Thursday Nov 23

Goss-Poetry Erica Goss’s chapbook Wild Place was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. Her poems, articles, and reviews have appeared in many journals, most recently Hotel Amerika, Pearl, Main Street Rag, Rattle, Eclectica, Blood Lotus, Café Review, Zoland Poetry, Comstock Review, Lake Effect, and Perigee. She was awarded the 2010 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Contest and the first Edwin Markham Poetry Prize in 2007, judged by California’s Poet Laureate Al Young, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. Goss teaches creative writing and humanities in the Bay Area and is a contributing editor for Cerise Press. She holds an MFA from San Jose State University.
Erica Goss Interview, with Mari L’Esperance
You are quite active in the San Francisco South Bay poetry community. Tell us about some of the activities you're involved with and your various roles in them.
After I finished graduate school in 2007, I wanted to sustain the momentum of being part of a literary community. I joined Poetry Center San Jose and edited their literary journal, Caesura, for two years. We ran a contest in 2009 and Connie Post won first place, which was wonderful because I got to deliver the good news! Now I work for Poetry Center doing publicity and writing grants. In October, we brought Jane Hirshfield to San Jose for a reading and workshop and we continue to support our monthly reading series at the Willow Glen Library, which features local poets and a very popular open mike. I started a Facebook page for Poetry Center and keep looking for ways to promote poetry as an important part of the South Bay arts scene. I’m grateful to the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Arts Council Silicon Valley for their support of Poetry Center’s programs.

Finishing Line Press has published your first chapbook, Wild Place. What was your experience like putting together a chapbook? Do you have any advice for poets considering publishing a chapbook for the first time?
As soon as you have between 30-40 poems, the majority of which have been published individually, you should start thinking about creating a poetry collection. Putting the book together was a labor of love for me. I can follow my development as a poet through those early poems, and look back on the things I was doing and thinking about when I wrote them. In a way, they function as a kind of autobiography or journal. I had great fun working with Howard Partridge, who took the photograph I chose for the cover. The image on the cover defines the book in ways I could not have anticipated; when I think about the book, I see the cover first and then the poems.
The hard part is sending the book out and waiting for a response. I sent it to 15 contests and publishers before I heard back from Finishing Line. This process took about six months, not that long in the poetry world.

Your poetry reviews have appeared at Cerise Press,, and elsewhere. As a poet who also reviews poetry, what are some of your thoughts about the role of poetry book reviews in 2011? What kinds of reviews are helpful to you as a reader? What kinds are not helpful?
Personally, I will not review any book that I don’t like. I am not going to give anyone a bad review. My reviews are my way of giving back to poetry, and to the community of poets who labor so often in obscurity. The more people read and review poetry, the more poets will get attention from the rest of the world. I also review poetry books because I enjoy it, although reviewing also gives me a chance to read a book for more than my own pleasure; I want to bring out the qualities of a book that move me the most and will hopefully get people interested in the writer.
As a reader, I look for reviews that introduce me to a new poet. I am always delighted to find a poet I hadn’t heard of before and spread the word about her or him. I don’t like reviews that are not respectful or are obviously a vehicle for the reviewer and not the poet. And finally: there’s an art to reviewing, and reviews should stand on their own as examples of good writing.

Your poem “Darkroom” is haunting. Without giving too much away, can you say a bit about the genesis of this poem?
I write a lot of poems about visual art: paintings, collage, sculptures, and photography. Images show up in my poems more often than not. “Darkroom” is the result of my discovery of the photographer Sally Mann, who takes the most disturbing and amazing black and white photographs. I watched a documentary about her called “What Remains”; seeing her work in her darkroom made me think about how poets work in a darkroom, too – the spaces in our subconscious minds, dreams, impressions, and bits of conversations that all end up in our poems. The New York Times called Mann “a poet of the human body,” and I like that description of her view on things like childhood, landscapes, and mortality. She is obsessed with the same things I am: death, decay, rebirth – the inner workings of Nature that go on all around us. Most people don’t pay attention to these things, but Mann does in her photographs, in a way that catches the viewer completely off guard. When I see her images, I immediately recognize them as the mysterious and ever-present processes of the Earth.

I know that you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains and have backyard chickens and grow your own vegetables. How has living where you do influenced your writing? And can we expect a suite of chicken poems anytime in the future?
The chickens and gardens came out of my lifelong desire to do things myself. I am the original DIY person. Lots of my projects fail miserably, but that doesn’t stop me from trying them. I have written about my “girls,” but not in poetry – yet. One of my hens was featured in a Mother Earth News article about keeping a small flock. It took the photographer hours to get her to pose eating a worm!
The place where I live works its way into many of my poems, and is often the subject of them. Poems like “Fire Season” and “The Redwoods” are about the ambivalence I sometimes feel about Nature and its various personalities. I can remember times when huge trees were falling all around the house, barely missing us, and the summers when the scent of smoke hung in the air for months. However, it’s mostly calm and beautiful here in the redwoods, and a very interesting place to be a writer. There is always something going on in the forest; it’s a busy place, full of insects, birds, rodents, and mammals. I consider this property an outdoor laboratory, and I learn things here all the time. This is my cure for writer’s block: I step outside and just listen. Soon I hear the subtle sounds of redwood needles falling or the flap of a bird’s wing. Sometimes all I hear is the distant hum of the freeway, but it never fails to get me writing again.
Love in a Mist
they will come back to me
when they have tired of
their ordinary lives
when desire emerges from a fallow season
they will turn west
where the wolf is new
and lightning hits the mountains
over and over
until God has no more face
flower of a disturbed landscape
with thin blue arms
and bracts like cracks in old china
my seed will catch a hem
work itself into a seam
and walk all the way
to the Pacific
this year pain
keeps me stripped
under the primitive trees
in dreams I gather
white ghost lights
girls in ruffled nightgowns
emerge from the forest
offering alms
scent of orphans
and old sachets
first the tingle
then the long
As If in a Fire
The sun
an ocular concussion
illuminated every gap and hollow
the places where
my children used to hide
hands over their ears
I would never be
their father again
childhood was beyond me
the house, hot and damaged
as if in a fire
emptied of second-hand furniture
waited on its concrete pad
for a new family
nothing lasts
not even the sun
with its white unbearable face
In the spirit world
backlit by old stars
dreams sound like
water falling
we are inside
and outside
at the same time
trays clack like old bones
as faces rise from wet paper
their deep cloudy eyes
and conquered mouths
appear between our hands
lips and chins a blurry landscape
touched with the faint light
of a slow exposure
switch off the red
and exhale
we stand on their ashes