“If one looks at the glacier for long enough, words cease to have any meaning on God’s earth.” – Halldór Laxness
After months of preparation, there I was, on September 1, 2021, standing on the ground in Iceland at Keflavik Airport—a month of writing (and hiking and exploring) ahead of me at the Gullkistan Center for Creativity in Laugarvatn.
Now, somehow, it’s already been one week ago since I was in the air over the Northern Atlantic flying home, looking at Greenland out the window, Iceland already receding into memory. What a month it was, though. Thanks to Rick Mills at the Morning Sun who invited me to write a few articles, you can read about my travels in Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of my Icelandic correspondence for the paper.
Both on the exploration side and the creative side, I’m super fulfilled at my accomplishments during the residency. Laugarvatn’s centralized location—near Reykjavík and several beautiful sites—made it possible, between writing and editing jaunts, to bask in so much beauty, to break my heart open continually. Friends who are scholars, writers, artists of any kind—definitely consider applying to Gullkistan; it’s an amazing place to both rest and be inspired. It’s also pretty affordable for the flights and lodging at Gullkistan. Of course, without the professional development support and the sabbatical time, it wouldn’t have been possible for me—so I’m ever thankful to Dean Rothaus and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the English Department at Central Michigan University, for making it possible.
My principal goal while at Gullkistan was to make significant progress toward the completion of a manuscript of my sixth collection of poems. (More news on my 5th manuscript, entitled CAGE, to follow, shortly….) This required bringing 90+ poems with me on the plane, and several sessions of spreading the poems out on the floor of Gullkistan, to weed through the mess. And plenty of editing.
There is still work to be done—poems to be removed still, and new ones to write, but I feel very good about the direction of this manuscript. The working title is “All We Are Given We Cannot Hold.” More like Our Sudden Museum, this manuscript features a wide range of poems—both thematically and formally. A suite of nearly 20 highly-formal Houdini poems are scattered throughout—especially to investigate a wider theme of restraint and liberation throughout the text. Also included are poems about sexuality & desire, as well as family & current events.
The longer arc of my work continues its pulse between realistic/autobiographical collections of variously-themed poems (The Seed Thieves, Our Sudden Museum) and books that are more surreal and follow a central movement (American Prophet, Severance, CAGE). I’m very excited at this long-view strange back and forth between the personal/outward and the surreal/inward. I’ve come to theorize that it has something to do with exhaustion and relief during the process. After I dive pretty bluntly and deeply into realism—into the sorrows and joys of my life—I tend to need a psychic break, so I swing back the other way into the subconscious, the dream-life. I look forward in the coming month to tying loose ends and completing “All We Are Given We Cannot Hold,” as I send out more individual poems. Also very excited that three more poems from this collection were accepted for publication this week, and that the list of published poems for this book is growing.
Here’s more news!
I received confirmation from Editor-in-Chief Jessie Lendennie yesterday that CAGE, my fifth manuscript, which took me eight years to complete, will be published by Salmon Poetry in Ireland—the wonderful press that published both Our Sudden Museum and Severance. I was hoping Salmon would be interested in publishing a third book of mine—and I’m thrilled to announce it. It may be a while before it’s published—as they have a long back-log of books to publish due to Covid. But: I’m so excited that CAGE will be out in the world. My deepest, darkest, strangest book by far, investigating, among other things: loss, depression, emptiness, silence and secrecy—CAGE includes a variety of forms, including poems as one-act plays—and follows, at its core, the journey of a man named Man, who carries throughout his days a corpse named Corpse. Man’s dog Menippus, (named for—and representing—the Greek cynic/philosopher) plays a significant role in the text, as does composer John Cage, whose quotes are sprinkled liberally throughout. It’s a wild ride.
Lastly—I’m very excited to announce that after completing a solid draft of my sixth manuscript at Gullkistan I began tinkering with a few new poems my last week there. I had the goal to fly home with at least five new poems written. However, then a few days before I left, this initial seismic activity broke into an actual eruption. I left Iceland with 12 new poems drafted, and have written nine more since returning home. I did NOT plan on writing a book-length collection of new work from Iceland, but here I am, a third of the way into it. With this new work, I’m imposing pressure on myself to write shorter pieces, a massive challenge for me, and am giving myself a limit of eight lines, inspired by early Icelandic skaldic poetry. These poems are directly inspired by Iceland’s devastatingly beautiful landscape, and language, with each poem taking for its title a different Icelandic word. I’m thrilled at the direction of this lava flow. Stay tuned!
Lastly, lastly, I promise! One more piece of great news. My friendship with composer David Biedenbender continues to be ever-fruitful. Inspired by my poem “Infinity Room” from my new manuscript, David composed a piece called “in a field of stars” that incorporates the poem. A piece in seven movements, it is based on different lines and stanzas of the poem. David’s incredibly evocative and haunting piece had its world premiere on September 27, 2021, performed by The Khemia Ensemble in at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I was able somehow to stay awake to watch a livestream of this amazing performance while in Iceland—and it was stunning to hear—again—David’s translation of one of my poems into music.