Cassandra Smith is my friend and a brilliant thinker. She helped me get thru graduate school by writing the kind of poems that made me feel like poetry was worth hanging out with. She once made my son a pirate sling when he broke his arm. She has also left a thermos full of hot tea on my porch when I was sick.
Which is only to say, that she is nothing less than the best kind of person.
She also wrote an astounding book, Being When Wendy, that, when you read it, you want only to read it again to make sure that it hasn't magically flown out of a London window at midnight.
We recently (like just moments ago) sent messages to each other while sitting in the same coffee shop. Here's the part that wasn't redacted:
Samantha Giles: OK, but let's talk about SERIOUS POETRY THINGS. So, Cassie Smith, serious writer of unicorns, tell me: what's up with the unicorns?
Cassandra Smith: They are very sad and lonely and they are really one person trying to be something greater than only one person. They are going a little crazy. They repeat the same things in different ways.
SG: Well, also unicorns are maybe only guesswork. or magic. I don't mean that in the like 4 year old fairy way, but like the place where you press and there's nothing there until there is. Like Neverland.
(this is super weird us talking with our fingers)
CS.: Which is still a very four year old fairy way of looking at things.
(Yes. Maybe I will stare at you. Let me turn my computer.)
SG: (Eeks. Thanks for being willing to take the creepiness up a notch.)
What are you reading on Friday?
CS.: I think am reading the sex poems and not the unicorn poems. Even I can't always take myself seriously with unicorns.
SG: But the sex poems are kind of like the unicorn poems, right? I mean detached and together at the same time? And kind of breathy inside voice?
CS.: Yes. They are all the same poem. The only difference is more porn or more horn.
But, aren't you supposed to ask me about my poetic influences and what time of day I write and what book am I currently reading and how do I feel about the future of the printed book?
SG: Well, I will say, that I have thought for some time that you should kind of be the boss of poetry. If you actually got the job, what kind of legislation would you enact?
(I am for shit as an interviewer.)
CS: I would reinstate fistfights. I think spirited physical altercations are mostly missing from poetry these days.
I am unfamiliar with the phrase "for shit". hmm. It could be a positive: "the shit" or a negative: "just shit." This is what I write about, all of the time. With the unicorn stuff it's about how someone can become indistinguishable from another, how this is such a desire sometimes, how this is such a sad nightmare at others.
SG: So, why do you think people make such a notice of your font choice? As a designer, can you talk about your font choice?
CS: i like small things.
SG: I mean, really Cassie, WHY GARAMOND? Wikipedia says: Garamond’s letter forms convey a sense of fluidity and consistency. Some unique characteristics in his letters are the small bowl of the a and the small eye of the e. Is that what your poetry means?
CS: I like Garamond because it is simple. It is a little elegant but mostly invisible. I am actually in love with an Adobe typeface called Arno Pro. I don't have it, most people don't have it. Typefaces are maybe what poets have as accents. Garamond is probably most easily confused as being from another country, or planet, or Kansas. This is how I speak.
SG: If we were going to avoid talking about unicorns for a minute, could we talk about time travel? I mean, all of your work has this essence of "here and not" which is both here in the sense of time and not. And in the sense of place and not and in the sense of "I'm in the room with you while you're reading this" and not. Can you talk about this woo woo affect you have on your reader?
CS: The Gatsby Picnic is coming up soon. This is almost time travel, the costumery. When it is more time travel is right at sunset when everyone is tired and a little drunk, and packing up their picnics and 'real-time' starts to sneak back in, but it doesn't matter the year anymore because this has been the same creek for so long: This is what sunset at a creek looks like in September. There is only this moment, with different weather.
SG: (we are still across the table from each other, and yet we've stopped noticing each other altogether)
How are you feeling about this reading thing? Do you think poetry readings are good for poetry?
CS: I think they can be. I am really good at reading poetry. I am serious but you are laughing. I am not very good at knowing how to read my own poetry. I get nervous. My arms blush. I stumble, etc and etc. I am really good at reading other people's poetry once I have heard them read it wrong. Years ago I heard a recording of ee cummings and he leaves out all of the playful, all of the parts you wish you could hold.
SG: What does that mean to be very good at reading? This is that kind of stupid inevitable question about the performance of the page and the performance of the performance. But you know... what do you mean?
CS: I know what I hear, what I think, when I read someone else's work. I am sure it has a lot to do with my interpreting the poem with a personal slant, "ours like we adapt it to make it think we belong" kind of stuff. But I fall so crazy in love with words on a page, the moment of them, that I want to repeat this moment for someone else. I make the sound of someone else's words when I speak. I am never good at speaking me. I tell unicorns, I tell Wendy. I re-narrate stories. Maybe because I am an only child, grew up in the small town next to the small town where I went to school. I talk a lot to myself. I look at things. I never really had to invent things, I just renamed the things I knew after different things I knew.
SG: But maybe too, it's a little bit of palimsest-y time travel? Like the originality of the stories doesn't matter as much as the chaotic quiet inside them that gets repeated over and over?
CS: Yes. Everything imaginary has some basis in reality. For awhile I was trying to convince someone (anyone) else to get a Ph.d in imaginary beings. I wanted to know the root of cyclops; I wanted there to be an anthropological history of myth. I like thinking that a race of people with one eye might have existed. That, sadly, inevitably, some other race of people would have killed them off, made them myth to make up for it. Or maybe it was just one really big guy with an eyepatch and a lot of travel under his feet. Somehow every story is made from reality. I don't know which side of originality matters more. With Peter Pan, the story is this great adventure. The writing, its language, I think is more interesting than a lot of 'modern experimental poetry.' It collapses onto itself. It laughs. It is intelligent and precise, and it tells you when it is lying. And maybe more interesting than the story of Peter Pan is the story of JM Barrie telling it: the way he couldn't grow up for so many reasons, how he dealt with this, the things he created from it.
Wikipedia says this: "When he was 6 years old, Barrie's next-older brother David (his mother's favourite) died two days before his 14th birthday in an ice-skating accident. This left his mother devastated, and Barrie tried to fill David's place in his mother's attentions, even wearing David's clothes and whistling in the manner that he did. One time Barrie entered her room, and heard her say 'Is that you?' 'I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to,' wrote Barrie in his biographical account of his mother, Margaret Ogilvy (1896), 'and I said in a little lonely voice, "No, it's no' him, it's just me."' Barrie's mother found comfort in the fact that her dead son would remain a boy forever, never to grow up and leave her. Despite evidence to the contrary, it has been speculated that this trauma induced psychogenic dwarfism, and was responsible for his short stature and apparently asexual adulthood."
That this is an anthropological history of Peter Pan fascinates me.