Zachary Schomburg talks with Heather Christle
Heather Christle reads tonight at Studio One Art Center with Brandon Downing and Daniel Tiffany.
Zach Schomburg: So, what do you think about me? What do you like about my poems?
Heather Christle: I believe you are part mountain. What I like about your poems is their sincerity. JK JK JK! I mean actually you are part graveyard.
ZS: I don't know if I can believe you. Your sincerity is underloading the systems. Where do I start believing you? Where do you stop believing? Where does belief start and I stop and you begin? What does belief have to do with anything?
HC: I believe in you when I think of you. When I think you are reading a poem I wrote I am making belief in you. When I am reading a poem I think you wrote you are making belief in me. When I die you can't make belief in me anymore, but my poems keep making belief in you. Then you die. Later the world ends.
ZS: Now that we're both dead, what is there left? What is there left to believe in? What do you hear and what would you rather be hearing? What are you writing and what would you rather be writing? Now that everyone is dead, what good are your poems? How good are they? What are they worth?
HC: I just heard the noise of my cat drinking water at the other end of the house. He does it loudly. There is not really anything else I'd rather hear. After we die there is still movement. We, the moving things, have gone away, but the movement we were making remains. (I don't mean movement as in "a movement," obviously.)
My poems are not as good as I would like them to be except for when I am in the midst of writing them. Everything is hard to believe in. Then suddenly it happens and it is difficult to imagine feeling otherwise. I am bad with time. Usually I am convinced that now is forever.
What are they worth? Once they got me a haircut. Who cuts your hair and why?
I wish I were writing a poem whose rhythm moved in such a way that it felt intellectually foreign but physically comprehensible. Instead I am writing this email, which is also okay.
Two men are walking by my window with one thin branch each. Therefore everyone is not dead, except maybe certain trees.
ZS: I usually get my hair cut at Bishops. For money. I think I'm going to stop cutting it for a while though. I think I'm going to embrace a more natural state now. I'm going to try to become the protagonist in a novel I just started to write.
Heather, now is forever. How could you be convinced otherwise? And what is a possible alternative? And what do you mean intellectually foreign and physically comprehensible?
Hegel said this, but probably not in French first: "L'homme est un animal, il sait qu'il est un animal, donc it ne'st pas un animal" What is he trying to say about you? And your poems?
HC: Can I take back everything? I never know what I'm talking about.
I heard you were writing a novel from my sister. Can you believe that she exists? (I mean, I feel like we've been acting like we are in these two separate times/spaces, so it seems remarkable that she traveled through both to be with each of us in person. And it happened over the time of these emails!)
I don't really know that I'm an animal. I try to know that, but in the way I try to know anything and fail. I mean, it's all rationalizing, no? The animal things I do I do and only later think I've thought about. Even if that delay is infinitesimal it still, I think, is real.
So the thing that knows I'm an animal cannot know I'm an animal. And the poems try not to worry about that too much. The gap is real, the distance between us is real, but so are a million other things. It's just part of the landscape. You know: tree, tree, tree, car, vast gulf between people, tree, house, tree, mystery, tree, house, car.
ZS: So with gaps and distance in mind, and animals, how about this for real?
you (me), tree (tree), tree (tree), tree (tree), animal (animal), car (car), animal (animal), vast gulf between people (vast gulf between people), tree (tree), animal (animal), house (house), animal (animal), tree (tree), mystery (mystery), tree (tree), car (car), me (you)
HC: Zach that is perfect. Is that what our tour is going to be like? I am hoping.
ZS: Our tour is going to be like this: you (me), nap (you), laugh (me), laugh (you), nap (you), laugh (you), laugh (me), nap (you), car (car), lamp (poem), nap (laugh), laugh (joke), tree (lamp), house (me), nap (you), tree (you), laugh (you), car (tree), poem (car), vast gulf between people (nap), me (you).
What I am heavy on and light on? What am I missing?
I recently thought about how all I'm ever doing is going inside from the outside, and vice versa, all day long. Like way more than 20 times a day sometimes. What do you think about that?
HC: You are maybe a little light on the vast gulf between people. But otherwise I think we are good.
"Inside" and "outside" are interesting categories. I would like to propose a non-prototypical situation and ask you which category you would put it in: sitting in a car. What if it's a convertible!? Also: lean-tos.
I like your idea though. It makes me wish I had a spreadsheet tracking my life based on my moves between the two spaces. Also, I think because we briefly talked about it (OUTSIDE of this interview) on the phone, while I was standing outside a Trader Joe's it made me think of another thing I've always wanted a record of--my paths through the significant grocery stores of my life. Alton's Star Market was, I think, the first. Then there was Rochester, which had arrows on the floor pointing customers in the direction the store wanted you to move. One way aisles. I remember my mother sometimes going against those arrows and me thinking we were really going to get into trouble.
