, my daughter’s; is that the howl of my dog on the pissed bank, the tracks like moon shadows leading away?

pay it forward; i do. the twenty comes in a blank card, unsigned. i stuff it into another envelope, a business envelope, with no letter head. Mommy

i cry, & she does not remember me, somewhat, she recalls my laugh, jagged as a bad swimmer’s kick, thunk thump, she cries Mommy

for the grandmother i never met, the grandmother that is her yellow violin-hollow snapped string home.