Author Spotlight: Alice B. Fogel

Alice is currently a teacher at Keene State College and Landmark College. Alice has published in Best American Poetry and the 2008 Poet’s Guide to NH, and elsewhere. She has also published books such as The Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader and Be That Empty; which was #8 on National Poetry Society’s bestselling list.

IMG_0406(1)Amoskeag: Your poem opens with “The house unlike you loves the passage”. Who is the    narrator speaking to and what is he/she trying to communicate? Why did you begin “there”?

Alice: The poem (and the whole series it is part of) is written in the 3rd person, in the point of view of a house speaking to its inhabitants as “you.” I like starting these poems right off with a plain statement that reveals that voice. The house is a kind of omniscient narrator, and while the house has its feelings about things, the house is also wiser than its people. I think what the house wants to convey here is that you can’t “save” time by saving the things of time. Instead we should pay attention, now, to now.

Amoskeag: How is the last line, “no matter how many times you crumble it always weaves another home” relevant to the poem? What kind of message are you trying to send to the reader?

Alice: Because of the lack of punctuation (other than those implied or imposed by line breaks), the poem’s sentences have to be interpreted and reinterpreted as they are read, through shifting expectations, and through inflection and participation in making sense. The “it” at the end of the next to last line at first refers to the spider’s web recently spoken of, and then switches to refer to the spider itself. Do “you” crumble the web, or do “you” yourself crumble (fall apart, cry, feel lost)? Each and both. So to answer the question about message–the messages are multiple, and while there is almost a kind of moral imperative suggested here (wrap and unwrap each day–like the gift it is), some of the others are about syntax and possible meaning, others about how we read, how we construct meaning, construct a home, a life.

Amoskeag: Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?

Alice: All poems surprise me. I would have to look back at early drafts to determine how much I “knew” this ending before I put it there, but I do remember that the spider web was one of the triggers for the poem. Being way out in the woods and fields, my actual house gets a lot of critters in it, and some spider webs are so prodigious that they actually do sound like plastic wrap from a package when I try to remove them–and then they’re back the next day. I don’t always try to destroy them (maybe if they’re in my kitchen I will) because I think spiders are so cool. Apparently the house thinks so too, because it’s advising “you” to be more like them. The poem sets us up for the spider by using a lot of spidery language all throughout: “knit a bridge,” “spin,” “crawl,” “sticky,” “houseflies,” “spoke of the wheel.” A reader might not think of a spider when reading those words, but maybe subliminally there’s a kind of preparation happening.

Amoskeag: Is your narrator’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw and how they felt?

Alice: Through this series, I have learned so much from the house (the narrator). Using the house’s voice instead of mine gave me new perspectives. It was terrific fun, and also sometimes felt like it was saving my life.

Amoskeag: Throughout your poem, you employ similes such as the one in line 26, “Like the spider overnight constructs a web so thick”. How and why did you construct and incorporate these into the piece?

Alice: Most poems that I write are a layering of images or associations that adhere to each other as I compose. If I use a simile it’s probably because I want to connect something else that furthers the visceral sensations I’m playing with. In a way, almost the whole poem is made up of comparisons or additions that just don’t literally spell out the words “like” or “as.” I wouldn’t want to just throw in any simile; it has to push the overall effect of the poem into some kind of emotion-based shape, so it’s all of a piece–at least for me.

Amoskeag: The poem adopts a mood of regret as the narrator discards fragments and memories of his/her past. How did you come to develop, hear and record the feelings of your narrator?

Alice: I would have to go to analysis to find out why the house often has that slightly wistful tone. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s plea to consider that God feels about each of us the way we feel about that person in our lives, “X,” who so disappoints us and “shipwrecks” our dreams. Why don’t we look to ourselves when considering who ought to get his shit together? Certainly, in this poem containing so much about time’s accretions and losses, time’s pentimento, and how badly the people in the house (the “you”) handle these, it would have been hard for the narrator to avoid that mood of regret.

Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape? What do you hope to achieve as a poet and what do you want your readers to feel?

Alice: A poem needs to be read. As you suggest, it’s what completes its purpose. I am grateful when one of my poems gets read seriously by an editor, when it’s accepted and given to more readers, and I love letting go of it then and feeling free to move on. Carl Sandburg once said there were only four things he needed in life, and one of them was having his writings published. (Another one was to not be in jail.) It’s fundamental for any artist to have her work taken into consideration as an act of value. As for what I hope to achieve as a poet–why not shoot high? I want to make something that wasn’t there before, something impossible to say or to make, and yet true, something, in that sense, like each of us–and I want readers (I could stop right there–I want readers) to find that impossibility nevertheless there in the poem and feel it spreading through their bones, even if it never occurs to them to think about it that way, and I hope that somehow that uplifts our shared value of the mystery in or of life.

Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet/writer?

Alice: I am working on a series of poems responding to abstract expressionist art, trying to explore what happens to our cognition when we’re confronted with something that doesn’t seem to represent reality, or that represents a reality we have little language (and therefore coherent thought) for. Looking at the art is inspiring and exciting, and the poems arise in that spirit.


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