Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Visiting with Sally Rosen Kindred

by Claire Guyton

What inspired “All Afternoon” and “Britannica Man”?

“All Afternoon” is about losing my stepmother, Mibs. In the months after her death, I found myself needing to think of her as a girl—to give her back all that time ahead of her: that illusion of summer, a future. This wasn’t hard to do, since she’d talked about her childhood—especially about all the hours spent reading. One day my mind said “Grief will build it,” and I knew that was the start of a poem for her, but I had trouble making myself sit down to draft it, because missing her was hard.

When I got to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts a month or two later, I knew I had emotional room to write it. Even though it’s brief in scope, I don’t think I could have written the poem without a long time at a desk alone, which was a luxury of that residency. It was too hard to give way to it in a two-hour block at the coffee shop before picking up the kids from school.

“Britannica Man” came from watching early episodes of the TV series Mad Men. There was something in the family scenes, the quiet ones, that felt so much like my childhood—and the sense of what fathers meant back then. And something about the living rooms of that first season, and the fathers in their coats, made me think of the Encyclopedia Britannica set in our den, and my father bending over it in the early evening after work. The mystery of meanings, of sinews and signs. And of course, Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Over 2,000 Images and a Complete Concordance,” which I love, hums in the background, too.

Tell us about your writing process—either generally or specifically with regard to the birth and development of these poems.

My cats in kittenhood.

Usually I write at my couch, with a cup of tea and a couple of cats, or in the coffee shop near my house. I tend to write in blocks of two or three hours; I tend to write sets of related poems (a castoff line from one starting the next). Sometimes I start writing by walking, listening to music, or reading. Tea, cats, books—pretty edgy stuff, I know.

In the course of writing, I’m generally switching between longhand in a spiral notebook and my Netbook. I copy the poem back and forth, over and over—and with each copy, I add, subtract, and often go into long tangents which either make it into the next copy or don’t. I read them aloud if I’m alone… or with cats (who—fine creatures!—don’t care). The physical experience of setting the draft down again and again forces me to reckon with it word by word. I end up with a notebook that has a dozen or more copies of the same (changing) poem—and another dozen copies in the computer file. I need to copy with both pen and keyboard, because they make for different kinds of changes. And I need the tea to keep it going.

Do you have any guilty reading pleasures?

I think guilt is overrated when it comes to reading. I read a lot of poetry, of course, but I also read plenty of other stuff. I read a lot of books that might not appear on traditional literature course syllabi—historical fiction, science fiction—but I rarely feel guilty about it. I especially love fantasy and fairy tales: I’m a fool for world-building and drama that’s big and mythic. I’ve also enjoyed many recent young adult novels (by Eishes Chayil, Sara Zarr, and, yes, Suzanne Collins)—their intensity, their investment in characters, their careful and complex relationships, often, to the themes of alienation and identity and hope. I especially love the work of Kristin Cashore, whose novels Graceling and Fire do exquisite emotional work with fantasy and gender.

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