“The Next Big Thing” is a blog hop in which authors around the world share what they’re working on by responding to ten questions. Thorpe Moeckel was invited by the poet Carol Moldaw, whose Next Big Thing post can be found here. Thorpe has tagged Luke Johnson, Erin Ganaway, and Laura-Gray Street, whose blogs will be up the week following this one. Erin and Laura-Gray will share their answers to these questions here, on this blog, while Luke Johnson will post his answers here.
What is your working title of your book?
The rowdy working title is: Space Cadet & The Ecologic Boogaloo
The less rowdy working title is: Venison, Okra, Milk in a Pail
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The manuscript-in-progress is a cycle of three long poems, each roughly fifty to seventy pages with no sequencing/sections to them. The first poem, Venison, was published as a book by Etruscan Press in 2010. The other two poems are Okra and Milk in a Pail. The manuscript also includes, in endnotes, recipe-poems from meals mentioned in the poem.
Each poem works in and against a narrative frame that involves a few to several hours working on one of the many food systems on my family’s little farm. My wife Kirsten and my oldest daughter Sophie are gifted farmers. They have the vision, the knowledge, the stubbornness, and the endurance to raise animals and plants in loving ways, ways that make the land and watershed healthier. They also have the sticktiutiveness to preserve the food raised in efficient, surprising, and tasty ways.
I follow their lead, try to be a good farmhand, maintenance man. I have experience as a carpenter and handyman; indeed, my mentors in those fields, guys (they wouldn’t like being called masters, though they are) like Joseph Martin, John Towers, H. Ball, and others deeply influence my daily life as well as my writing. I love playing with tools, getting dirty, shoveling and hauling stuff. It’s a nice way to start and end the day. Especially during the academic year when I teach at Hollins, it’s restorative to have endlessly various and interesting chores and repair projects to keep me from obsessing too much on the strangenesses of (m)academia.
Each poem has a narrative frame — working up a deer with the family in late fall, helping Sophie milk the goats one summer morning, and tilling some garden beds for fall planting while Kirsten and the twins harvest okra — but the speaker of these poems obsesses and swerves into and out of the tasks at hand, riffing on everything — space, place, music, family, love, death, tools, guns, wood, animals, farming, memories, anecdotes, nature, the nature of nature, and so on.
So the idea for the book is simple: to make sense of the life lived (those are Raymond Carver’s words, from his blurb on Denis Johnson’s poetry book: The Throne of the Nation’s Third Millennium General Assembly). The kind of writing I like to do comes from immediate experiences as well as experiences in reflection, with reading and discussion in subjects pertinent, at least tangentially so, to those experiences. I believe that this kind of writing helps me to live more fully while also shaping in positive ways the life to come. The guiding principle is to live a full life as generously and kindly as possible, to acknowledge and work on my shortcomings, and to get some words down every day along these lines, hoping and praying that they are words wrung out of me by decent, grateful living.
What genre does your book fall under?
Long poem cycle.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
We’re a terminally do-it-yourself family, so we’d likely run an add on Craigslist, something to the effect of — “Will trade fresh duck eggs or lamb or goat milk in exchange for the use of your GoPro camera. Need at least ten cameras.” Should this work, we’d then mount these cameras on our hats as well as on our sheep, goats, Great Pyrenees, and other critters. We’d set some up in strategic locations in the barn, fields, and gardens – the hothouses and cold frames as well. Heavy editing would need done. I’d hope for something like Malick’s Days of Heaven – that flavor, not all the murder, with music as well by Ennio Morricone.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It comes from Emerson: “Nature does not like to observed, and likes that we should be her fools and her playmates.”
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
One press has expressed enthusiastic interest, and I sure hope that works out; otherwise, I’ll shop the ms. around to various presses.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Two of the three long poems are complete. The third is getting there. Venison came first, was started in 2006/7 after extensive research/fieldwork.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Some writers and books that have been inspiring reading for me while working on these poems: Mackenzie’s Goat Husbandry, Ammons’ long poems, Clarice Lispector, Lara Glenum’s poetry, various writings in and about ecopoetry and the ‘new’ pastoral, William Bryant Logan’s Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, the magazine Permaculture Activist, Bronislaw Malinowski, the poets Charles Wright, Adelia Prado, and Emily Wilson, Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization. Also, my oldest daughter plays old time fiddle, so those standard tunes – Whiskey Before Breakfast and many others — are in my ear a lot and show up in the poems.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The authors mentioned above as well as many other writers and artists in various mediums. My colleagues and students at Hollins University and the Tinker Mountain Writer’s Workshop. Philip Brady at Etruscan Press, who published Venison, has been greatly encouraging. Also, the deer, goats, poultry, plants, soil, weather, views, and seasons at our place. My family, obviously, is inspiring, including our two year old twin boy and girl, William and Ola Rose, who came along in 2011, shaping these poems and our lives in wild-loving ways.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
There’s a lot of how-to in and out of the narrative line of these poems, and while these how-to moments serve to temper some of the stranger metaphysical/lyrical riffs, I think you could read this manuscript and get tips, gentle, rueful tips both practical and spiritual, for raising, gathering, preserving food, and cooking good meals. How to build a goat milking stand from salvaged lumber, for instance, gets explored, as does tilling techniques, no-till growing techniques, and how to work up a deer, harvest, strain, and chill goat milk, what feeds are decent, etc. — it’s endless.