Beth McDermott’s new chapbook HOW TO LEAVE A FARMHOUSE interview

November 3, 2015 Announcements 4853 Views

Below is an excerpt from an interview our poetry editor, Beth McDermott, gave to The Chapbook Interview concerning her recent chapbook, How to Leave a Farmhouse. She says some wonderful things about Kudzu House in the excerpt, but you should really check out the full interview on The Chapbook Interview‘s website.

Cover photo.

Cover from publisher’s website.

Excerpt from “BETH MCDERMOTT ON PEDAGOGY: ‘WE DON’T MAKE CLAIMS IN ISOLATION’”

Your chapbook How to Leave a Farmhouse is a lovely mediation of the past and the natural world, as well as how to read nature by the way scientists, poets, photographers, and others suggest such work might be done. Your work as an editor at Kudzu Houseputs you in contact with writers who are exploring work that’s “motivated by concerns with human’s place in the world.” The site notes the journal’s name comes from two words, kudzu, meaning “a species invasive to the south,” and house, from Greek: oῗkoc, “eco”. Talk about the ecological work of a chapbook. In your answer, also discuss the new types of nature writing that you find invigorating.

I do think chapbooks can do ecological work, but I think such work is different from what a journal can do.  Perhaps the obvious difference is that a chapbook has less variety in its pages; at Kudzu House, for example, we’re publishing scholarly criticism and book reviews alongside poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  Anyone who happens upon our journal is going to have the option to explore various types of responses to our global ecological crisis.  (And I do meanexplore; we offer digital access to all of our journal’s content at no cost to the reader.)  In addition, Kudzu is a group effort.  Although there are exceptions to every rule, we have multiple people weighing in on the merits of the piece–not just whether or not it’s good writing, but if it fits with the mission of the journal.  In fact, the editorial process is a reminder to carry our ideal–that of a biocentric stance toward the environment–with us into the work that we ultimately publish.

My chapbook might not reach as many people as an online journal, but I think it’s doing a different kind of ecological work by hopefully stimulating conversation among myself, the reader, and the artists and scientists whose perspectives inform my poems.  I’m going to sound like a composition instructor for a moment (and I am one:), but I’d argue that we don’t make claims in isolation, and I feel the same way about the poems in my chapbook (i.e. I don’t make poems in isolation either).  The world could use more conversation, more overlapping of various perspectives, in our quest to try and understand what life is like for someone or something else.  I’m not claiming that my poems do this, but it’s a goal I have in the back of my mind.  I am, however, ok with saying that my poems explore the inability to state clearly what is ruin or art object, urban or rural, natural or artificial.  I’m fascinated by the human animal’s inability to know everything, even though, as Jorie Graham writes in “The Age of Reason,” “there is no deep enough.”

I find invigorating the work being published in journals such as PoecologyOrion or Terrain.org.  Orionauthors Eva Saulitis and Sy Montgomery have written fantastic prose pieces that I’ve brought into the classroom, and I consult Terrain’s “Recommended Reads” when I’m looking for new books to read or teach.  But, to be honest, my reading is all over the place, and something becomes “nature writing” even if it’s not overtly ecological.  Take a fairly recent chapbook by Jill Osier: Should Our Undoing Come Down Upon Us White (Bull City Press).  I love this chapbook.  It’s beautifully written and incredibly visceral.  With poems about Alaskan weather (a magnified version of our harshest Chicago winter nights), I feel like I’m actually hibernating: cold to the bone but simultaneously warmed by the flames and embers flickering through Osier’s poems.  To my mind, “good” nature writing seems to do this; that is, it evokes an environment with criticism and longing, disappointment and nostalgia, and the speaker can’t completely separate her perspective from the place she draws with such care.

[Qtd from The Chapbook Interview. Originally published 1 November 2015]


Congrats, Beth! I hope all of you will check out the complete interview and grab a copy of How to Leave a Farmhouse today!

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