Three Geogaophies: A Milkmaid’s Grimoire is Arielle Guy‘s first full-length book, published this time last year from Dusie Press (and available here). She has also been part of Dusie Kollektiv for the past three years, making poetry postcards, M iss ives [Missives]: Unknowability, and folders, The Invention of Light, as chapbooks. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, has an editing business and is a life coach. She also edits the online journal Turntable & Blue Light.
DH: Tell me about the title of the book—Three Geogaophies: A Milkmaid’s Grimoire. Quite impressive to have two such challenging words confront the reader right away, and it definitely gets one’s attention. What do these words mean to you and how do they relate to and reflect the poetry in the book?
AG: I misspelled words intentionally throughout the book to create a middle language between Swedish and English. I was studying Swedish and spent time in Sweden so the part of my brain that conjured words was swamped in the lilts and foreign, yet familiar-sounding syllables of the Swedish language. When I sat down to write, the rhythm and new sounds were so present and they melded with English so completely, that the Swedish-English words would form in my mind and then on the page. Geogaophies is one of those words from this new language. Grimoire is a spell-book and I liked the idea of creating a modern prayer book that spanned three cities that mean so much to me and have taken up permanent residence in my present life and geography.
DH: Clearly there’s a sense of geography here, and the book is divided into three sections/locations: San Francisco, New York, and Gothenburg. What is the importance of place, and did you write the poems in each section while visiting/living in the places after which they’re named?
AG: All of the cities point to and were dreams of each other. I started writing the New York section while living in SF, as I was planning to move to New York. The earlier poems were fantasies, a kind of magical realism, my imaginings of New York. Gentle and a dream-like landscape of skyscrapers and crowds. These crashed and burned, as I moved into my sublet in Hell’s Kitchen, two blocks from Times Square. So then the poems were more angular and crooked. My life here was hard and isolated in the beginning, even as it was inspiring and awe-filled, and the New York section shows that evolution from Times Square to Brooklyn. The SF section was written almost as a memory, even before I left. So many of my ties were unraveling and the city was like a ghost, one that I walked through but wasn’t really there. I have always felt that San Francisco is a city of different planes, occupying multiple levels of reality and space. It’s a dream city to me, made of fog and disappearing into itself. Gothenburg was written completely while I was there. I became immersed in the city as congruently a stranger and resident, a strange and surreal experience.
DH: When I first met you, you were studying at New College in San Francisco, still in its late hey-day at that time, with important figures like Tom Clark, David Meltzer—was Lyn Hejinian still there?—Duncan McNaughton, etc. A pretty vibrant scene. Perhaps you could talk about your experience there and the importance of that study for your poetry as it’s progressed, particularly the poems in this book.
AG: I can’t say enough good things about New College. I wasn’t lucky enough to study with Lyn, but did study with the core staff there. The poets I was with there inspired me more than I had ever been inspired. I had been a solitary poet until then and NC offered a community that I’d never had so it was exalted and stays with me to this day. The writers and thinking and poets I was exposed to there changed everything for me. Some of the poems in this book, I wrote while at NC and it’s wonderful to see them in the book because they’re so connected with that time. The workings and amusement parks of modern and contemporary poets took the ground out from under me and reearthed it. I learned so much there and it breaks my heart that the program is no longer alive.
DH: One reason I ask about that is, I really admire the typographical play in these poems, which begins immediately in the first section, San Francisco. There is a concern with space, and a fascination it seems with the differently toned pauses indicated by different punctuation marks. One line in the second poem begins:
;that is, the warm air is still
and the old ladies sleeping
This struck me as an interesting way of recovering some Beat concerns with typography, punctuation, pause, and space, a recurring element of the poetry here. So often Beat writing is dismissed as simply post-Romantic, but here you seem to tease out a subtle but important development there that’s been largely overlooked. Could you comment on that?
AG: I am somewhat red-faced to admit I don’t have the familiarity or intimacy to talk about Beat poetry intelligently. I come from a much more Romantic and Objectivist influence, which are both related to Beat in their own way, I think, from what I know. I think what I culled from the Objectivists most intimately were their simplicity and honesty. Utter beauty. The Romantics and older, mainstay poets such as Donne and Dickinson were my first influences. Their mastery and craft and language were grand and epic but tooled and precise, like a well-made, ornate chair. As many baubles as it has, it is still a chair and you can sit on it. The elaboration of physics and metaphysics and love, layered language and infinite Nautilus shell of narrative told in reverent incantation leaves me awestruck every time. My use of typography, punctuation, pause and space tries to solicit that incantation and haunting, yet corporeal form.
