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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

All You Do Is Perceive: An Interview with Joy Katz

February 18, 2014 | by

Photo(c)2011 by Star Black4_2

Photo: Star Black

In her third book of poetry, All You Do Is Perceive, Joy Katz moves between narrative, lyrical, and meditative language, making meaning from the switches in register. Her images—a newborn, a lynched man, a woman’s mastectomy scar—are dependably urgent and resonant.

The book begins with a poem about bringing home an adopted baby as ashes from the World Trade Center settle over Brooklyn. “The woundable face of a boy” fills the speaker with terror and awareness. Other poems wrestle with the conventions of the baby as an image—Katz is intent on portraying motherhood without succumbing to sentimentality. To resist preciousness, she invents “endearments” for her baby: “my bus, my tarmac.” In Katz’s work, beauty and glamour twine with danger. An “ambulance dazzles like a cocktail ring”; a speaker befriends a holocaust and takes it to a movie; the sounds of a newborn “run over her like mice.”

A former Wallace Stegner and National Endowment for the Arts fellow, Katz lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she teaches in the graduate writing program at Chatham University.

Tell me a little bit about the origins of All You Do Is Perceive.

The title of the book is a little accusatory. OMG, all Joy does is perceive. Meaning—ask my husband—no one got to the grocery store again. On my kitchen counter, there’s a cooking magazine opened to a self-help article, “How to Savor a Moment.” I needed help figuring out how not to savor a moment—how to move through time, seeing in an ordinary, not-intense way.

From my son, I learned a deep, meditative seeing. I watched him looking at his own hands or at a little car or something. For hours. Maybe it was ten minutes? Or days at a time. I was trapped with a small baby, but I was in a trance state, like a heroin high. It was addictive. My book’s epigram comes from Bishop George Berkeley, who says, roughly, I exist because I perceive. You exist because I perceive you. Writing the poems, I came to think that regarding is a form of love, but the regarding is not necessarily accurate. In the poems, people are always misperceiving one another. But misperceptions are a part of being alive to others. You don’t need truth or beauty. All you do is perceive. That’s all you need to have loved and lived fully. Read More »

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Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candlestick”

November 21, 2013 | by

Plath-Hughes-Portrait-Paris-Review

Collage via Flickr.

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

I am writing this while pregnant with my first son, just as Sylvia Plath was when she wrote “Nick and the Candlestick” in 1962.

I wanted him: he was no surprise or trouble at all; he was passion and biology. But I am not happy. No one in smiley U.S.A. is supposed to say this at the news of a baby. An expectant mother is supposed to be ecstatic, full of promise and life. It is true, I marvel; the last thing I ever expected to be good at was creating a small person, that my body could nourish him both inside itself and within the world. He’s evidence that something inside me might work, even if other, less visible things do not.

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

Before him, I would read Plath quotes from one of those ubiquitous Twitter feeds, feel recognition—and feel like a cliché. I do genuinely love her work, but it’s so expected, so reductive—even if, with him, it feels newly vital for me. We all know the narrative: marry a handsome, destructive man, go from one to two, three then four, and then kill yourself at thirty. Like so many girl-readers, I worshipped her and selfishly romanticized the tragedy. As a young woman, Plath sought the whirl and illusion of enchanted, swift New York, painfully unprepared for adulthood, and like so many others, I recognized all those standard youthful Manhattan dreams, darker when you feel everything twenty-fold, when you’re unsure of having any talent or worth, paralyzed by sensitivity, maybe a little weak, easy to dismantle. A cliché, yes, but the mythology, and the work, remain captivating and solid. As a writer and a reader and a human being with dark tendencies, I have great empathy for everything Plath. There is a reason she has endured. We may all fail miserably at love, family, and living, but we can try to be brave, especially in our work. As Plath says of her own womb, my stomach was always crawling with white newts and calcification, a gut that betrayed me, even when I tried to convince it of happy otherwise. Read More »

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Anne Enright on ‘The Forgotten Waltz’

October 25, 2011 | by

The writer Anne Enright, a native of Ireland, is perhaps best known for her 2007 Booker Prize winning novel The Gathering, a darkly beautiful novel about a family gathering in the wake of a suicide. In The Forgotten Waltz, her fifth novel and her first since winning the Booker, she takes up a seemingly more mundane plot: that of adulterous love. Gina, married to Conor, narrates her affair with Séan—himself married and father to a troubled daughter, Evie—which comes to a head as Ireland’s economy collapses.

