Life Is Absurd: An Interview with Amy Bilodeau
Thank you, Amy, for joining us for the May Issue at Connotation Press! A pleasure to have you back!
I love the name Emily Godslight Smith (the title of your piece). In fact, I’m a little obsessed by unusual names (like Godslight)--names that seem to function outside of the normal, whole name thing. I currently have a student with the last name “Oldfather” and a former student called “Justin Cayce.” The possibilities are endless!
Where did this name come from? What’s your favorite fictional or non-fictional name?
Thank you, Jonathan! Happy to be “here” again!
My writing process is pretty intuitive. The name really just came to me complete. I think it needed the ordinary juxtaposed with the strange. I liked the ambiguity of godslight (god’s light vs god slight, slight having its own ambiguity), which suggests an emotional/spiritual ambivalence. Also, I love the idea of acknowledging very directly that names are symbolic. In my first book manuscript (a sort of hybrid novella) almost all the characters’ names were abstract nouns.
This is a kinky hybrid. And by kinky, I mean stuff is quite out of whack (which is kinky). Emily discovers a deciduous tree growing between her legs, whose “nether leaves” she trims, but also finds difficult to conceal because she has to “sit wide-legged to accommodate her blossoming new appendage” (a possible argument for ‘manspreading’?). This is gender fluidity in genre fluidity--what draws you to absurdism?
Manspreading, ha! You’re spot on there, though. Gender fluidity and the absurd sums up much of my work. Gender norms are rather absurd. We’re all just complicated, messy people, really. And I guess my childhood had elements of the ridiculous. Also, Samuel Becket’ s Watt was life-changing for me as a writer. Someday I might get a dog and call it Knott’s Dog (I actually have two dogs, but they’re already named). Lydia Davis, too, opened my eyes to playful possibilities, especially in the flash form. “Our Trip” is brilliant at this. I think I want to feel deliciously slapped in the face by what I read, and, therefore, by what I write. Good absurdist literature gets my heart going. It makes me feel alive. Life is absurd! It makes me think wtf on a daily basis. Often with joy, and many times in horror.
You mention in your note at the end that some lines are adapted from ‘The Lais of Marie de France’. Privvy, which lines? Do you ‘magpie’ much in your work?
The Lais are these fantastical surreal little stories that repeatedly claim to be true. Such as an unfaithful woman getting her nose torn off as punishment and thereafter all her children are born noseless (“ Bisclavret ”). So I borrowed that concept of outrageous “truths” as well as the matter-of-fact statement of acts of great violence. Henri Bergson says in Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic that removing emotion from dramatic situations can bring out an element of humor. I think that’s what I was trying to capture. And I adore the quirky endings. Like suggesting alternate titles (“Chaitivel”) or the end of “ Guigemar ” (Penguin Classics, translated by Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby): “The lay of Guigemar, which is performed on the harp and rote, was composed from the tale you have heard. The melody is pleasing to the ear.” I also really enjoy the contrast of old and new styles of language in contemporary poems and fiction. I realized after I wrote Emily Godslight Smith that I must have been strongly influenced by Maggie Smith’ s The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison . She uses opening and closing lines from various fairytales to frame her poems. It’s an incredible collection. The use of her last name in my piece is an unconscious (and somewhat embarrassing) coincidence.
Still on the ‘magpie’ theme, could you sketch for us a story using a few lines from a famous poem?
Not exactly what you asked for, but here’s a little sketch written against a line from Paradise Lost . I actually loved the book. Gorgeous language. Relatable Satan. But sometimes you have to roll your eyes and blow raspberries when he gets going on Eve’s status as woman. Thank you for the writing prompt!
Thus it shall befall him who, to worth in women overtrusting, lets her will rule
—Milton, Paradise Lost
it ’s a fact in hell that the only food is apples. not crisp green granny smiths or sweet pink ladies. not apple pie, apple sauce, or swirled cinnamon apple bread. just an infinity of bruised & mealy red fruits, each with its guaranteed worm. at least for eve.
she bathes nude in the dark-fire lake before breakfast. all the demons keep their distance. they say she gives them the heebie jeebies. the evil eye. she loves the hot crackling silence. she bites the worm with relish. reclined on the shore, she spits an unholy arc of seeds. her uncombed hair a wild bird of shadows. she walks on the burning waves (or swaggers, really) & lowers her gaze for no one. she starts her day. does whatever the hell she wants.
What are you working on at the moment? Could you provide us with some links to any of the creative work you’d like to share with our readers?
I just finished a poetry manuscript I’m hoping to find a home for. I would love to write more flash/hybrid stuff. We’ll see.
Here are some strange new poems out in DREGINALD:
Thanks so much, Amy, for your time and excellent fiction!
Thank you! Great Questions!
emily godslight smith
a friend of a friend once told this story. i am telling it to you now with all the truth of memory.
after being abused by the family mastiff emily godslight smith immediately took to smoking cigars in the garage after kindergarten & covering the smell with cherry chapstick. more concerning was the small deciduous suddenly blooming between her legs. being mid-summer it was green & robust & hard to hide in her customary corduroy slacks. mom was more pleased than suspicious when she asked for dresses & bows & ruffles & lace proliferated in her closet. mom & dad were in the habit of sunday dates & always left the family dog in charge of the seven children & twenty cats. he was one of those sitters that lets a television do all the work & eats the last of the ice cream alone in the kitchen. worse was the splatter of strawberry pulp & saliva like a crime scene on the floors & the walls. emily godslight locked herself in the bathroom before bed & tried unsuccessfully to trim her nether leaves with her round-ended safety scissors. on one august occasion dog called emily into the room she shared with two sisters & ten cats, temporarily empty on account of the television in the family room. dog showed her graphic pictures of veterinary porn & asked her to pick a favorite position. emily godslight smith chewed a bloody hangnail to stall, standing wide-legged to accommodate her blossoming new appendage & thought, damn, i could really go for a smoke. it was at this time that the cats discovered them. fifteen of the twenty had functioning leathery wings & it took all of their combined strength and effort to heave the offending canine onto the roof & maul him with great rage until his dog heart quit his body & he died. the cats dropped him like an ugly jewel into the sun-drenched yard & then licked the red from their paws. all of this happened exactly as i have told you. emily’s tree fell out at the roots & was planted on dog’s grave as it seemed somehow to belong to him. in sleep emily was now & then known to declare i am the cats . with the help of her family emily godslight smith was able to quit cigars & take up piano & tap. an alternate title for this poem is “the grave tree” & it is sometimes called by that name.
Some of the lines in this piece are adapted from The Lais of Marie de France .