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Laura Rodley - Writer in the Spotlight



Laura Rodley

Writer in the Spotlight

Spring 2012



 

You know how John Updike was a regular at The New Yorker? Well at BLM we have some regulars too, and Laura Rodley is one of them. I'm always thrilled when she sends something in, because I know we're going to love it. In fact, for at least a year my senior editor Lucy has been saying When are we doing Laura Rodley? When are we doing Laura Rodley?

So, welcome to the spotlight, Laura!

Thank you, Robin and Lucy.

What I think I love most about your writing is how it reflects your love of nature without being about nature... in other words, there is always a character, an “I” (eye) to observe, interpret, and react.

Thank you, Robin. I am very affected by nature, and surround myself with it, actually submerse myself, by walking in the woods every day with my dog, Tyndall, watching for barred owls and at the moment, the prints that bobcats and tiny mice have left behind on the hard packed snow. I feel compelled to protect it.

Have you always been that way about nature? Have you been writing poetry for a long time?

Since I was nine years old; my first poem was to a goldfish who had died of a disease called ick, and I’ve never had another fish.

I picture you as a little girl sitting with a pad of paper trying to come up with a word that rhymes with “ick.”

Interestingly enough, I recall writing the poem and other works outside on a picnic table with fat lined paper, so fresh air and nature was already a dominant influence.

Any early influences or people who encouraged you to write?

My teacher, Mrs. Heyman, when I was in 7 th grade, and then later, another teacher, Genie Zeiger, who led writing workshops for adults in Shelburne, encouraged me to write. I already had my writing voice, but she said, keep going. I also was lucky to have attended schools in England and completed my first year of A-levels before we moved back to the states; I finished my senior year here. In England, we learned about the romantic poets; reading William Blake was like coming home. I also loved D.H.Lawrence, whose work as an author we studied, and his writing was completely visual, almost tactile and that sense of place has stayed with me.

My grandmother Ally was also a supporter of my writing. I wrote her letters as a child and she always praised my word choices.

Upon reflection, I also think my mother is responsible for my writing, for my noticing what goes on around me and doubly experiencing it, since she has not been here to do so since she died when I was four. It wasn’t until my twenties that I started missing her actively, or bringing her back to life, as it were, because not only did she have postpartum depression and take her own life, we children were not to speak of her or think of her ever again. There were no photos to refer to or any mention of her except negatively. Since my parents were both only children, there weren’t any aunts or uncles to remind us of her. We also stopped seeing our maternal grandmother, which is why I wrote to her. When I was on my own, then, from age 17 on, my mind opened up and allowed my mother in. So when my children were born, I would say, I stood in for her, and would be aware of their wonderfulness for her, and aware of how much she was missing. That didn’t just stop at her missing her grandchildren. I also held on to the wonderfulness of life, the preciousness of life for her. That also grew my poet’s eyes.

It is also because of the preciousness of life that I write this, because my daughter has asked me to do what I can to prevent anyone else taking their life, so I collected my poems, forming the book Craig, about coming to terms with my mother’s loss and making her present now. If someone takes their life thinking the world would be better off without them, they are mistaken. And when a woman has a medical diagnosis of postpartum depression, she needs help, persistent observation, and compassion, something that is only slowly being addressed. Apparently, doctors told my father to take my mother on a vacation to help her. I would have given anything to stay my mother’s hands.

Wow, how tragic! We’ll be sure to watch for Craig! Please keep us updated!

I will.

Okay, so who are some of your favorite poets?

I have more favorite prose writers, Isabelle Allende, and Louise Erdrich.

Whenever I read your poetry I assume all the stories are true—is that usually the case?

Yes, I have a great imagination and write fiction stories, but my poems are usually true.

You seem to be a regular at Finishing Line Press, too—they've published two chaps by you, Rappelling Blue Light and Your Left Front Wheel is Coming Loose. Gorgeous books that we reviewed here at BLM.

Thank you. Finishing Line Press does a great job, and I was lucky to find them. They are great poetry promoters.

What's a typical day like for you?

First it’s tea in the morning, a walk with my dog, and getting down to work. Besides being a reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, currently I am editing a book of seniors’ writing that will be published in April, As You Write It, A Franklin County Anthology, Volume II. I have found my best creative writing time is from 9 to 11 a.m. in the morning, but I write at all different times.

Interesting project! Do you visit assisted living places?