It’s an affair whose outcome is known from almost the very first pages, and  Enright is not interested in judging Gina or Séan—Gina believes, ultimately, that there is nothing to forgive and, if Enright does not agree with her outright, she makes Gina a sympathetic enough character that it is possible for the reader to do so. The considerable narrative pleasures of this novel lie in Enright’s luminous language, as she sketches Gina’s attempts to figure out what happened and how and why. The author, who has a quick wit and a hearty laugh, as well as a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude, spoke to me recently from the West Coast, where she was on book tour. Read More »

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Heather Havrilesky on ‘Disaster Preparedness’

January 18, 2011 | by

Photograph by Whitney Pastorek.

Heather Havrilesky’s uniquely endearing voice—always witty, often self-deprecating—has been delighting and enlightening online readers since 1995, when she cocreated the weekly Filler column for Suck.com. At Salon, where she was a television critic for seven years before recently making the jump to new iPad newspaper The Daily, her incisive columns reflected on the ways in which television mirrors its audience—and she managed to be funny. In the recently published essay collection, Disaster Preparedness, Havrilesky takes her own life as the subject, examining scenes of trauma—losing her virginity, her parents' divorce, her father's death—with brutal honesty, a sense of humor, and a willingness to forgive. She spoke to me recently from her home in Los Angeles.

The book is called Disaster Preparedness, and each of the chapters deals with some kind of problem or disaster. How did you decide to organize the book around this particular theme?

I had written an essay for All Things Considered about planning with my sister some way of dealing with catastrophes, probably as a result of seeing too many disaster movies. And I started looking at that essay (which is now my introduction) and saying, What does it mean that we had all this preemptive defensive stance toward the unknown?

I also have an appetite for the most humiliating, sad—to some people depressing—dark stories from my own childhood. Maybe it’s because I’m screwed up, but those are the stories that I love the most, that I think are the most sort of delightful to read in anyone else’s memoir or book of essays. Those were the stories I remembered the best, too. And I had a lot of fun with that kind of dark stuff. Certainly there were times when I leaned into the emotional core of it. I mean, I didn’t want it to be a cavalier take on the past. I really wanted it to be an honest attempt to look at the things that happened to me and how they affected me and how my perspective now is different from what it was when these things happened. I learned a lot through that process.

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Dorrie Glenn Woodson

December 22, 2010 | by

Dorrie Glenn Woodson, 1956. Photograph by Harold Feinstein.

I was encouraged to reach out to pianist Dorrie Glenn Woodson by her first husband, the photographer Harold Feinstein, and she and I met in person in New York before last Thanksgiving. Dorrie, seventy-six years old, had naturally gray hair that was long and free flowing, parted down the middle, and it framed her glasses in the style of Gloria Steinem. Among jazz musicians, no appearance is unconventional (except a rigid one), so I didn’t think about hers until we talked on the phone a few weeks later: When she described her parents, I couldn’t visualize them in her. She was born Dorothy Meese in 1934 on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania near the Mason-Dixon line; her father farmed fruits and vegetables and peddled them in nearby towns, and her deeply religious mother practiced the dawn-to-dusk farm traditions with dedication and care. The Dorrie I met was a long way from the farm.

Young Dorothy displayed a touch and dexterity on piano beyond her years; she won talent shows and admiration. The radio brought Ella Fitzgerald, Nat Cole, Duke Ellington, and other African American musicians into her home, in a nearly all-white region. She was transfixed. Her dreams of being a professional jazz pianist distilled and grew more potent. In 1952, after a talent show in Salisbury, Pennsylvania, eighteen-year-old Dorothy met an African American bassist and singer in the Herb Jeffries vein. He was from Frostburg, Maryland, and twenty years her senior. They began a long-term relationship, in secret due to the scandal of interracial romances at the time. She gained confidence in her ability to make impressions musically and generate opportunities for herself. Things seemed hopeful. But she’d grown up with no sex education—nobody uttered a word about it—and birth control was still illegal and often unreliable. It was double jeopardy.

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