We sat down with Jessica Goodfellow, the author of Mendeleev’s Mandala. See what she had to say about the intersection between poetry and space.
JG: My design aesthetic is, unfortunately, completely at odds with a general principle I live by. I would prefer clean lines, open spaces, and only a few bold pieces. What I have is cramped spaces and lots of clutter. That’s because a principle I live by is that all the people I live with (my husband and two sons) also get a say in how our communal life (and thus our home) is arranged, managed, and displayed. The reality is that we live in a small apartment in Japan with little storage space and we share what little space we have. Sometimes I have to close my eyes to escape the chaos. So be it.
JG: What goes in my personal space goes where it does out of necessity; there simply isn’t anywhere else to put things. Books are stacked under my desk where my legs and chair are supposed to go. Books are stacked up on my side of the bed. Books are everywhere. We do have bookshelves, and those are stacked three deep.What goes in my poems also goes there out of necessity, but not out of the desperate necessity attached to the stuff I keep in my physical space. What goes in my poems is only what is necessary—nothing superfluous—if I’m writing well. That sort of necessity is completely different from the necessity of storing our family’s belongings, which I’m sure we could pare down to the minimum as I have the luxury of doing in poetry, but since everybody in our home has a say on our belongings, that doesn’t happen.
JG: Right now I am working on a series of poems about my mother’s brother, who was lost in a mountain-climbing accident on Mt. McKinley when he was twenty-two years old and I was two. I’m writing about the tragedy and mystery of this famous accident (he was lost with six other climbers), about how the incident and the fact that his body was never recovered continues to affect our family today.
TT: What is your favorite object in your home?
JG: I have a strong affinity for fossils. I have a fish fossil from the Eocene era (about 50 million years ago) and an ammonite that’s about 412 million years old, which means that the answer I gave below about the oldest thing in my home isn’t correct. I also have a box full of sand dollars that I’ve collected on vacations, and a few of them are fossilized. I love all these things.
TT: What is your least favorite object?
I like the shoji screens in traditional Japanese homes (we have some) and I’ve come to terms with the rush mat flooring (tatami) of our one traditional Japanese room, but the paper doors of the closets in the Japanese room and the paper sliding doors that open up the living room to the Japanese room are the things I hate in our home. Their flimsiness does not make up for the atmosphere they do provide. In a family with children, they simply aren’t practical, and they’ve become tattered and shabby-looking from regular (not abusive) use. I routinely repaper the shoji screens myself, but cannot do the sliding paper doors. Many of my neighbors don’t bother to repaper their shoji screens very often, as they just get torn up quickly if there are children or pets around. In perfect condition, it’s a strikingly clean look, but that condition is hardly attainable for long in real living spaces.
JG: Last month I read Claudia Emerson’s Late Wife, Shane MacCrae’s Forgiveness, Forgiveness, Douglas Kearney’s Fear, Some, and Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients. Yesterday I finished Richard Siken’s Crush. Next on my list is Craig Blais’s About Crows. As far as poetics, last month I finished reading Edward Hirsch’s A Poets Glossary and Carol Maso’s Break Every Rule. Well, I didn’t read the entire Edward Hirsch compendium, but I read all the entries that jumped out at me, and that took months.
JG: Texture is important to me. I love collage that uses texture. I also love collage in poetry.
JG: I’m interested in weaving. I have some very crude hand looms that I bought at the local craft store, but I’d like to learn how to use a treadle loom. Of course, there’s no room for a treadle loom in our home.I’m also interested in collage. I’ve done a few that were successful, but more that weren’t. I’d like to take a class and see if I could get better at this.
TT: What is the oldest object in your home?
JG: I have a pair of cameo earrings that were my great-great-grandmother’s. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, gave them to me when I was in college. I have only worn them once or twice; I’m afraid I’ll lose them—they are the kind of old-fashioned earring with screws. I also have an old Japanese sword hilt that was given to me by a friend’s father, from his private collection. I don’t know how old it is. But obviously the fossils mentioned above are older than either of these things.
TT: What do you love about your work space?
JG: I don’t write at my desk, not poems anyway (though I type them up on the computer there after I write them by hand elsewhere). I write at the dining room table or in a coffee shop. There’s one coffee shop I especially like, and a particular seat I am keen on. The relative height of table and chair suit me, the lighting is soft but not too dim, and the window is visible but not distractingly close. I sit next to a brick wall, in a corner in a balcony, so the wall behind me is half open to the first floor, giving me a sense both of openness and privacy. I often ask myself what it is I like about that space because we are planning to redo our home office in 2015, and I’d like to recreate as many elements of that space as possible.Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Mendeleev’s Mandala (Mayapple Press, forthcoming 2015), The Insomniac’s Weather Report (Isobar Press, 2014), and the chapbook, A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concrete Wolf, 2006). Jessica’s work has appeared in Best New Poets and on Verse Daily, as well as on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. She is a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal. She has a graduate degree from Caltech, and currently lives and teaches in Japan. www.jessicagoodfellow.com www.jessicagoodfellow.blogspot.com