I am lucky enough to have a writing group of seniors in their eighties and nineties who come once a week to a writing group at Montague Senior Center, but energy wise they could be in their sixties or fifties. Not only most of them still drive, they all are very healthy. One predominant health factor is that none of them ever smoked. They have great personal stories, and so the class is in the memoir genre. It is great fun, and we all love the class. One class member’s memoir that will be in the new book regards hearing the 1938 War of the World’s broadcast, live.

Bet that’ll be a great story! What else are you working on?

I have four projects, in addition to Craig: another poetry collection about a girl pirate aboard the Whydah, which sank off the coast of Wellfleet in the 1880s, and another one entitled The Seal Beatitudes. I’ve also discovered sonnets and have been writing them, and putting a collection of them together.

Care to share any snippets?

The poem “Blue Jars,” in this issue of BLM, is the first poem in Craig, regarding how my mother hadn’t yet become real to me, and was only beginning to do, or I wouldn’t have given away one of the very few objects I owned that had once been hers.

Here is another poem from Craig:

Gifts

This is what I give myself:
I give myself my children’s grandmother.
I let them drive up the hill,
buy potato chips
or ice cream before dinner,
consider buying U.S. Savings Bonds.
I give my children their grandmother:
awe for their accomplishments,
my presence at their recitals,
minus the white hair, the
wrinkles, the shorter body,
the plastic pocketbook,
minus the dollar bills
slipped quietly into open fists.
I give them their grandmother:
my grandson, my son asks,
“What is life all about,
you live and then you die.”
“Life is about being kind,”
I answer. My grandson, my son,
looks out the window,
brings the cat in so
she won’t eat the sparrow.
Thank you, my son, my grandson.
He runs outside, shoots baskets.
I give myself almond joy,
hot chocolate, cracker jack,
stuffed clams, a cup of tea.
I give myself a quilt, a pillow,
a used pair of perfect curtains,
a new bar of soap, shampoo.
I give myself their grandmother.
I give myself her pocket change.
I give myself her hairbrush.
I give myself her phone call.
I give myself her best wishes.
I give myself her dinnerware.
I give myself her face, minus the body
close to mine, every time I walk through air.

The following are from the sonnet collection:

First Bike

I fixed the tires on my new used black bike
listened for the hiss of air as I held like
inner tubes under water, patched the tubes
smushed air nozzle through the tire, little cube
as it was, and tricky to position,
had to line tire, hose, nozzle up, frisson,
then spark with fingers between long wire spokes,
jimmy the inner tubes, tires, not get poked
in the eyes with the handlebar, even
though bike lay floored, branded calf. Believe in
it, you can get it done, I told myself,
rode to work, Harvard Square, travelling elf,
then someone stole it, perhaps on a dare,
two days later returned, from know not where.

Down South

Down south dry pan soil, armadillos
wide-spread hats, shorts, pecans, Tiparillos
cousin’s father smoked, combed his eyebrows
with a mustache comb, cattle ranches not cows,
cows spread on land so far it takes a plane
to span what’s owned, what’s not taken by man,
here and there houses their father had built,
architect by trade, solid ground, no silt
like my father’s job, an engineer, dream
to become a teacher, left it all, top cream
as he was, king of the hill but kings want
more than they see or know, take a jaunt
into other territories uncharted
all they need, endless funds to get started.

Go-getter

Had Dad had a musician’s knack maybe
he would have settled, but no, across seas
we traveled, his family in tow, dreams
call for waking up, much more than it seems.
But there he was, young, determined, spritely
gone months in Sussex studying nightly,
achieved his masters, Political Science,
stood side by side academic giants.
Back home deemed too old to be professor,
he sold real estate, considered lessor
than his image of himself, but still grand
as he traipsed hills with clients, their land.
After all, home is what one wants the most
be it a house you live in or holy ghost.

Those are all great, Laura…I love writing that explores the very different and ever-changing roles of child and parent.

I’m glad you like them Robin, and you’re right, the roles of child and parent are ever-changing. The best thing is you can be a parent to all, because that’s what it comes down to, being a parent to your parents, passed or present, your inner child, and the ever present creative spirit, which is both very young, in energy level, and ageless. You need to give them all a lot of room to speak, which is what poetry is all about.

Beautifully put, Laura, and we’ll end on that note—thanks for spending time with us!

It’s always great talking to you, Robin, and thanks for Boston Literary Magazine.