…with Laura McCollough

Mia: ”Shutters: Voices: Wind” is a mesmerizing journey through the tribulations, and sometimes joys, of feminine existence. It underscores the universality of this experience through prose poems that give voice to women from a multitude of cultures, recounting stories of fertility, birth, child raising, adoption, relationships, rape, refuge. ”Sedia’s House”, and the subsequent ”In Sedia’s House”, are two of the many stories that stay with me. What inspired them?

Laura: I can’t fully account for these pieces. It’s as if they were voices I heard through the windows of my mind, rather as if I were overhearing women speaking from a distance. Some people have raised the issue of appropriation or alterity. Regarding the former, I can see the complaint, but creativity is akin to empathy, and these pieces came to me through the empathic creative process. As for alterity, the term is used to explore how people(s) have been set off as marginal to the norm, and it is a term helpful in post colonial studies and sociology. Here, I could be accused of casting women from countries and cultures I am not part of as a way to make some statement of the “rightness” of a certain kind of woman or behavior or class, culture, etc., but I don’t believe that’s what I have done; just as my answer to the question of appropriation of stories is that I, as a writer (and a woman), was operating out of empathy, that is my answer to the question of alterity: if there is one thing that might come into relief from these linked pieces, it is the sorrows we share, how they cut across time and space.  I am these women. They are all me.

Mia: Would you agree that the personal is political? Do everyday events reflect dramas enacted on the broad world scene?

Laura: The phrase about the personal being political has changed as feminism as evolved (some might even say ‘devolved’). I am not an overtly political writer. A simplistic or cursory read of my work so far might suggest I am domestic in my concerns, but that, too, would be wrong.  What interests me most are connections, patterns, analogies, and analog. And compassion. Empathy. Are these political? Are they personal?  Genocide in one country; the collapse of public education in another; drought in a region; fracking somewhere else. Violence, economics, culture, eco-morality. I see these all in a football thrown over a field; in the face of a boy shamed into not crying; in girl dragged into an arranged marriage; in the seeping water in a basement.  But I am not writing essays, usually, and if I do, it’s because I want to understand something.  Mostly, I am trying to tilt things to the light and see what patterns fly against the wall.

Mia: How often do you write about yourself? Your self.

Laura: Well, that’s an interesting question. I just finished a manuscript of poems called Mercy, that are mostly character driven. The poems weren’t working because I, as a character, was not complicit in the poems; I was simply observing, chronicling, and arranging. When I recognized that was a kind of psycho-aesthetic cowardice and wrote myself into the poems, they began to cohere.    This echoes the concern of alterity (and the importance of meta-cognition about it): what is the relation of self to other? What does it mean to be the other? This is a central struggle for me; almost of the opposite of alterity; rather than having an essentialist idea of identity, I have a sense of multi-plicities and hybridities about the characters that populate my poetry and prose, and I might say my own identity is only now beginning to cohere. In short, I never write about myself, but I always write about myself.

Mia: ”Ripple & Snap”, the introspective, trance- like story of a high school gym shooting and its consequences, terrifies and soothes. Builds and annihilates feelings. Can a writer, or artist, assist in a community’s effort to heal in the aftermath of such an event?

Laura: If it happens, if art or writing helps someone heal, that’s great, but I do not think that is the job or goal of art. I don’t think the writer or artist is trying to heal themselves or anyone, and if they are “trying” to do that, then I suspect art is not the outcome.  When I was in college, my boyfriend committed suicide.  It was horrifying, and it took a long time to heal from that pain and sorrow.  ‘Ripple & Snap’ draws on that a great deal, but I didn’t write it to try to heal or inform. I wrote it because I was compelled to tell a story; because I wanted to circle around the various people who can be affected by a suicide, recognizing that it happens, not to one person, but to many people; because sorrow is complicated; because in the end, all I can do is storify and consider a thing through multiple lenses of perspective.  If any of my writing is healing to someone, that’s super. I can’t claim to hope for that.

Mia: What’s an odd fact about you that not many people know?

Laura: I recently bought a tank drum, a djembe, a cojon, and an Irish drum, and am learning percussion. With the 10,000 hour rule, maybe in a few years I might be able to sustain a rhythm.

Mia: Tell us about the greatest risk you’ve taken in your writing.

Laura: I don’t think I have done so yet. Maybe I am about to, since I am going to learn a percussion instrument and try to find rhythm and musicality in a physical way. I have always danced. And I sing, though only privately or in a choral situation with others, yet I have a hard time with meter in poetry. I have a sense of rhetorical music, the cadences and syncopation of syntactical units, but accentual, beat driven sonics has eluded me. Maybe if I can pound it out, say, learn how to subtract an accented beat in 4/4 time on a frame drum, or marry melody and rhythm on a hank drum, I might be able to find ways to align my written word with something more physical. So far, my poetry and prose has largely been in my head, and my sensual sound sense has been received, but generated in my body. I would like those rivers to come into confluence. It’s a risk because I just may be awful at it!!  Actually, I probably will be, but like most things, if you practice long enough, one is bound to learn something, be enlarged in some way. If I had a secret desire, it would be stand up comedy. I wish I was funnier. Humor is  master’s skill.

Mia: What writing projects are you working on now?

Laura: I have two prose projects in the works, a memoir and a novel, titled ‘Dead Maiden Cave’.  I’m also working on poems in a project tentatively called ‘The Business of Feeding People’. My full length poetry manuscript, ‘Jersey Mercy’, is ready for prime time. Finally, I am in the last stages of editing an anthology of essays for University of Georgia Press: ‘A Sense of Regard: essays on poetry and race’.

Mia: I’m looking forward to reading these, Laura. Thank you.

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