Ruth Foley, the poet in our Poet-Novelist judging duo for cahoodaloodaling‘s 2015 In Cahoots Contest, shares with us a little about her recent chapbook, collaborating, and her co-judge, Patrick Shawn Bagley.
Raquel Thorne: I’m a big fan of your chapbook Dear Turquoise from dancing girl press (2013) and can’t wait to get my hands on your newest, Creature Feature (ELJ Publications, 2015). Of your writing, you recently said, “I ask a lot of questions. I use the word ‘if’ a lot. I am much more comfortable with lack of knowing in a poem than in other parts of my life. I almost wrote ‘than in real life’ there, but if poems aren’t real life, I don’t know what is.” What questions do you explore in your new collection?
Ruth Foley: My first instinct is to say that I’m not exploring anything to do with real life, because Creature Feature is not only drawn from monster movies, it’s drawn from monster movies that, in some cases at least, are closing in on being a hundred years old. Isn’t that wild? Hundred year-old movies? But the fact is that the poems aren’t really about the movies at all—they’re about the monsters, sure, and some of the other characters, and the actors who played them. At their heart, though, they’re about us.
I’m interested in questions of masks and humanity, of the way we treat each other, about how frightened we are of differences. I wasn’t thinking about these poems as political when I was writing them, but I was thinking about the othering that we do, the ways in which we comfort ourselves with the thought that we are normal while so-and-so is not. As if “normal” is a thing that exists. The monsters in Creature Feature are across the board more human than the humans, more “normal” than the characters who are supposed to be just regular people. I was also thinking about the sexual politics of the time, the ways in which these films portray men and women, the assumptions we as audience were expected to make, and how little some of these ideas have changed. Of course all of that is political.
I also might explore the question of whether Boris Karloff would have been my boyfriend if he hadn’t died six months before I was born. (Yes. Yes, he would.)
Raquel Thorne: What does collaboration mean to you as a poet?
Ruth Foley: Oh, all kinds of things. I’ve written collaboratively—with a fiction writer, although I stuck to poems; and as an essayist. I encourage my students to write collaboratively. And I have a tight-knit pack of poets who inspire and support me in multiple ways. I don’t think of myself as a collaborative poet, but that might be because, apart from the exceptions listed above, I don’t tend to draft collaboratively. But the influence of my writer friends—from across genres, but especially my poet friends—is all over my work. I have a rotating cast of characters in my head that serve as audience when I’m drafting, and whose concerns I keep in mind (although I’m just as likely to ignore those as not). I love nothing better than a great stretch of time—a long afternoon or a late night—talking to poets. They’re super-smart people, for one thing, and engaged with the world in all sorts of different ways, and they’ve all read stuff I haven’t read and seen movies I haven’t seen and thought about things I haven’t thought about in quite the same way if at all, and all of it goes churning into my brain and, if I’m lucky, comes out as something that’s totally mine but which wouldn’t have existed without them. They also keep me laughing, which I think does a great service to a poet. Or to anyone else, probably.
Raquel Thorne: Now this part’s like a game show: Can you tell us something cool about Patrick Shawn Bagley that he’d be too shy to share himself?
Ruth Foley: I am trying to imagine Patrick being shy about anything at any time, and I have to say I’m coming up pretty short. He’s funny and smart and knows how and where to bury a body, so we get along just fine. Which is good, because he’s smart and knows how and where to bury a body. And he’s a tough guy, but he’s got a giant heart, which he shows in little bits and pieces when he talks about his work or the beauty of Maine. If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near Patrick, buy him a beer for me, please. I’ll pay you back later.
Stay tuned for our interview with Patrick Shawn Bagley!
Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two greyhounds, one of whom sometimes gets mistaken for a cow. Her work is easy to find online and in her chapbooks, Dear Turquoise (dancing girl press 2013) and Creature Feature (ELJ Publications 2015). She is easy to find at fivethingsthatdontsuck.blogspot.com or by looking at her sofa. She serves as Managing Editor for Cider Press Review