The Dailiness by Lauren Camp from Edwin E. Smith, 2013
An Interview with Lauren Camp
Michelle Aldredge: I like the close attention you pay to daily encounters in your book. The image of “folding” appears again and again throughout the collection. Can you tell me more about how this image creates a consistent thread through the book and why it has resonance for you?
Lauren Camp: I wasn’t aware of how often “folding” appeared in the book until an editor pointed it out, but I’m sure it comes from my work as an artist — rolling, turning and layering fabric, pushing paint colors into others, and stacking objects. I think it’s how I create. With writing, I try to manipulate language to build emotional resonance.
Michelle: I was struck by this quote on your website: “Lauren Camp consistently and creatively uses art, voice, poetry and sound to address social and environmental concerns, and to draw people and communities together.” In addition to being a poet, you are also a visual artist and host a radio show about music. What do these different mediums mean to you as an artist? In what ways do they inform each other or become specific outlets for expressing certain ideas?
Lauren: Music is the most unlike the others, since I don’t make it; I mix it. But I visualize music as colors and, sometimes, as shapes. This mirrors my sense that poetry should fill a page, or an ear, with shape and sound. (I value, too, negative space and silence. Those are equally critical to any composition, whether literary or visual.)
For a long time, I believed my mediums were entirely separate and needed to be kept that way. I figured I should never mention all three (art, poetry, sound/music) together, but pick the correct one for a particular conversation and stick to that. At some point, though, it became difficult to differentiate these parts. I realized that they each borrow from, or lean on, the others. I am not representing who I am accurately, and I am not whole, without all three.
When I want to express something, I usually know which way to do so: poetry or art. But, within that, what sort of poem, what sort of art? I’ve dealt with social and environmental concerns in both genres. I’ve dealt with lyricism in both, too.
Michelle: Who are some of your favorite musicians, artists, and writers? Who helped shape and inform your creative work as an artist?
Lauren: I’m entranced by Thelonious Monk’s pauses, Romare Bearden’s magnificent collages, Cy Twombly’s scribbles, Eva Hesse’s strange repetition. I’m delighted by visionary artists and by my students’ uncertain attempts at writing.
I’m an avid reader of novels, poems, essays, and fall in love daily with lines, sentences, stanzas. I couldn’t begin to list the wonderful writers who make me gasp. Or those who make me jealous. But I am grateful to them for reminding me what could be written, and for showing me how it is done. They raise the bar, and I struggle to create something equally powerful.
Every day, I become besotted with colors all over again, whether it’s the hue of the grass or the sky, or two articles of clothing put together. I like colors now that I once thought were repulsive (think what I could do with pink, for example!), and sometimes find that I am bored by colors that might have seemed marvelous last week. I am wowed anew by Duke Ellington, by the oud or the bass clarinet and the shades they make.
Michelle: Can you tell me about some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced trying to live the life of an artist? And on the flip side, what are some of the rewards of living a creative life?
Lauren: I love the extremes of being an artist — of having my mind endlessly busy with color, vibration, space and language, and in writing, especially, of being forced to be so honest with myself that something opens, something expands. There are, of course, great problems in all this creativity, besides the finances: the issue of time; the self-doubt that wings in now and again; the exhausting, repeated lesson of patience; and the overactive sensitivity that is the underside of looking, listening, attending, caring.
Drama Class, 1989
No set or costume, no one else on stage,
just the thin sound of my tongue uttering
a long sheet of Tillie Olsen’s weary words.
It was the wrong choice, this monologue.
I had not yet pressed my life into creases
or folds, hadn’t even a small furrow of pain.
In class, my soft hands sprawled along
an invisible board, ironing abstract air.
I groped for next lines, my right arm floating
in an eccentric display of space.
Steadfast on the script, my light voice
draped with youth. The iron zigged
and scorched, then nosed up. Poor Mrs. E,
the drama teacher, who pressed on me
to let exhaustion settle in, to let it steam
from Tillie’s worn dark story.
Slowly! she warned, all stiff and calicoed.
Iron as you do at home. Concentrate.
Be particular about the sleeves and seams.
But I had never shaped a shirt, never
laundered a mistake, didn’t know to poke
toward sags and puckers, how to wait.
That fake iron couldn’t straighten any life.
I needed time to bend and smooth
some dangers, to snag and mess again.
Back then my life was long, unrolled —
everything flat, still frivolous, unwrinkled.
“…you cup your hands / And gulp from them the dailiness of life.”
— Randall Jarrell
Taos, May 2011
An arc of dusk climbs the back of twilight. We watch
a spliced horizon.
Across from Ft. Burgwin
K focuses his binoculars on a cloud. Night pours by
June 4, 2:12 pm
“Tea or grass,” she asks when I arrive: twisted, tense.
Welcome to share leaves from her drawer.
Hyde Park, New Mexico foothills
We hunt paths down the mountain. Spread streets with tires.
Drive until sun drapes on clouds.
Through holes, the dense drone of light.
All intersections and space. Boxes.
Northern New Mexico, Tuesday, August 9, 2011, 3:31 pm
I hide from stitches of sun — dry and long.
