Saturday, February 28, 2009

Michelle Boisseau

Michelle Boisseau is professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she also serves as associate editor of BkMk Press. She is the author of four books of poetry, including the newly published A Sunday in God-Years.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Q. Where does the title come from?

I'm not sure I remember how I came up with it. But it came out of a notion that if you step back, way back in time and look down on earth from a god's-eye view, all human history, really every event on earth, might look like it happened on a Sunday afternoon when God was taking a nap. Strange as it might sound, I find comfort in taking a long view. Holding in your hand a fossil imbedded with the shell of creature that existed 450 million years ago you connect yourself to lost ages and to what literally endures, connect to the time before the tongue or the eye had evolved, when even the master of our world, the sun, was a youngster.

Q. Which is the first poem you wrote for the book?

Funny thing, in a sense, the first poem for this book is a poem in my last book, Trembling Air (Arkansas 2003), the poem "Haloes Stippled with Crosses, Roses ... ." This poem and the long poem "A Reckoning" in A Sunday in God-Years were originally part of another very long poem which I decided at one point wasn't working. Most of it got composted and from that soil grew these other poems. All along I felt discomfort handling this slippery material. Where do I get off writing about this stuff? A middle-class white woman whose family were slave-holders, who benefitted from the system which caused, and continues to cause, devastation? I spent a lot of time reading and staring out the window and throwing out false starts and being frustrated.

In his The Slave Trade Thomas describes how gold in the art of middle-ages came from Africa, from secret trade routes that were also associated with slavery. This fascinated and horrified me. I have a great love for the Italian art implicated —Giotto, Martini, Fra Angelico. I might read their sacred images ironically, but I find their work moving. I started to think about how beauty is mixed up with suffering. I don't mean beauty as the very pretty, but beauty as a force, the kind of mysterious force you feel emanating from a Fra Angelico or a Mozart concerto. What does it mean when something beautiful is entangled with evil? Does it mean anything? What's my responsibility in writing about it? How can a poem consider how the White House and Capitol were built with slave labor without just belaboring the obvious. The nasty Medicis made possible amazing art. Thousands (millions?) of kids across this country owe to a Carnegie Library some of the best moments of their childhoods (I know I do), for the quiet and dignity they found in going to a lovely library that was built by a horrible man. Slavery and genocide built the empires on which the modern world lives.

As did the ancient world.
Read the complete Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue