Daniel Nathan Terry
Ron Mohring is making and publishing some beautiful chapbooks through Seven Kitchens Press. I met him in the fall of 2008 when I was living in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He's a humble and big-hearted poet. One afternoon he came over so I could help him assemble some chapbooks. He does all the stitching and folding by hand! He showed me how to properly fold the stock paper, but I don't think I impressed him with my work ethic: I talked too much while we worked on the chapbooks. Sorry, Ron!
This summer Seven Kitchens Press launched a limited-edition chapbook series focusing on LGBT authors. Daniel Nathan Terry and Ed Madden both had chapbooks published in the series. I asked them to talk about their chapbooks. Here is their conversation:
Susan Meyers told me that I would love your work, when she saw that we were both in Ron Mohring's Summer Kitchen chapbook series --and she was right. Honestly, as I read your book, I was moved over and over, but also I felt such an affinity for your book --such a connection to the imagery and themes and tone. So I'm delighted to have made your acquaintance (even if only virtually) and to have this conversation.
As am I, Ed. It seems I’ve been circling your work for the last few years. Susan Myers also suggested that I read your work, after I gave a reading from Capturing the Dead in Charleston, but I think that was nearly a year before our books crossed paths at Seven Kitchens. It has also just occurred to me that a professor of mine at UNCW recommended that I read your book Signals shortly after its release, but the MFA reading list left little time for extras. It wasn’t until I read the other four chapbooks in the Summer Kitchens series that I encountered your poetry for the first time.
I was stunned by your book. I read the opening poem, “Dust,” at least three times before I could move on. What shook me about “Dust,” and indeed the rest of the book, was I felt I was reliving some of the most fragile and intimate moments of my own life. I wondered later, when my fiancé, Ben, was reading Nest, if he would connect as deeply to your words, even though he and I (unlike you and I) have such different backgrounds. The wonderful thing is that he did. It is one thing for a gay poet from rural South Carolina to identify so closely with the work of another gay poet from the rural South, but quite another for an Neo-Expressionist Painter from Milwaukee to feel that you’ve captured his experience as well.
I could go on for pages praising the precision of your language, the quiet beauty of your images, the breath and tone of the poems, but it was this immediate, powerful, and personal connection to the poems that first moved me and compelled me to recommend your work to others—but that’s what you do with good poetry.
I was stunned by your work too. The poems for David, who died of AIDS, were so compelling and heartbreaking, but it was the final poem that gave me chills. I read bits of the book to my partner to Bert as we were driving recently -- the title poem "Waxwings," "Nighthawks," the wonderfully thick opening poem "Scarecrow," and the last poem "After the Storm." That final poem is such a stunning poem -- and such a stunning love poem. You're driving along, you see cemetery flowers scattered across the road, and your partner asks who picks them up. At first you want to answer him literally, but you realize that's totally inadequate and absolutely not what your partner is asking. So you want to be the person who can do something--put them all back. "For you I want to be the man who knows which garish bouquet goes where." And then, "for you, I want to be the kind of man who sees this sad morning as the evidence of a blossoming." This poem keeps leaping forward in such beautiful ways: "as if the dead woke during the storm, threw back the covers, and danced in flowers and thunder until the sun came up." That is beautiful. I wish I could have written it. I love that at first the speaker wants to be the kind of person who can do something to fix it, who knows who to fix it, but then realizes he really wants to be the kind of person who sees things differently. Poetry is not about the doing, but about the seeing--seeing differently. And still, all the way through, it's a love poem: "For you, I want to be the man...." Stunning.
Ron Mohring used interesting prints in all of our chapbooks, but I love that he used a mourning fabric for yours. So perfect, especially given this poem.
How did you first learn about Ron and his press?
I knew about Ron's Seven Kitchens Press through the annual Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, which I had entered. Is that how you came to the series? He emailed me about the summer series, and I was delighted he wanted to include Nest. (By the way, did you read R.J. Gibson's winning chapbook, Scavenge? Beautiful!)
Yeah, that’s how I encountered Ron Mohring and Seven Kitchens. It was a strange thing. I’d never entered an LBTG poetry contest before I entered the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize—somehow I never felt representative of the community. I suppose I thought of myself as too rural, too nature-oriented. I was surprised and thrilled to learn that my book was not only a finalist, but that Ron wanted to include it in the Summer Kitchen Series.
I am beholden to Ron. Not only did he do a beautiful job with the series, crafting each book so beautifully, he also introduced me to poems and poets that have enriched my life. And that’s good editing, good book making. And Ron excels at that, don’t you think?
(And yes, Scavenge, is a gorgeous book.)
Ron's books are beautiful. It's interesting you said you didn't think you could be "representative of the community" because your work is maybe too rural or too nature-oriented. I feel the same way sometimes, and I've often wondered why. I remember, several years ago, an editor at a press telling me my manuscript was Southern and gay, and that it needed to be predominantly one or the other. I wonder why we tend to think of the pastoral--nature poetry-- as nostalgic and regional. I'd like to think that nature poetry can be deeply engaged with the social and the political, not just in contemporary environmental concerns, but as a way to interrogate who we are and how we fit or don't fit. Like your poem about the anhinga --God, that's a strange Southern bird!-- where this central natural image functions in so many ways as a comment on the relationship between these two men, one stuck in his rural heterosexual life, the other desperate for flight.
I loved the birds in Waxwings, by the way: cedar waxwings and anhingas (do you call them water turkeys?) and crows and ibis. And the nighthawks --what a stunning little poem of lust! I love nature poetry that is so attentive to the specificity and complexity of the natural world.
I also love the way so many of your poems move-- the leaps, the juxtapositions. The title poem and the way it moves from observation of the natural world (and the seeming fitness and unity of it) to a little gay boy's fantasy of what his life might be like (it's almost like a number from Glee!), and that final line, that desperate desire for "a story / he can share."
Silence seems central to this book -- our inability to say what we want or need to say. I sometimes tell my students to write a poem that uses an image from the natural world to say the thing that they can't or won't or shouldn't say, but there's something more disturbing and powerful to me about the silences in your book.
Wow—I haven’t heard anyone call an anhinga a “water turkey” in years, but yes, the locals did call them that or “snake-bird.” I always found the latter so fitting, and sometimes I used that name. But once I found its proper name in a book, I always called it “anhinga.” I loved the sound of it--like a word of power, like a primitive spell. Names are so important—like in your title poem. You use the proper name of “shrike” rather than the colloquial “butcher-bird.” So important. The colloquial name, as wonderful as it is, overstates and would have, I believe, undermined this powerful and delicate poem. Whereas the sound of “shrike” suits the tone and tension of the poem, predicts but holds back the poem’s chilling ending.
It is interesting how often we both speak through birds, especially when what must be said is, perhaps, beyond direct, human speech. In the haunting and mysterious poem, “Morning darkness,” I love how you begin with the anonymous singing bird that “has only one small song, which he sings // tirelessly.” You then move to the speaker—to his fear for the budding flowers that may be taken by an early frost, to his memory of childhood desires and unnamed emotions banged between chalk erasers, to his wonder and sympathy for the dead and what mattered to them in life. Near the end, we feel this cycle of desire and loss, this relentless vanishing of our lives, of our experiences, reaching out for the speaker as “Wisteria / embraces the back fence, the oak, fills / the yard with a syrupy scent.” This short poem seems to be a series of observations that are, at least to my mind, questions without answers which eventually lead the reader to ask the inevitable, dreaded question of human existence: Why? Your poem answers in the last lines “in the dark, / a bird repeats its small simple song, / repeats its small, dogged, insistent song.” I think this answer is brilliant and is the only answer possible to our lives—though it isn’t a direct answer, because life isn’t a direct question.
I suppose, for me, these asked and unasked questions are what haunt me the most about Nest. Perhaps these questions are akin to the silences you mentioned in my poems.
I must also mention how much I admire your ability to move between, to mix, what is often regarded as ugly (by some) with what is beautiful. I’m thinking of the images in “Dust” and “Viscous.” How lonely, terrifying, erotic, human and ultimately beautiful is your use of semen in those poems? You don’t have to answer that one. But I am fascinated by your ability to transform things, or to simply reveal what is intrinsically beautiful in things that are often thought of as common or crude—say, in the habits of a shrike, the contents of a barn, or the drying semen on the skin of the belly after sex, just to name a few moments in Nest.
Glad I don't have to answer that one! I actually censored "Dust" once when I read it before--changed "cum" to "sorrow"--"rub your cum/sorrow into the dust." Not sure what that says about me or the poem. There's something almost too personal about those poems. Again, I think there are some uncanny affinities in our work. For me, "Dust" does what "Waxwings" does-- explores a young gay man's silences through images of the natural world in which he finds himself. We're both writing about kids desperate to find a way out and to find a way to talk about who they are. In some ways, I think we're still those kids. Aren't we?
And for me, the silences in your book are so powerful. Those dreams "cluttered / with impossible, / beautiful reunions." Or the field that is "blank as an unwritten page." The impossible, the unwritten, the unshared, the unspoken.
I can't wait to read more work from you.
And I’ll be rereading you until your next book comes out. It’s been wonderful getting to know you and your poetry, Ed.
Daniel Nathan Terry, a former landscaper and horticulturist, is the author of two books of poetry: Capturing the Dead (NFSPS Press 2008), which was awarded The 2007 Stevens Poetry Prize, and a chapbook, Waxwings (Seven Kitchens Press 2010). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poet Lore, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Big Muddy and The MacGuffin. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC-Wilmington.
Born and raised in rural Arkansas, Ed Madden is an associate professor of English and gender studies at the University of South Carolina. His poems have appeared in Borderlands, Los Angeles Review, Poetry Ireland, Southern Humanities Review, and other journals, as well as in Best New Poets 2007 and the Notre Dame anthology The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. His first book of poetry, Signals (USC Press 2008) won the 2007 South Carolina Book Prize. A second collection, Prodigal: Variations, is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2011. His chapbook Nest was published earlier this year by Seven Kitchens Press.