Write what you know. It’s easy to tire of the adage, to bristle as the tweedy, bespectacled creative-writing-instructor-within brandishes his red pen at the slightest intimation of the unknown: dark matter, psychic surgery, monkey robot vampires from Planet Zed. When we asked 11.1 contributors Eric Pankey, Lesley Parry, and Michael Marberry to discuss their process, a shared theme emerged: exotic locales. Pankey writes about the lavender fields near Senanque Abbey in Provence; Parry about a state park built around sulfur springs outside Orlando, Florida; and Marberry about that strangest, yet most familiar of foreign places: the womb. Read on to discover how Pankey, Parry, and Marberry negotiate these and other realms.
Eric Pankey: Both these poems were drafted in Provence in the summer of 2013, when I had the luxury of a month-long fellowship and residency at the Dora Maar House. Both poems are located in the same place, Senanque Abbey, a lovely medieval Cistercian abbey, founded in 1148, and well-known for its lavender fields, which were in bloom when I visited, walked the property, and attended Vespers. The moments attended to in the poems continued to lengthen then foreshorten in memory, and the poems attempt to capture the stillness, the mutability of those moments.
Lesley Parry: While I was a resident at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, a woman named Kim suggested I visit a state park nearby. She told me there was a restaurant on the grounds where you could cook pancakes right at your table. (Pancakes! I was sold!) But when I arrived at De Leon Springs, I was struck not only by its extraordinary beauty, but by its history, until then unknown to me. Years ago it had been a resort (featuring, yes, a water-skiing elephant) and before that the site of settlements, plantations, and wars. I spent the day there, watching for birds, walking the silent trails. Around this same time I’d been thinking about my sister, who worked as a singer on a cruise-ship. It’s a strange psychological terrain you enter when you live and work in the same confined space with the same group of people for months on end—the shorthand, the melodrama, the déjà vu. I’d been thinking about what that kind of intimacy and monotony does to your sense of self—to your notions of autonomy, complicity, and duty. So as I wandered the paths around the park, fueled by pancakes, imagining what had passed before, those two terrains overlapped to form the bedrock of this story. (And wherever you are, Kim, thank you.)
Michael Marberry: The first of these two poems published in 11.1 (“second son”) enacts the speaker’s failed attempt to accurately describe a recurring dream in which he is, simultaneously, a) being conceived; b) a fetus in the womb; and c) already an adult. The boat piercing the water’s surface is overt sex; the firework imagery is both literal and figurative, so to speak. There is a failure in language to capture the dream to the speaker’s liking. But starting over again doesn’t help: The feelings of being accidental and unwanted seem passed on from the nameless, faceless father—a sort of perverse (genetic?) inheritance, a lineage of shameful bastards.
The second of these two poems (“future son”) enacts the speaker’s failed attempt to provide clarity and foresight. The speaker of this poem is a possibility and not, necessarily, a certainty—someone from one potential future among many. Even then, we would like some answers to our questions, which he is happy to provide. But absent the questions themselves, the answers are only modestly insightful. There’s some Don Rumsfeld (of all people!) thrown in for “good” measure—i.e., what we know we know, what we know we don’t know, what we don’t know we know, and what we don’t know we don’t know. Like “second son,” it’s a bit about loss and being sad, even at losing what we don’t know we’re losing.