Were you a well-behaved child? A child afraid of authority?
ZS: Convertibles: outside. Lean-tos: hmm...outside? How about cars with the windows rolled-down? A really big boxy costume? A regular box? A lion's cage?
What did you get that day at Trader Joe's? Would you mind listing all the grocery stores you've frequented in your life, kind of in order?
I was a well-behaved child. I was a child of self-imposed authority. I wanted bad to be good. Were you bad or good? Are you bad or good?
HC: At Trader Joe's I bought arugula, milk, bread, an onion, and some coconut water, I think. It was a quick trip, and I went back a day or two later for another quick trip, so I may be confusing the two a little. Oh, and an acorn squash!
Here are the supermarkets of my life:
Star Market (Alton, NH)
Star Market (Rochester, NH)
Sainsbury's (Pinner, UK)
Marks & Spencer (Watford, UK)
Hunter's IGA (Wolfeboro, NH)
DeVylder's Market (Wolfeboro, NH)
Shaw's (Ossippee, NH)
Star Market (Somerville, MA)
Whole Foods (Mill Valley, CA) ("A Supermarket in California," if you will) (or if you won't too)
Harvest Co-Op (Cambridge, MA)
Whole Foods (Cambridge, MA)
Berkeley Bowl (Berkeley, CA)
Whole Foods (Union Square, NYC)
Stop & Shop (Northampton, MA) (with the radio on)
Trader Joe's (Hadley, MA)
Whole Foods (Hadley, MA)
State Street Fruit Store (Northampton, MA)
Publix (Virginia Highland, Atlanta, GA)
Kroger (Atlanta, GA) (Also known as "Murder Kroger")
DeKalb Farmer's Market (Decatur, GA) (not a farmer's market)
Trader Joe's (Midtown, Atlanta, GA)
I think that is it. Some of the grocery stores recur later in my life, but I limited them to one appearance on the list, signifying my first visit. I spent an incredibly long time looking these places up on maps. I wanted to be really accurate. This leads me into my next answer, which is to say I was very good as a child. I can recall only a very few instances of getting in trouble at elementary school. In high school I was once caught with an empty box of cigarettes, and thus got off on a technicality. (Why was I carrying that box?) (I attended a private school where people smoked constantly when they went off campus, and the school could punish you if you were caught smoking ANYWHERE.) Of course as a teenager and in my early 20s I misbehaved in any number of ways. Slept in a park in Boston for a summer when I was 16. Stole things, drank a lot, did various drugs, broke into abandoned buildings, etc. I was always really careful though, not to get caught for anything. And still I am very afraid of getting in trouble. So mostly I behave. I am not submitting a whole lot of poems at the moment, but when I was I followed the guidelines religiously. And I often, in my daily life, have the sense that I am fucking up, not in such a way that I could be punished by any official authorities, but in the sense that I am probably letting down someone I love and respect.
ZS: It's so incredible how many groceries we've stuffed into our bodies, and how all those groceries haven't just killed us yet. How is possible that we're not dead yet? I mean, look at all those grocery stores, and they're all over the place. Thank you for such a thorough and accurate list. I want to see this on a map, with strings strung about. I want to see you on a map, bonking all around and vibrating in spot, eating everything in sight.
Are you acting up inside your poems? Do you misbehave there? Do responsiblity, or love and respect have anything to do with it?
I’ll meet you in California.
HC: Zach we are in California now and you are sitting next to me while I am typing this.
And I think that I am acting up a little in my poems, but not exactly misbehaving, because I have a different code I live by in my poems. I think I adhere to it pretty strictly. Responsibility and love and respect have everything to do with it. Even when I am getting kind of aggressive they are in the mix.
ZS: I see you. Why do you look like you're misbehaving?
HC: Because the teacher who asked us to leave this computer lab before (so she could teach in it) is still lightly teaching and I feel lightly guilty for being in here. It is showing in my posture and in my hair, probably.
ZS: Ok, let’s go.
Heather Christle is the author of The Trees The Trees (Octopus Books, 2011), The Difficult Farm (Octopus Books, 2009), and a chapbook, The Seaside! (Minutes Books, 2010). Wesleyan University Press will be publishing her third full-length poetry collection, What Is Amazing, in the spring of 2012. Her poems have appeared widely in publications including The Believer, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, and The New Yorker. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and at Emory University, where she was the 2009-2011 Creative Writing Fellow. She is the Web Editor for jubilat and frequently a writer in residence at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. A native of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, she lives in Western Massachusetts.
Zachary Schomburg is the author of The Man Suit (Black Ocean 2007), Scary, No Scary (Black Ocean 2009), and two forthcoming books. He co-edits Octopus Books and Octopus Magazine. He lives in Portland, Ore.