Indigo Moor interview, with Meg Tuite
These three brilliant poetic prose pieces published in this issue, “Unspoken,” “Flight,” and “Therapy,” are all part of Indigo Moor’s outstanding collection, “Tap-Root,” published by Main Street Rag.
Here are some quotes:
“Coffee-kissed-pale in a family hued Cajun-smoke, John buried his loneliness in Coltrane and Parker...”
“John’s job was to fill the mouth of the alley.”
“Must love some piece of his mother in that smile.”
“Pretty was the name given his sax. Brown for the hue of his skin, barely a shade lighter than the paper bag stapled to the doors where he played.”
“Can’t plant a cancer in another man’s chest.”
Can you tell me about the inspiration for these three beauties and the collection, as a whole?
Ah, the timing of this question. My brother was born April 12th, 1963, so I celebrated what would have been his 51st birthday yesterday. Although Tap-Root did not start off as a collection designed to examine the relationship between us, there came a time when I realized I was examining my time in the South, a strained relationship between two brothers, and the historical elements that could contribute to our emotional landscape. By the time the manuscript was completed, it had taken on a greater scope than what I had intended, but I was happy with the way it held together and how it was more elegy of the
South with my brother and I as an example of the book’s internal blues. I was pleased that we were not the focus. For those three pieces in particular, they are highly fictionalized, containing the verisimilitude of the time and emotion, but not to be taken as factual.
I am so sorry to hear about your brother, but what an amazing tribute to him.
You have such musicality in your work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have read “Through the Stonecutter’s Window,” “Tap-Root,” and excerpts from your upcoming collection, “In the Room of Thirsts and Hungers.” How does music play into your writing and your life?
I believe we each have our own internal music, shaped by our experiences, how we see and feel rhythm, and understand how sentence structure melds in our psyche, caresses our imagination. This may sound highly stylized, but there is concrete in its foundation and meaning. I will forever be drawn to high language, the extended metaphor, the preacher’s timbre, the languid image, and the metaphor and analogy that tug at the leash without breaking it. There’s a bass drum that thrums its syntax and language in the works that appeal to me. I do believe I would have made an effective preacher, at least from the pulpit. I have spent years honing my eyes for the music that aligns with my ears. And I have learned when to break the rhythm, to keep the words from lulling the reader to sleep. I practice when to deviate from the Blues, which is my center, when to throw in some jazz, some calypso, some funk, and hard rock. Learning to harness different music is a matter of hard work. Being able to call upon the right music for the right poem, the right line takes time to learn. We can never master every conductor’s baton, but we can always strive to be better.
I want to speak a bit about structure. Each of your collections has very defined sections to it. For example in Tap-Root there’s no question this is the working of a playwright:
I. Call to Stage
II. Dressing the Set
III. The Score
IV. The Cast
V. Curtain Up
VI. Curtain Call
And “Through the Stonecutter’s Window,” the collection is broken up into four sections: Daybreak, Midday, Midafternoon, and Dusk.
For Tap-Root, I took a page from Sonia Sanchez’s Does Your House Have Lions? Sanchez eschews her normal free form, organic style and uses Rhyme Royale. In my estimation, she uses this form to harness a very difficult subject matter, losing her brother to the early years of the AIDs epidemic. At that time, I believe it was still known as GRIDs. The common mistake when discussing such personal manners is to focus on one person or a single moment, offering a reductionist view by overly sentimentalizing the emotional aspects without presenting enough detail. In other words, telling instead of showing the emotion. By treating Tap-Root as a play, entreating myself to break down each component, I was forced to sit down with each section and find the importance of each element of the book. For example, in “Dressing the Set,” I looked at the landscape of the South as I remembered it, but also from the viewpoint of others. In The Score, I examined the relationship of African Americans, both past and present, to music.
And your latest collection, as well. Can you speak of your process? Do you work with the structure already in place or do the characters in your poetry and prose make up the structure?
My latest collection is unlike either of my previous two. They are all persona pieces, each 18 lines in length, roughly ending at the same point on the page. Since they are all persona pieces, they carry the emotional content of the speaker. There is a lot of research that goes into presenting the characters correctly in their own time periods, going through the miasma of their own lives. As far as my process, I may finish my research with a few dozen aspects of a character that I feel are relevant to their being understood. I then use the researched points that help get across whatever emotional arc the poem is centered upon.
Can you tell us about the collection, “In the Room of Thirsts and Hungers,” that will be coming out next?
