…a closer look at Everything We Create Smells Like the Earth

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at Everything We Create Smells Like the Earth by Paul McGlamery

Winner: The We Will Plan Big Things Poetry Prize, 2014

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Samantha Duncan

April:

It’s been a while since I’ve read any poetry exclusively about nature and humanity’s relationship to it. At first this collection reminded me of my British literature class where we read ode after ode to the various parts of nature, but then the collection took off in an unexpected direction. Instead of odes, this collection takes on more of an ever shifting persona. There are poems that speak to the sensual side of nature, then there are poems that speak the wilderness, and poems that are about change and loss. Did you sense any major themes that resonated with you in this collection? Did you pick up on the repeated image of mud? I liked how mud was not always the same thing. Sometimes it was used in creation while in other times it was a protective coating. Mud seemed to me to be the basis of nature in this collection. Did you feel the same way, or did something else strike you as more important to the narrator than mud?

Samantha:

Mud is present in many forms and meanings in this book, especially when you look at the ways McGlamery speaks of dirt and earth. In that sense, it is somewhat of a central force in these poems, protecting us one minute and stifling us the next. I also enjoyed the varied categorizations of humans’ relationship to nature, as there really isn’t anything singular about it. We can fear nature, rely on it, even be a part of it. This collection encompasses all the complexities of those dynamics and how they function in the midst of birth, love, loss, and change.

As for other important elements in play throughout the book, there’s a spiritual presence that often interacts with nature and humanity, and one could argue that spirituality is as much a character as mud and nature are in this collection.

April:

I really loved the poem, “Origami.” It’s a take on loss that is new to me. In the poem a woman is lost to the narrator presumably to death. Instead of reliving her life, however, the narrator talks about how she take on different forms and you’re never quite sure if she was loved by him or despised. There are so many layers to this poem that I’m wondering what you got out of it your first read through and if it changed for you on closer inspection. At first, I saw just the top layer-that she changes in death. Then as I read over it again I thought about her decomposition and becoming the earth. Then I thought about grief and how that changes a person’s perspective. Did you see any other meanings in this one?

Samantha:

I get different things out of this one each time I read it, as well. In the woman, I see a free mind that was not always received by others in a positive way. I wasn’t sure what to make of the origami image in the poem – the woman “folding into a bird-shaped column.” On the one hand, we see birds as symbols of freedom, as they’re able to fly and go wherever they please. However, she’s folded not into a bird, but a bird-shaped column, suggesting that even exercising her free thought came with limitations. I love poems that keep you questioning each time you read them, and “Origami” stood out as one such poem in this collection.

April:

In “The Dark Grain of Wood” did you sense a didactic tone? In this particular poem the narrator starts by commenting on our fear of the dark and how we still search the dark for new life, then goes on to end it in the bright sunshine where we memorialize our dead. I got the didactic sense from the poem due to the disjointed nature of the stanzas and how they each almost build on each other but not quite. Instead the seem to commenting on something more important than darkness and light. Did you feel this way or get something totally different from reading this poem?

Samantha:

It seems almost the whole poem is about death and ghosts from a child’s perspective, as it starts out saying we’re more or less raised to believe in ghosts and fear them. By the last two stanzas, there’s the switch you mentioned from darkness to light. I do see a build throughout the stanzas, though I’m not sure what it’s leading to. On the one hand, it could be a build from the ignorance of childhood to a more enlightened adult perspective on death and ghosts. On the other hand, maybe nothing changes at all about our childhood perspective; maybe we’re taught to fear death as children and still do as adults, but we memorialize it, as McGlamery says. In a sense, we’re then putting what we fear on a pedestal. This is another poem one can look at in different ways. I’m particularly curious about the last stanza, as it contains the title of the poem and suggests a cohesion or synchronicity of nature with death and the life cycle.

There is some similar imagery in a poem that stood out to me, “Moulting.” It starts in the dark and desires a move towards the light, and there is also the ignorance versus enlightenment/knowledge dichotomy at play. I enjoy how these poems start to connect in their imagery and themes, once you look at them on a more individual basis.

April:

“Another Incident of Existence Unsung” seems to be about how we are unable to grasp the beauty of nature. Do you think that’s true? In the poem a man witnesses a hummingbird and its beauty moves him, but before he can really understand it he gets caught up in his smallness. I wonder if it’s something that is specific to us now. What I mean by this is that our lives are so busy and revolve around things that generally have nothing to do with nature. Do you think that understand nature is necessary to live a full life? If so, what happens to the people who will never get it?

Samantha:

I got the impression the narrator is facing the end of his life, and observing the details of nature triggers thoughts of his impending death. After “foretaste of heaven,” is when the interruption comes and he makes the switch from simply watching this hummingbird to contemplating his own future. It’s also worth noting that hummingbirds typically symbolize liveliness and positivity, which serves as a contrast to the man’s situation. I agree with you that we’re not very good at observing nature, or even at letting nature take its own course. In my opinion, it’s something we should strive to do, as it can enrich us, and (the way I read this poem) inspire thought about big things in our own lives. Giving attention to nature doesn’t have to be selfless, the way I see it; as in this poem, it can help us confront ourselves in a more honest, unfiltered way.

April:

What are your overall thoughts of this collection? I like the fullness of it. I didn’t feel like it had any gaps. Overall, I enjoyed the social commentary via nature. It has so many different viewpoints that anyone could find a section of poems that will speak to them. I enjoyed this collection.

Samantha:

This is definitely a full collection! It’s on the long side, compared to most poetry books, which can seem overwhelming for some readers, as poetry takes a lot of time to digest. However, it’s a very cohesive collection – the poems are very easy to read together, but readers should take time with these individually, as well, as a lot of big social and philosophical questions are addressed between the lines. A solid collection.

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