Our mountain continues standing still.
October 8, La Cienega bedroom
Yesterday I didn’t tell you no.
I opened wider in the dusk.
Whole Foods, October 8
keeps sticking her hands in the bulk bin: all crystal ginger.
Clocks always argue for and against.
Halfway fast — or folded behind.
When you say no, I murmur back
in whispers. We leave short arguments
on the floor for later. I manage the house.
Or can’t manage.
9 o’clock unfolds but time exaggerates
into a cup of tea and clover flowers.
A short talk on what’s real
while I pet the missing cat.
Not touching makes us vulnerable
to constellations of red,
so we paint the kitchen. Knives gather
The landscape is spectacle and serrated.
Outside, three dogs carousing, a tent of juniper,
an inverted hourglass of light.
Let me try again to explain.
The story goes backward at one point,
leaving only broken dots of color. She folds the heartache
between pages of a book she doesn’t like. Are you in love?
Yes, she would’ve said
— and no. She is bigger now, still tender.
An Old Story
The moon laughs, but this is an old story,
jam green and fat around the middle,
the burden of proof on one unlucky man
who climbed a tree and touched an apple,
tasted the sugar of distraction. In the beginning,
the man lived in a world without form.
God made the man from dust and thorns.
God gathered particles of heaven and earth
to build a paradise around that man who watched
waters curve into banners and turn ocean.
The man heard sounds he’d never known.
He marveled at the wild beasts.
He lived in the garden with all creeping things
and the fish and fowl. When God gave the man a woman
to play with, the man smelled the woman all over,
and God saw this was good. Man took the woman into him;
he married her. He built a house from wood
he found nearby; he fell asleep in her reliable arms.
Then God gave man another woman.
God was too busy creating light
to pay attention. The man cleaved to the other woman
and her rib bones, the parts lower down that fold and pucker,
and something was severed in his house.
No one talked very loud; there was nothing to say.
God kept working on his world; no time to rest.
He created secrets, then rage and fingernails.
God fermented the plants that grew in the Garden,
and man drank the liquid every day, every night
until strange creatures swam inside the man.
God continued in a bustle of activity. Time was tenuous,
passing — day four, day five. Day six: locks
and cell phones, then God created Xanax, Serax,
Zoloft and Prozac, credit cards and email,
Paxil and headaches, lying and lawyers.
And on the seventh day, God rested.
It is easy to be overlooked, easy
to suffer the salt-drunk beauty of a tired
town, the tides of private laughter.
I am here to see the water,
to hear a sea gone mad
with endless moistured breath.
Every day, one hour later than the day
before, I tend the sea, study the same sand.
Low tide is when the music comes:
the call of terns at war for territory,
curve of wind across the open,
talking stripes of light,
sucking sound of rubber boot
on saturated shore,
dug-up slurp of quahogs from sand.
At dusk, I pass through,
hear brown men sing,
hold their mysteries in paper bags.
Angels, the pretty boys,
flutter at the east side coffee shop,
men with hair so calligraphed,
so jeweled gold. Narrow bodies,
short skirts, quick drags on hookah pipes,
a faint swell of gentle coughs.
By night, I see rain through the screen,
corrosive anxious heavens,
then open the door to hear inside the water.
Interred in a floated house,
a captain’s six-room cottage,
wind reduced to howls, repeating waves
of slamming sound, I have been quiet
weeks, in conversation only
with the fossils on a beach.
About Lauren Camp
Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including Brilliant Corners, Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Redivider, Nimrod and J Journal. Lauren has also guest edited special sections for World Literature Today (on jazz poetry) and for Malpaís Review (on the poetry of Iraq). She has received residencies at The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the Gaea Foundation, and was one of nine jurors for the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. In 2012, she won The Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award.
Lauren is also a visual artist, working primarily with the medium of fabric. Her artwork has found its way into children’s hospitals, public housing, police stations, community centers, United States Embassies in Ukraine, Turkmenistan and Mali, and other organizations around the world. As an artist, she is perhaps best known for “The Fabric of Jazz,” her series of jazz portraits. This series toured museums in ten U.S. cities between January 2004 and September 2007. Thousands viewed the spirited, musical exhibit. As one viewer stated, “Lauren Camp’s art forces dialogue. Her truth taps into all our truths. Every line that she draws leads us back to the human.”
Also, since 2004, Lauren has been a producer and host for KSFR-FM, Santa Fe Public Radio. Her show, “Audio Saucepan,” intertwines a genre-defying mix of music with contemporary poetry. The program airs Sundays from 6-7PM Mountain Standard Time. Lauren teaches creative writing workshops and works one-on-one with writers. Whenever she can find a moment, she offers thoughts on poetry and fine writing on her blog, Which Silk Shirt. Lauren Camp holds a BS in human development from Cornell University, and a dual concentration Master’s degree in oral interpretation of literature and advertising / public relations from Emerson College.
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All poems © Lauren Camp. All Rights Reserved. These poems appear in The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith Publishing) and were reprinted with permission from the author and publisher.