In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Deborah Keenan
- Tell us about your poems in Volume 20. How did they come to be?
There’s Nothing Wrong comes from considering what lying means, and also, as for many white writers, trying to understand through image how privilege works, or doesn’t. I also think about the power that people have who tell another person, “There’s Nothing Wrong”—how that phrase has been used to silence others, to convince others that the truth they are carrying around doesn’t matter.
The Saint of Childhood says No to the Dreamland Tree is a pretty private reverie. There are nods to other poems ‘no to the linden tree outside the southern window’, for example, that tree, and that window appear in several poems in several of my books. There’s a gathering of images used by parents and guardians to usher children into sleep, there’s references to certain songs that were sung to me, that I now sing to my granddaughter, there’s the reference to the saint, (and this poem is part of my new manuscript, The Saint of Everything) and, key for this poem, an incantation around the idea of saying no when a child. Both poems chosen for this issue of Water~Stone Review have to do with power, who has it, and who doesn’t.
- What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
A father who was a drunk, travel that gave me a big world, parents with a reverence for the written word, and spending much of my childhood outside. An impossible question to answer, of course. I could list a hundred more experiences, but I won’t!
- How has writing shaped your life?
Since my early 20s, writing has granted sanity, private space, a clarity about what I value, a place to bring my bewilderment, my anger, my sense of beauty, my understanding of sorrow, my understanding and lack of understanding about race, class, privilege, a place to honor my children, and a place, in each poem, to come into deeper understanding about what to share and what to remain private about. Writing (and publishing) led to jobs that mattered, to thousands of remarkable students, to fellowships that helped me provide for my family, and to a million books to read and study and consider. I continue to be in a state of gratitude about what the act of writing poetry has meant in my life.
- What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
This is a much better question for a much younger writer! Most writers who do their work and stay humble have been inspired by so many
writers, artists, filmmakers, dancers, and musicians it is impossible to make a truthful list. Here are a few names from long ago and from more recently: Muriel Rukeyser, Joseph Cornell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Laura Jensen, John Yau, John Ashbery, Elizabeth Alexander, Susan Ludvigson, Susan Stewart, Ross Gay, Shirley Jackson, Tomas Transtromer, Yehuda Amichai, Martin Espada, Adrienne Rich, Wendy Lesser, Charles Burchfield, Cornelius Eady, a thousand writers of great songs, a thousand more poets, painters, and, of course, my colleagues and friends in the artistic and literary communities that thrive around the world.
- What projects are you working on right now?
I have just finished (again) my book, The Saint of Everything, and hope to have the courage and the will to send it out soon to presses who do work that I admire. I am almost done with a new collection, John Brandon’s Sentences, that uses sentences from John’s books as my titles for each piece. I’m grateful to John for allowing me to make my art with his beautiful sentences. I am working on my first really three-dimensional collage piece, using an old screen from the house I grew up in.
Visit Deborah’s website here.