A force to be reckoned with, the poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths took the literary world by storm first with her stunning surreal poetry and, then, in the media, when she became an emerging poet to watch in the 2011 inaugural poetry issue of O Magazine.
I was asked to create a chapbook by poet Joseph Quintela for the A5 series of a wonderful, experimental press he founded and runs, Deadly Chaps. My chapbook, Memoria Memoria, is part of a trilogy that also includes chapbooks by poets Doug Kearney and Prudence Groube. We each were given a blank book of 20 pages and asked to play for a month or so. I decided to focus on films and create poems inspired by some aspect of the films I watched and the intersections I experienced between cinema and poetry. These were films, many of them, that I’d watched for years and so I knew that some things were already working and waiting in me about them.
Mostly they are deciding about fire, bullets, and faith. I remember one of the women saying I ought to be burned on a stake or in a pit. I remember how they often spoke of Mama and me, expressing strong hope that we should burn in hell. They wondered aloud if we would be capable of burning, they doubted we had the same bones as other human beings, or whether our interior organs would melt at all. Some of the children made new words from their parents’ hatred of us. Crossbreed became Crossbones. And it was not uncommon for a girl, black or white, to approach me while Mama was in the store, and pinch me to see whether their theories about us being ghosts, about us being flammable, were true. When the body could not be trusted to affirm their ideas, they suggested the certainty of any inferno. Mostly, hell. Which was a vivid landscape of reckoning. It would be our home, they assured us. I remember that Mama gave the flames of their eyes little air. But now I think back to Mama and the way she looked each night in the bed we shared, as though she were burning from within, while we slept in our husks of beauty.
They say I took everything away. Sometimes this was true. But their ‘everything’ was narrow and limited. They said I was like my mother, that I began stealing it when I was a girl. I don’t know what a girl is. I’m just me. What could I have taken from this earth? There was nothing to be stolen that did not require force, pressure, or time. And I was only in love with the entire wide-armed world at first.
That was the beginning. And it, I mean this peculiarly omniscient world, armed itself, adorning its mountains and shameless eyes against me, waiting to shatter the skin of glass that belonged to me. Where I looked outward with hope.
A Man With a Beautiful Mind
Q: Thinking about your life and career, do you have any setbacks?
Q: When life strikes us down, many of us become more bitter, angrier, more frustrated, and tend to shrink into misery. But you, Mr. Cooper, remain a person in love with life, in love with love – in spite of its price, in love with animals and your surroundings, even when “everything moves towards chaos” you are able to see “little girls dressed up for Easter like hibiscus flowers…” (Those two lines are taken from the poem “Self-Circumference.”) How do you explain that positive outlook that you have.
Q: Thank you. This is a powerful message. The other thing that I love about your poetry is that wonderful sense of humor that makes us laugh in spite of the seriousness of the situation, like in the poem “Broken” where you can see yourself being mugged by a six year old, or in “Absolutely” about your uncle who “lived and died in pure absoluteliness….” I can see you having fun while writing those lines.
Q: All the admirers of your poetry are impatient to see your second book. Can you tell us if it’s coming soon.
Q: At the end of this interview, please tell us what are you working on and what are your publishing goals?
Making Poetic History—Interview with Shaindel Beers
By Kathi Stafford for Poets’ Quarterly
Shaindel Beers is the talented author of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, whose work has been published in numerous literary journals. She was raised in Indiana and earned graduate degrees at the University of Chicago (MA) and Vermont College of Fine Arts (MFA). She is the recipient of numerous awards for her writing. Her poetry collection, A Brief History of Time, is an evocative portrait of daily life. She is an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon.
In the beginning. . .
Q: What is the first poem you remember hearing as a child?
Q: How does your work as a professor inform and shape your own writing?
Q: What practical advice do you give your students about the discipline of writing?
Q: If you could only give your students five poets and five novelists to study for a semester, what names would be on your list?
Q: Where do you go or what do you do when you need inspiration for your work?
Q: What poets are especially compelling to you right now?
Q: Louise Gluck writes in Moonbeam, “The same night also produced people like ourselves./ You are like me, whether or not you admit it./Unsatisfied, meticulous. And your hunger is not for experience/but for understanding, as though it could be had in the abstract.” These lines reminded me of your intense and dynamic poems in A Brief History of Time, where you search for understanding. Was Gluck’s work a strong influence on your poetry?
Q: Your work is also reminiscent of Philip Levine, especially Not This Pig, with its emphasis on working-class Detroit. Has Levine influenced your work as well?
Q: If you have belonged to a writing group, please describe how that worked for you and whether it was helpful for your writing.
Q: How did growing up in Indiana influence your writing? How did the tragedy of the unsolved murders in Argos impact your life?
Q: How does the landscape of eastern Oregon influence your writing style?
Q: How has your experience as the Poetry Editor for Contrary impacted your own writing?
Q: I know you are a mother as well as a writer. How do you balance the demands of parenting with your career?
Q: How do you recharge your energy when you feel overwhelmed by the personal and professional demands of your life?
Q: What is your soundtrack for writing?