DH: To develop that a bit further: In Blended hostess (Letter-sign #9), the poem begins
At fast pace: gone for sale
course, I have four choices:
fold in the canvas
I am pleasantly baffled by this. Again, it does not seem merely a deliberate fragmenting of the kind we’ve become all too familiar with in post-structuralist writing strategies. The stacking up of colons in the first few lines seems alternately tonal and playful, almost Dickinsonian in the way they demand a pause and tap the meaning this way or that. I am curious about the apostrophe, as if there’s a quote we’re missing the beginning of, or a possessive left dangling. Not to overdetermine all this in my mind, but there’s the sense of a game, where not only words and letters, but every mark and space is important.
AG: I used punctuation a lot in this book, in erroneous ways, to distract syntax and illuminate meaning and pause. I write to a very vivid mental background of music so those apostrophes and errant colons help to denote the sound I hear in my head. The score is visual and auditory and, for me, those punctuation marks hold as much emotion as the words. The spaces and things left dangling speak to the unknown that is in each thing. We hoist the unknown on our backs every day, without knowing what we’re carrying and I wanted to show that in these poems.
DH: What about the relationship of time to place? Towards the end of the “New York” section, there is a poem titled “Calendar.” This itself is in ten parts, but all of them quite short. There is a preoccupation with numbers and “getting things done.” The poem reads like a hyper-telescoped daybook or even day planner.
AG: I had to laugh when I got to this question because this is so much the way I think on a daily basis: a train’s electronic message board. Time is such an arbitrary concept in the scope of what we move through as reality but it’s so tangible and bossy. In my poems, I like to both erase and skeletalize time and time’s trappings—give form to something that really has no form. Yet, these calendars and day planners are so comforting on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. I am always thinking about what it is to measure—what does that mean? Measure is a soft word denoting structure so it appeals to me, both the word itself and in its meaning. That’s what we do—measure. Measure cups of coffee or sugar, time spent, what we’ve done with our lives at certain ages. To see myself more as part of a whole universe than an individual tapping time away on an abacus, I like to explore what time feels like as a companion and guide, as well as an elusive, purely theoretical apparition.
DH: Next, there is a poem, “City Quotas,” that seems to skip around in terms of voice and place. There is the seemingly straightforward entry “Bowie,” wherein the narrator recounts listening to Aladdin Sane to get through a difficult time in France; and I’m intrigued by the hints of sensuality that mingle with more fragmented voicings and “liminal” imagery.
From section IV:
I am talking about edges—ridges, valleys, and pools. I am specifically referring to the mood between. The toe, the foot, the sleep—the part of your body you call sleep.
From section V:
We are made of the same stuff, bone and blood and water, and the numbers carved into our limbs. And within it all, that edge beating.
This seems to be one of the themes of at least this part of the book—the juxtaposition of bodies, the zone where one body becomes another, one place another place. Also, a kind of wild zooming between the up-close and physical, and the larger frame of the geographical. Could you talk about that?
AG: For me, there’s a melding and opening to an underlying truth that happens in love—whether loving another person or a book or a city. It becomes part of you as you become part of it, while still retaining physical form. I think very metaphysically about connection, that we are all connected and respond to each other on a primal, subconscious level that becomes pronounced and lit when we fall in love. We experience transcendence, entrance into true union and unity. This is reality and expands to one’s place in the world and universe. Love is the deepest experience there is and all else flows from it.
DH: The final section is “Gothenburg,” which begins with the statement, “Living on coffee and 33 Swedish words for 3 weeks.” I wonder how that kind of language-strangeness impacted some of the poetic themes from the earlier sections of the book: the attention to typographical elements, the notion of place and the body, and so on. It seems like there’s a heightened return to the concern with language at a minute level in the poem “Geogaophy,” for instance, where there are lines like, “Trhe way disaster strikes. of feather: dhattaered clavicle,houseing heart.”
