A Conversation with Kathleen Driskell How does Next Door to the Dead connect to your previous collection, Seed across Snow, which also dealt with
themes of loss and mortality? How does it differ?
have to admit that unlike many of today’s writers who are taking on more global
subjects, I seem to be completely obsessed with a mere square mile around my
home. I tease and defend myself by purporting to be “Writing Local,” an idea I’ve
stolen from the “Eat Local” movement. In that vein, the poems in Seed across Snowaddress a number of tragedies
that occurred around our home, which local lore says, unbeknownst to us at the
signing of the deed, is haunted. The buzz that our church-home is haunted comes
mainly, I think, from our proximity to graveyard and also the train trestle where
the infamous Goat Man of Pope Lick is said to lurk—Goat Man has his own
Facebook page, by the way. I dismissed this matter as silly, of course, but in
a period of a few years, our neighbor was struck by a car when crossing the
road to her mailbox which sat right next to ours, two teen-aged boys were
drowned in nearby Floyd’s Fork, other neighbors discovered a young woman who
was severely wounded and thrown from a car into a ditch, a nearby house burned
to the ground, and on and on. Maybe there was something to the haunting? Meditating
on these tragedies reinvigorated old memories of family heartbreaks and I found
myself writing about the convergence of the old and new haunts.
I published that book, I thought okay I’m finished with this subject, but soon
poems from Next Door to the Dead
began knocking around in my head. I had no idea I’d write enough of them to
make an entire book, but here it is. And, Next
Door to the Dead, if anything, seems to narrow my real-estate even more. I
haven’t found, though, that writing from a small place limits my subjects and
themes. After all, Next Door to the Dead
takes on war, love, death—and Colonel
Cemetery poetry may be an odd concept for mainstay readers, but for those of us who are “tombstone tourists,” this genre offers a refreshing look into our clandestine indulgences and interests.
Next Door To The Dead is Kathleen Driskell’s latest book; one I found to be irresistible. It takes an understanding of the taboos associated with writing about death, along with true empathy and respect for those living and dead to write poems brimming with thoughtfulness, heartbreak and humor. Driskell introduces us to her “neighbors” in a very matter-of-fact way because after 20 years of living next door to the cemetery, they are indeed the neighbors she’s gotten to know. Read more here . . .
In this collection, you engage with
age-old traditions of funerary art and poetic meditation on life, death, grief,
and loss. What advice would you give to a young poet who is interested in
writing about these themes?
just come from our Spalding MFA residency abroad in Greece, I am struck again
by the ancient roots of our craft. When writing about these funerary traditions
and meditations on life and death, young poets follow in the footsteps of legendary
Homer and other ancient oral poets who were compelled to take on the same
subjects thousands of years ago. It is hard to pinpoint one “form” for an
elegy, but reading about this tradition can provide a good structure for
writing about grief. In his essay, “The Elegy’s Structure,” in the anthologyStructure and Surprise, poet DA Powell
discusses how successful elegies take on one of three structures: one with a turn from grief to consolation; one with a
turn from grief to the refusal of consolation; and one from grief to deeper
grief. It has helped me to think about which of these loose structure
best fits my subjects and themes and has provided useful boundaries for emotions
that threaten to overcome. Perhaps these structures might be helpful to a young
poet as well.
So happy to be a part of the historic and yet completely happening Kentucky Women Writers Conference September 11-13 in Lexington, Ky. I'm looking forward to leading my two-day poetry "One Poem: Two Attitudes." Find more at the KWWC website!