Sunday Jul 14

BeccaJRLachman Becca J.R. Lachman is a public library worker and writer living in Athens, Ohio. Editor of the anthology A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford (Woodley Press), she is also the author of two poetry collections: Other Acreage (Gold Wake Press) an ode-elegy to her family’s 1840s dairy farm, and The Apple Speaks (Cascadia Publishing House), which explores the perspective of a wife and daughter whose loved ones choose to do nonviolent peace work in war-torn places. Recent poems and essays appear in Consequence Magazine, the Journal of Mennonite Writing, Image, Brevity, and So to Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language & Art. She is a 2011 grad of the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA. More about her work can be found at here.

Becca J.R. Lachman Interview, with Ösel Jessica Plante

I wonder if you’d mind speaking a little bit about one of the underlying subjects in the three poems published this month here at Connotation Press? The subject I’m speaking of reoccurs in phrases such as: “my friends’ children have multiplied. They are sudden, real / as wildflowers”; and “…it’s best to visit the cherry blossoms after you finally / tell your newest doctor you’re done.” Parenting, the desire to parent, and infertility are seen from several angles. It is a painful topic and I admire your openness in sharing something that is such an amorphous source of grief. Is this a poetry that is seeking answers? 

Not answers necessarily, but definitely resiliency. Writing about this topic took years, and submitting and performing the poems I’d made, another couple of years. So, it’s a poetry of witness, definitely for me personally right now but also, hopefully, for others who find themselves going through the mourning process, month after month, for all kinds of reasons. Creating something that’s bigger than yourself, or putting your faith in human fertility of various kinds in America today, can feel strange and even ridiculous. But these poems, I hope, are proof of one reason I was drawn to poets and poetry in the first place: because they can un-numb us. These poems are one of the things that asked me to step beyond isolation and reach for community again.

We share a friend in common, the artist Astrid Kammerling, who I met in Vermont at the Vermont Studio Center while she was creating the visual art pieces that would accompany your poetry for the collaboration called HOME – SICK. Can you discuss that project, and a bit about what you most enjoyed about this, or other, collaborations?

More and more, I’m drawn to collaborating, maybe because of that crave for community. I usually bring other art forms into my readings now, and even invite audiences to take part in things like a cappella singing or mindfulness movement. During the same five or six years my husband and I have been trying to build a family, we’ve also been doubling the size of our 750-square-foot house. In the middle of this time, Astrid and I met while she was working on her PhD in interdisciplinary arts, and a professional academic relationship quickly grew into a friendship. Astrid moved to the other side of the country, but we were both in the thick of claiming and negotiating our physical, creative, and social spaces as female artists, and we started to write to each other about this. HOME – SICK is our book-length collection of poetry, mixed media pieces, and process pieces like emails, photos, letters, and social media posts that explore body as home and space as story. It’s hopefully going to be a book, maybe an interactive website, and who knows what else down the road...We’ve had one exhibit and reading in Fresno, CA that was met with such enthusiasm that we know we want to keep going with it. Perhaps more than anything, though, it’s evidence that a friendship between two artists can keep them accountable to making, even in the midst of uncertainty and grief. I would not have written what I did without Astrid. In our artist statement, we say that “ HOME – SICK navigates alternative creation myths we have needed to tell at this stage in our lives in order to move into the rooms waiting for us, made for us, and made by us.” One thing I really love about this project is that Astrid had been in my house during its renovation, and I’d also sent her photographs of the construction when I couldn’t put what I was feeling into words. She incorporated some of the shapes and patterns of my house-and life-in-progress—even some of my lines of poetry—right into her mixed-media pieces.
You are also the editor of the anthology, A Ritual to Read Together: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford, which features work by Robert Bly, Molly Peacock, Ted Kooser, Maxine Hong Kingston, Toi Derricotte, Naomi Shihab Nye. Did you know William Stafford personally? How has William Stafford’s writing influenced you?

Part of the reason I wanted to edit the anthology was that I’d never meet Stafford in person (he died in 1993). Besides his work, the other next-best thing to try to get to know him was interacting with the people who loved him or who’d been influenced by his life and work. And it really was his life more than his writing that first attracted me. He seemed to be able to put peace-building at the core of his professional and creative lives most of the time, and that’s what I reach for, as well. Not the puppy-and-butterfly kind of peace, but the kind that means you choose to stand at the edge of things and ask questions, maybe take some unpopular actions, take risks. One thing Stafford’s still known for was that he’d write every early morning—literally every day. Stafford started experimenting with this routine when he was in Civilian Public Service work camps during WWII as a conscientious objector, even though relatives like his brother were in the military abroad. My grandpa was in CPS, too. Stafford was the first American poet I’d heard of who not only wrote about war, but was also willing to demonstrate that there are other ways to serve your country. He brought that “third way” into his poetry workshops, too, living by the mantra, in his words, of “neither praise nor blame” and putting off traditional grading. I tried this for a couple of semesters when I was teaching, and let me tell you, as a young female adjunct, it was a lot more difficult to pull off! I have a full-time job outside of academia now, plus a creative practice. Stafford’s example helps me keep after my own poems, helps me make them a priority and trust that poetry isn’t going anywhere. It’s there when I show up.