My new manuscript is grounded in the epistolary relationship between two “cousins,” Paul Robeson and Othello. The idea derives from a study of Othello about five years ago and discovering that Robeson and Othello had almost identical strengths and flaws. In fact, there was a point when I thought I was reading a character analysis of Othello and later saw that they were describing Paul. Their similarities go far beyond their internal drives. The time periods they lived in their roles in society, and even their own demises are almost interchangeable. The reason that Robeson’s portrayal of Othello is considered the definitive one is that he was Othello. If Othello were a real person and an actor, he would have been perfect for the role of Robeson. In the Room of Thirsts and Hungers is not a recounting of either man’s life. I am more concerned with what is between the lines. What is not understood about each character or glossed over. In turn, other characters from each man’s life have their voice, get the opportunity to discuss their own version of being misunderstood, misquoted, misrepresented, or plain missing as important. Desdemona, Iago, Joseph McCarthy, Bianca, Eslande Robeson, Langston Hughes, Lemora Hickok, and others all have their say about the persecution of the Moors and African Americans, women’s roles in society, love and passion, oppression, joy, jealousy, and all that makes us more than two dimensional creatures that can be summed in a blurb or single paragraph. What would Othello, so devout when it comes to fidelity that he strangles his wife, feel about Robeson’s infamous trysts? What would Robeson think about his Cousin, leading a Christian Navy against Islamic Turks? What would Desdemona and Eslande have to say about their lives being overshadowed by two men so fixed on their own paths that their destructions are a certainty? The title, among other things, alludes to that place where a person’s thirsts and hungers are no longer confined, but laid bare.
You have written many plays that have gone to the stage and also one that is going to be made into a full-length film. How do you mix it up? Do you work on a variety of genres at the same time or do you work on one project exclusively?
I try not to mix the genres as I am writing. If I do, I have found that some work better than others. I may work on one project for a long period of time, then shift gears to another. The reason being is that, structurally, each genre demands a shift in the psyche, a different way of looking at the words on the page. If I am writing fiction, which embodies the ability to control every aspect of what the reader sees, hears, and feels, it would be counterproductive to be going back and forth to screenwriting which can be described as a framework for a collaborative effort with directors, actors, etc. In other words, the screenwriter must loose the reigns to an extent, concentrating more on the images of dramatic action. It can be done, and I imagine, there are a few gifted writers who can cross genres on a daily and hourly basis without the work suffering. I need time to immerse myself in each genre, reading and getting into a new headspace. I teach a series of workshops entitled Taming the Hydra: Writing Across Literary Genres that explores these differences and how best to approach the difficulties in crossing these divides.
Where were you brought up and does place play an important part in your writing?
Charlotte, NC. And, yes, my language, syntax, and voice are all representative of someone raised in the South. Even though I have not lived there since 1986, like my disappearing/reappearing accent, the South crops up in my work.
When did you first start writing?
Like most writers, I have always been a writer, an artist, seeking to communicate what is in my head. More to the point, it was at the end of 1999, when I was in Cambridge, MA that the notion of becoming a better writer, not just writing the next poem, became a consideration. As you may know, Cambridge has one of the highest concentrations of Universities per capita in the United States.
Who and what have been your biggest influences in your work?
Well, since you didn’t limit the question to poetry, The laundry list goes: Yusef Komunyakaa, Jean Toomer, Italo Calvino are the biggest influences. Jane Hirshfield, Cyrus Cassells, Charles Mingus, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Stephen King, and Mike Kimball, are some of the others.
What are you reading now?
C. Dale Young’s The Day Underneath the Day, Stephen King’s Needful Things, and Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her.
How do you juggle teaching and writing and how many workshops do you teach a year?
Poorly at times. I also have a day job at Intel, so I don’t have the added yoke of needing my writing to support me. What I have found is that I need huge doses of diligence to stay focused and aggressive with my writing and teaching. I juggle it by actually remembering to juggle it, to always keep the balls in the air instead of letting them sit on the shelf. There should always be something you are doing and something that needs doing. If I am doing it right, I should die unsatisfied with one more line, one more poem, one more play, one more workshop unfinished.
Tell us more about ‘Taming the Hydra,’ and what a writer can get out of joining this group.
Taming the Hydra is the name for the overall body of work that was my thesis and has morphed into my workshops, online interactive Literary Journal, and Lectures. The name derives from the focus of my writing endeavors: writing across literary genres: taming, vice slaying, the hydra. I work to remove the mystery in transitioning to writing poetry, fiction stage, and screen, enabling writers to choose the best platform for their creations. In reference to membership, the interactive online Literary Journal
Membership entitles you to:
· Writing prompts for Poetry, Fiction, Stage & Screen writers
· Links to Video tutorials and lectures
· Monthly Interviews with prominent writers on craft and publication
· Dedicated on-line forum to share all matters literary.
· Audio & Powerpoints from my signature Workshop Series Taming the Hydra: Cross-Genre Writing.
· Feedback from other members and myself.
· Hydra members enjoy a vibrant community where writers of all skill levels can commune, improve their skills, and receive positive feedback.
You use many quotes from many sources in your collections. Is there a special quote that speaks to you in your work and your life?
Yes, the last line of his forward when he edited an issue of Ploughshares. I had it as the signature for my email until it started popping up everywhere. "That's what I'm always after. Nothing gutless, and nothing without its ability to surprise." -Carl Phillips
Thank you so much, amazing Indigo, for sending Connotation Press some of your pure brilliance!