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J Cage: Music is permanent; only listening is intermittent

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Megan Burns and Mike Sikkema asked me to take part in The Next Big Thing.

What is the working title of the book?
INDIAN SUMMER RECYLING (words on a building I pass on the way home…)

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Appalachian North Carolina is magnetic. Living here necessarily means participating in a commotion of overlapping fields of energy that continue to activate and challenge so many parts of my personality. The landscape is varied, lush and gorgeous, gnarled, mossy and shady, rough, spacious, foggy, isolating, expansive, littered with industrial bric-a-brac and shot-up with light. Appalachia is full of hollers, wild and carved out for tree farms, wrenched barbed wire fences, old tractors and trailers, sweet clover, crows and wild turkeys, rotting barns mid-collapse with slow-flowing windows, ghosts, horses, flurries of roadside chickens, shot gun blasts, abandoned cars with trees growing through their windshields. It’s warm and talky, dangerous, biblical, alien, and no-nonsense.

Lit me right up the first summer I was here and I was wide-awake all the time. I was up early jogging along the New River in the fog, doing yoga, (re)reading Smithson’s essays and Thoreau’s Journal, walking the dirt road into the holler behind the farmhouse where we stayed with my wife Kirsten’s Aunt Emilie, hanging out in and around the Old Gymnasium/ junk yard behind my wife’s Aunt Martha and Uncle Tom’s place.

I was writing in two or three different journals and suddenly felt compelled to cut them up into pieces. When I started moving the pieces around in the grass, across dusty old refrigerator coils and the wall of a rusted-out stove, I ended up taking pictures. At a certain point, I found some abandoned slats of glass and realized that I could layer the pieces on top of each other to varying degrees of clarity, shatter them with rocks, photograph them through stagnant rainwater with flies drifting in it, river current, etc.  I’m not sure whatever really came of any of this, but I was writing all the time… Just writing and playing, trying to catch stations and stay out in the weather. I never even typed anything up.

I was also listening to a lot of ambient music like Sean McCann’s Midnight Orchard cassette, Mountains’ Mountains and Mountains’ Choral among others, thinking about layers and melody in relation to Thoreau’s CLEAR AND ANCIENT HARMONY. I was listening to a lot of blues and roots music too: RL Burnside’s Mississippi Hill Country Blues, Roscoe Holcomb and the like; I heard Elizabeth “Libby” Cotton for the first time on one of Emilie’s old blues records, Blues at Newport, 1964.

What genre does your book fall under?
This compost

What actors would you choose to play the part of the characters in a movie rendition?
I’m not sure who would play Appalachia and who would play Libby Cotton…

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
This morning Bob Dylan was singing, “I’m a-walking down the line.” Then, he was singing, “Don’t think twice; it’s alright”x4. Or, like K says, after a storm, our dog Franklin smells with his teeth.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Three summers.

I teach a lot, like a lot of folks, and I’m half underwater all year… I usually don’t have much time to write until summer… I’m circulating another manuscript that was mostly written during the winter while I was finishing my Ph.D., but those were different times… Thankfully, I’m molting all year and I’m usually hungry when school lets out. Returning to INDIAN SUMMER RECYCLING has been pretty effortless so far, like stepping out into a current. It seems like I scotch tape the whole manuscript up on the wall of our bedroom and cross things out, here and there, a few times a year, but mostly I write in the summer and type it up in the fall.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?
Writing is, happily, always a mysterious process to me. I can usually point to interests and energies that were part of the circumstances that poems grow out of, but I never really know how anything happens. It’s like Huck Finn says, “In a barrel of odds and ends…things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
We’ve got Sun Drop Cola.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Horse Less Press just published a chapbook of poems that comes from this book project called Honeybabe, Don’t Leave Me Now and the title is a mash-up of a Libby Cotten lyric and a Bob Dylan lyric. Otherwise, we’ll see what happens. Mostly, this one and the other, just hang around collecting dog hair and stray feathers.

Tagged writers for the next big thing: Shira Dentz, Joseph Massey, Abe Smith, and Stacy Kidd.

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