Are there projects which you are currently working on that we can look forward to, or subjects you are writing about now?

In the last few years, I’ve found out that my great-great Grandmother was Amish and was shunned for having a child out of wedlock, and that my great-great-great-Grandfather, an artist-farmer, wrote a prayerbook that’s still used by the Amish and Old Colony Mennonites in places like Bolivia today. They both lived and died very near to where I grew up. So I’ve been researching both for an evolving poetry collection. I’m also recording a new album of original songs in my living room this summer—the first time I’ve done this in about 15 years!

And, because I have a habit of asking all poets this question, what is your favorite food?

I haven’t lived in Seattle for over a decade, but I still daydream about Thai Tom’s Swimming Rama in the University District.

To Whom Shall We Direct Our Anger?

To the handmade banner at the side of the highway telling us to SMILE starting
the day after the presidential election; to the hands that made it, lovingly;
to the hands, 9 months later, that haven’t torn it down, don’t give it the finger;

to the yearly teenage bucks tonguing deer-proof blooms at dawn, deciding they need
colors we imagined into roots before the first warm rain; to the tension of young rifles
in extended hunting season; to the community of bullets, cool and stored;

to the dental hygienist asking before we’re in the chair Do you have kids? then leaves our
gums bleeding with every so lucky! woman she’s known who couldn’t, then suddenly, could;
to all who stuff this myth between our teeth for us to dig back out again;    

to the stove; to the gas burners’ lit blue-amber; to willing, uncleaned ovens that take
what we have chopped and sliced and drowned and weighed when the rage simmers
over, ready to be thrown into the next face who knows our name;

to a need to anthropomorphize everything—the champagne cat we forgive, the bouquet
we tend and ask to stay, the house as it welcomes us, the thunderstorm as therapist—
in order to assign a sort of life, to get to make a little soul in motion;

to the garlic mustard appearing as a tender splash of green that first spring, then, the next,
carpeting all wooded acreage, greedy taker, making sure of its zombie promise;
to our stained and stinking palms that can never pull enough to matter now;

to the impossible “we,” the one imagined in larger numbers, passive-aggressive, un-
definable, more abstract and alien with every passing year; to the disappearing
women of our last decade; to the chatter about weather when we see them now;

to the grand piano, shoved into our houses and staying there; to a constant invitation to
make an offering of longing, lovesick lyrics; to the memory of watching an upright
set on fire, the ghostsounds when strings finally snapped in a slow arpeggio;

to the 17-year cicadas the summer of our real last try; to their high atonal hiss of
resurrection, a screaming, red-eyed choir of meals and mating and dying, dying,
dying; to the shells and corpses we must wind-shield-wiper, sweep and carry;

to the doctor who invites us to consider our husbands’ near-Olympic sperm under a literal
microscope; to her nurses who practically squeal at the sheer agility and number;
to the hope that lives in the race that’s started, despite it all, again; to what didn’t;

to the partial eclipse we’re not supposed to gaze at past ten seconds, to the moon as it
curtains all that day we’re used to; to the hot center of it, daring us, our heads tilted back
perpetually, our faces auto-smiling, the strange crescent shadows, passing?

Awareness Method

It’s best to buy a new umbrella on a sunny day, spring
clouds adolescent and heavy above you, high winds
in the forecast for days.

And it’s best to visit the cherry blossoms after you finally
tell your newest doctor you’re done. After you go through the list
of new and jazzy options and keep shaking your head, amazed
that your hands are still.

When she leaves in a flurry to deliver a baby in the next wing, it’s best
not to linger, to keep moving, forget for a moment
the six years of charts in a purple folder, your own mountain range

of temperatures and notes. It’s best to keep walking, past
your parked car and the front entrance to the hospital, past
the soccer fields and on to the river’s edge, where the same

trees greet you every year, no matter what you’ve done,
no matter what you haven’t.

My Friends’ Enormous Children

I turn to look at the birdfeeder, and my friends’ children are no longer
   babies. They have ponytails and glasses. They use words like “Easter”
and “burrito.” They start to dance to every kind of music. I back out of our
   driveway, and my friends’ children have multiplied. They are sudden, real
as wildflowers. They are proof, bright evidence in daily photo updates,
   their first names shriek-sung by other towering babies or read in silence
by scrolling strangers, entered permanently into our dictionaries.

Why is it that when I’m brushing my teeth, my friends’ babies are starting to go
   bra shopping, losing their retainers, when only last Tuesday these friends were
telling America—through an ultrasound fetus wearing a Santa’s hat, or the family
   mutt donning a handwritten placard, or a mint green onesie pinned to their
clothesline— that they carried frighteningly tiny heart-things inside them? I am
   a constellation, too; I will constellation. I take a long walk and am following different
light sources. I send off a letter and am tuning in to strange connected patterns
   in the sky. If you turn your head just so, just there you’ll catch a sharp shimmer of
something, that could be me.