Meacham Conversations: Amy Wright 2019-10-25
Meacham Conversations: Amy Wright 2019-10-25

Jackson: I want to welcome you to the Meacham Conversations,
and today we have Amy Wright. How’re you doing? Wright: Great. Jackson: Pretty good. um Why don’t we start by having you read a
poem [Wright: Great] and talk a little bit about it. Wright: This is from Cracker Sonnets. “Habitat” Mac and Paulie cling to the mountainside,
sphagnum moss on an abalone camper. Their father collects disability. They are ingenious manipulators of flag girls
in parking lots, track stars in waffle-joint back booths, french fryers in ferris wheel
top buckets, at home unable to avoid
introducing them to Pudding on the sofa, their young mother
who makes them pretend she’s their sister. Mud puppies
cut through a school of crappies, patch the shallows, sprout
toes sensitive as tentacles on a slug’s head–
ascend the muck thin-skinned as newborns, or did back then. Of course, Mac will grow up, start a tree-trimming business,
meet Scottie who isn’t afraid of his wolf pup or long silences,
how a hard storm closes their exit. Imperiled
water shrews and hellbender playthings give her something to lose
in that nothing-much mobile– a freshwater turtle
she feeds periodically a handful of cereal that crackles
when wet like maggots. Do you want to move someplace else? Mac asks after lovemaking, her nape wet, fan blades slowing with her pulse. Eddie has a body shop in Lafayette. . . . Scottie pulls a squirrel’s tail
curl through a hairbrush she keeps near the bed, like all Peary women. Away from here I wouldn’t know what it looks like to be happy,
she says. I would test it the way a girl will suffer her love
to prove his love real, wouldn’t hear the mourning dove
or see the Blazing Star nod its fandango assent from a far
field. No, it is better to know chorus frogs are in danger, the lake sturgeon
almost lost. What are those creatures to me
I cannot be sorry never to have seen? Jackson: It seems to me the almost natural
images come in and kind of modify, contextualize the characters and characterizations. Is that something that, um, goes throughout
the whole book? How did you make the connections between,
say, that poem and the other poems in the book? Wright: I think the natural world is always
a connection to me between people and culture, um, and nature, and how they interact. Those are themes that run throughout my work
and throughout these poems, in particular–the natural world and how it informs culture. And, specifically, I read that poem as a kind
of endangered culture because, as I’ve grown up, um, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, that
the landscape has changed. Of course, there’s logging and, um, the loss
of, um, natural species, but also the loss of a kind of isolation or distance from the
town. I mean, there was a dirt road when I grew
up. It’s paved now. And so, I think there’s just more, um, of
a sense that both the natural world and the distinctive cultures of Appalachia are–in
danger of fading or assimilating, or becoming something else. And so, that’s one of the things that I think
about a lot. Jackson: Yeah, and does that, uh, go over
into your prose, too? Wright: Definitely. It was a really special thing to be able to
grow up in a rural area, um, right outside of Jefferson National Forest, and I appreciate
that and value it so deeply, but it is also, um, I guess, just a–the desire to act, to
change, or to do something to protect the land. It wasn’t necessarily something I thought
about when I was little because it was such a–a wild area, and you had the sense that,
you know, the natural world was all powerful and, and omnipresent and stronger than people,
and it was larger, and, you know. And now it seems like, you know, there’s more
and more of, um, taking of the natural resources, and it seems much more vulnerable than it
did once. And so, I try to write with the impulse to
preserve, um, and to raise awareness, you know, of the endangered landscapes and species. Jackson: You know, the poems also struck me
as a little bit Wordsworthian and sense it comes out of that tradition. Wright: I think, yeah, I think definitely
that there’s that, um. I was fortunate enough to have a childhood
that was free of the preoccupations of some children, so I really did just get to play
at wild in the landscape with my brother and just, you know, explore the territory. Jackson: Yeah, that’s great. And ho,how would you relate the landscape
where you are now, a sense of place where you are now to where you were brought up? Wright: Well, now I live in a city, so it’s
very different, but for the first eight years that I lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, I
had, um, a one bedroom apartment that I lived on, ah, just a road, a main artery into tow–into
the city. And then , they, while I was living there
in that span of time, they cleared a mountain side–“small hill”–of trees, and, you know,
I didn’t even know they terraformed the lands that dramatically, you know, just levelled
it, and turned it into a shopping center. And so, I moved to a, um, place where I–there’s
a farm in my backyard now. And so, it’s, it’s as close as I could come
in the city to that kind of, um, natural landscape. Jackson: You’re not too far away from a lot
of real natural areas. Wright: Well, actually, the river– Jackson:–land between the lakes– Wright: –yeah. The Cumberland River runs really close in
my backyard. I can’t see it, but it’s there. The leaves are in bloom, but they, um. There was actually a bobcat that came into
my yard just a month ago, so it’s, it’s closer than you think. Jackson: Wow Wright: Yeah Jackson: Yeah, so why don’t you read another
poem out of that [Cracker Sonnets]. I’m kind of curious to see how they echo off
one another. Wright: Ok, uh, There are very different ones. um Some of them have to do with the, um, with
religion, um, and I think that’s also, um, a big thing, and so Jackson: Well, that, in a sense, goes back
to the Wordsworth, too. For him, I mean, he wasn’t like Coleridge,
more of a pantheist, but he For him it was a kind of, um, a religion. I used to have a friend who was Native American,
and taking them to church, we would take them out to the woods and look over a valley, and
he would say, “This is my church,” you know, in that sense. Wright: Yeah, and actually, when I–I’ve written
about this in prose. I call–I began writing about it in poetry,
the Appalachian sublime, and because the–I don’t mention the Appalachian sublime as a
specific phrase in this collection, um, but the idea that I was right on the cusp of something
that was both interesting and beautiful and awe-inspiring and terrifying, because it still
had the sense it was unknown, um, and so, it was–I,I felt like, right on that edge. looking into something that I did not understand,
and that is, you know, religious. Jackson: Yeah, sure Wright: But then you also have the, um–My
grandfather on my dad’s side was a Pentecostalist preacher, and so you have a very different
perspective there, and so this poem is about that. It’s titled “Gadfreys Challenge Pentecost
Values.” Ava saw a family riven by liquor sober,
her grandfather preach out a string of venom, hammered on the prophets’ word, called
to leave carpentry, swap his father’s brew for one that never–even when money runs out–
stops flowing, the podium skinned of its worldly varnish. A dozen incomprehensible
tongues licking the body’s vents. His wife allowed herself to be taken
over by the Yes,yes Lord, that realm which surpasseth
understanding. Ava’s love
for her the color of locusts. She left them the way grandfather’s father would go
on a month-long drunk, piss the bed, spend every red cent of grocery money. Eyes flickered distant, arms raised away from
her. Then, they came back. He even stayed years
without touching a drop. Fire receded
to a blue glint and she’d make beans and biscuits. Jackson: Wow. Thank you very much. Wright: You’re welcome

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