AG: Yes, for sure, being around a language I understood smatterings of and yet with which I felt so at home was bizarre and definitely impacted my writing. I began thinking in fake Swedish, as well as real Swedish, which was like a trampoline in my head. Again, in that primordial ooze, we speak all languages so, learning this new language was really like returning somewhere I’d been before and having that homecoming release memories from another time. I am not directly talking about past lives—it’s more a shared worldly underpinning of universal truths and human experience that is expressed through language but exists in a pure form beyond language.
DH: You have a lot of disparate but related pursuits: in addition to poetry, music (you performed in a speed metal band in Philadelphia, where you grew up, and you also pursued music in the Bay Area), Buddhism, and you are also someone I’ve long admired for being in business for yourself. How do these other interests, in addition to the living you’ve made for yourself, tie into your life as a poet?
AG: This evolves all the time. I am becoming more and more integrated and synthesized in my life, although I have always had that strong and sustaining feeling of all the things I do feeding each other. I have never defined myself as a poet and, for me, living a poet’s life means living a life, working, taking care of errands, looking out the window. Poetry to me has always been like washing the dishes, and I get the same amount of satisfaction from both. Life is so big and so enchanted and so miraculous that all I do moves me to write or walk or cook or sleep. Being a lay Buddhist and practicing mindfulness and the spirit and intent of the Dharma in my life has created space and peace, which are rich and fertile and open. To be aware is a field from which the unknown grows up. This experience of an open field is one I try to attend and tend to every moment. This consummate fragility and brute strength of the present has given me peace and constant attentiveness to the sacredness of experience itself.
DH: Finally, your involvement in the publishing side of the poetry world is two-fold—you are a member of the Dusie Kollektiv and you edit an online journal, Turntable & Blue Light. Was this a direction you were moving in anyway, or was it something that being in New York—where you’ve lived for some time now—inspired you to do? How has this involvement impacted your relationship to poetry?
AG: The community aspect of poetry is important to me and the online magazine and Dusie have given me that beautiful relationship to a group of wonderful writers and artists that I admire and respect and learn from. I have learned so much from both the magazine and Dusie and they’ve been invaluable experiences. Being in New York hasn’t really affected this desire or impetus, it’s been something I long for and reach out for no matter where I am. To be able to share other people’s work is a deep joy for me—it’s superbly satisfying to get great work out there. The involvement in these has brought me closer to feeling that dent in the void—to know that work has meaning and power and purpose, both in the doing of it and the sharing.
from Three Geogaophies: A Milkmaid’s Grimoire
City Quotas [an excerpt]
I have listened to Aladdin Sane more times than I can count and the songs are amazing and still heartbreakingly new and bring back a time when I was insecure and didn’t speak French and was visiting my first boyfriend in a town 40 miles south of Paris. I wasn’t allowed to touch the stereo because I was a girl but I did anyway just to listen to that album because I wouldn’t have gotten through that month without it. I remember what it was like to think everything was going to turn out like that, crazy and poorly mixed but brilliant. I want that energy back, even the misery, because it was real and uncool and unrehearsed, unlike the things I say to people now to explain being upset or down or depressed. I wasn’t intact and impermeable then.
And this all there is to tell–The hooded man falling from the tree, pajamas on
and trucks in the grass like homing agents waiting to get back–
There is no back between
hood and forward and there is no trunk in the saddle of his new
car and there is no wife in his blow-up doll kitchen and there is
no nothing in between his legs and his toes and he in the end
generalizes it all out in quotients and potions x = 4z2
and it harms him fully but never warms him.
Skin repels from inside to create newer and newer boundaries and warts and tumors are growths like any other measured by distance and scale. The row of skin rolls back like a ladder as you come.
Protein delineates action from reaction in the cradling of head to head, groin to groin, image to magic and back again through the forest.
Light counsels the aftermath of numbers as partners pretend to rebuff the broken toenail dust flying off the trees. The shuddering callouses created by counting with an abacus.
(IN A BOOMING VOICE): I am talking about edges–ridges, valleys, and pools. I am specifically referring to the mood between. The toe, the foot, the sleep–the part of your body you call sleep. The furnace, your body heat, how warm your arm was when I touched it last night, the bully from third grade, the guy you had a crush on, the seminar you took one summer on suffering, American style: These are all plural. Dense pluralities made of the same singular material used to make shoes and lamps although in parallel histories of which you’ve been a part, they found ways to make things out of skin.