By Leslie Lindsay
Myth, legend, landscape…lush and razor-sharp lines…HINGE is exactly that: revealing and concealing–sometimes squeaky–moments in time.
~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
Aside from the arresting cover, HINGE by Molly Spencer (Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, 2020) is a gorgeous meditation of motherhood, the passage of time, a stunted world–in terms of all–land, home, marriage, and body. There’s a great deal of tension and then well-earned release, the world and imagery rich in details and texture, about creation and recreation, told in a simply elegant, yet mournful voice. I have a wealth of images trapped in my mind from the words–and worlds–created within these pages. It’s about space and homes and how they all tie together, but also seasons and cycles and interiority.
HINGE is the perfect read for the bleaker days of late fall, into winter, as we naturally fold within ourselves.
Molly Spencer’s poetry has appeared in various well-known and recognized literary journals. She is a poetry editor for Rumpus, and this collection won the Crab Orchard Series Open Competition in Poetry 2019.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Molly Spencer to the author interview series.
Molly, it’s great to chat. Thank you. HINGE…oh my! I love everything about it. It’s visceral, it’s chilling, it’s elegant. How can it be all things simultaneously? Can you talk about the origins of this collection?
I began writing this collection many years ago, long before I thought I might ever have a book or be a poet. To put it in context, my kids were tiny when I began the work of this book—not even all in school yet—and now two are in high school and one is in college. The poems came out of my experience of serious illness and of being very ill but undiagnosed for about ten years starting when my oldest (now 19) was a baby—and then eventually getting a diagnosis of the autoimmune condition lupus. In many ways it’s an elegy for the life I thought I’d have and didn’t—a life in a relatively healthy body, that is, and capable of taking care of my family, capable of doing all the things I loved to do, and of playing with my kids, pushing them on the swings, taking them sledding. And it’s an elegy for the person I was before having to reckon with my own physical suffering and the limits of a chronically ill body.
“In Hinge, Molly Spencer speaks to us from both sides of a door ajar. As observer and observed, mother and patient, the poet recounts her constant movement between deep interior darknesses and the thin winter light outside. Tender and profound, Hinge’s powerful portrait of survival offers us a thing with feathers—a hope that flits between rooms, from shadow to light, before settling down to stay. What an extraordinary collection, every line fueled by a resilient, remarkable heart.”
—Jennifer Richter, author of No Acute Distress and Threshold
Can you talk a little about your process? Are you a planner when it comes to poetry? Do you let the pen do the work?
I’m not a planner. I let language do the work. For me poems usually begin with a scrap of language or sometimes an image that more or less announces itself in my mind, and my first impulse is always to resist it. To not write the poem. But for those scraps and images that won’t leave me alone, I usually relent and see what happens if I put it down on the page.
My process depends heavily on reading. I read more than I write, and about the admonition so often tossed about in writerly circles—that one must write every day—in my world, reading counts just as much as writing, if not more. It’s often the work of other poets that leads me to my own poem-making territory, or that somehow conjures those scraps of language, those seeds-of-poems. I can’t pretend I understand how that happens, exactly; only that it happens.
I write in the early morning hours, a practice I began when my kids were little because it was the only time of day when there was any hope of being undisturbed. And now it’s just a part of my day, like brushing my teeth and making the bed.
I get the sense you’re inspired by nature and homes, family and fear, too. Which, yes…I adore. Can you talk about what you do to keep the saw sharp? What is going through your mind when the page is blank?
Wordsworth, right? “Fair seed time had my soul, and I grew up / Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear… .” As a girl, I spent long hours outside wandering through the woods near my house, and felt a deep connection to the landscape of home in West Michigan’s orchard country, not far from the dunes and beaches of what Michiganders call “the big lake”—Lake Michigan.
But mainly I’m inspired by language. As I said, that’s where a poem almost always starts for me: with words that arrive and persist.
What do I do to keep the saw sharp? Again, I read. I spend a lot of time studying the diction and syntax of other poets, and examining how they handle the line—trying to understand the work these choices do in the poem and what they enact for the reader. And I write, even if it’s just one word or a short list of words. I don’t worry when the page is blank or mostly blank. I trust that if I attend to language and to my interior life that the poems will arrive in their time.
What do you consider the best thing you’ve done as a writer? Whether poetry or prose?
Just that I’ve kept at it. That’s all.
While this collection is titled, HINGE, I found many references to ‘roof.’ And I love this. I love how roofs protect and crown, but also, they collapse. Can you talk about how you see this structure and were you aware of how frequently (at least to me), it seems to appear in this collection?
Ah, the roof. One of my earliest memories is of standing on the roof of my girlhood home with my dad. He was probably doing something practical like cleaning out the gutters or checking for storm damage, but I was up there having an existential moment, seeing things from high up for the first time, surveying my little world.
I see the roof like any other boundary, I suppose, any other liminal structure like doors or walls. I think I tend not to trust such structures: the door can open or close on you, the roof and walls can shift, even fall in. But a roof also protects, right, keeps the rain off? And as a mother of young ones, I felt very much like I had to be the roof over my children’s heads, I had to keep the weather at bay. And at the same time, I knew I couldn’t, especially then, because my body was collapsing—so it was both figurative and very nearly literal for me at the time.
I’m sure I did not realize how often roofs were recurring in my poems for a long while, but yes, after a time it became clear that the roof was a recurring image in Hinge.
I could probably ask questions all day. But one more—what’s obsessing you these days and how do obsessions fuel a writer’s soul?
I’m about to repeat myself, I’m afraid, but I’m mainly obsessed with language, with its sounds and rhythms, and with what it’s capable of and what it’s not. I’m obsessed with silence, too—silence as “the nothing that is,” as Wallace Stevens wrote. Right now, I’m also a little bit obsessed with light, with quantum physics (which is to say space-time), with the horizon (so many childhood days at the beach, looking out across endless water), and with what I think of as the “late-early” work of Jorie Graham. I think obsessions are just a consciousness trying to perceive something. That something may or may not be directly related to the obsession itself. In this way, I think obsessions can lead writers to our material if we let them.
Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this #bookstagram #alwayswithabook
For more information, to connect with Molly Spencer via social media, or to purchase a copy of HINGE, please visit:
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I was reminded, in part, of Laurie Patton’s HOUSE CROSSING, but also the specifics of space as depicted in Gaston Bachelard’s THE POETICS OF SPACE meets classical mythology.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Molly Spencer is a poet, critic, and editor. Her debut collection, If the House (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019) won the 2019 Brittingham Prize judged by Carl Phillips. A second collection, Hinge (SIU Press, 2020) won the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition judged by Allison Joseph. Molly’s recent poetry has appeared in Blackbird, Copper Nickel, FIELD, The Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner. Her critical writing and essays have appeared at Colorado Review, The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review online, Literary Hub, The Writer’s Chronicle, and The Rumpus, where she is a senior poetry editor. Her poems have won a Lucile Medwick Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, and a Writers@Work Fellowship Award. She holds an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and an MPA from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Molly teaches writing at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, and forthcoming in The Family Narrative Project (FNP) and Semicolon. Her photography was featured on the cover of Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal. The 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this fall. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
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~UPDATED, 2nd EDITION OF SPEAKING OF APRAXIA coming soon from WOODBINE HOUSE!~
represented by Catalyst Literary Management: MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory
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[Cover and author image courtesy of M. Spencer and used with permission. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this #bookstagram #alwayswithabook]