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Patrick Lawler

Q & A with Students of Jeffrey Ethan Lee at University of Northern Colorado {04/05/2007}





1. Ruth Zachary asks: In your poem titled "Motion (Zeno) Puzzles through Spring(Carson)," the parenthetical brackets throughout this poem are different than your usual form in other poems. Did you use the brackets to represent the disruptive human element in nature, or did you use them for some other purpose?

Patrick: This poem went through a number of revisions. Zeno is used because of his puzzles that propose that motion is an illusion. I love his logic and his intellect. On the other hand, we have Rachel Carson who recognizes process and movement as essential characteristics of life. The parentheses both separate and connect these two approaches—one abstract and fragmented and the other interconnected and vibrant.

For me the parentheses certainly set off—but they also contain, like cups.



2-5. Julie Snoeck asks 4 questions: What is the particular significance (if any) of the cover art, the "Dora and Lucy" sculpture?

Patrick: I love the sculpture on the cover. It is done by Gail Scott White, and I first saw it displayed in an art park in central New York. The full title of the piece is "Lucy and Dora Discuss Freud." You can see that even the name fits into the collection. (Lucy and Dora were two of Freud's case studies—and many of his misperceptions about gender and particularly female sexuality are presented in those case studies. So here we have these powerful 7-8 foot metal female figures finally empowered as they have an opportunity to express themselves.) Since many of the poems in the book deal with the interconnectedness of gender, race, and environmental issues, it seemed appropriate to have Lucy and Dora on the cover.


Have you found a publisher for the final QUINTESSENCE book? When might we expect it to be available as one collective piece?

Patrick: I do not have a publisher yet. I am concentrating on getting the fourth book published.


Which comes first, the poem or the title?

Patrick: It varies. Sometimes the title and then other times the poem. I wrote a lot of these poems with similar titles, and actually the book was almost twice its current length. Some of the titles were better than the poems, and some of the poems were better than the titles. And on that special occasion, they seemed just right—and I tried to include these poems in the final version of the book.


Your poems show connections between fear and love, what saves us and what kills us, reality and fantasy. What about the connection between the father theme and the environmental theme? In our discussion, we noted a recurrence of substitution and/or cure-seeking. Would those things apply to both father AND the earth/environment?

Patrick: What an incredibly thought-provoking question. Seeking a cure and finding healing are essential themes in the book which considers environmental, historical, and psychological damage. The earth is always seen as female and mother. The father on one level is the authoritarian patriarchal figure—the one in many ways responsible for much of the damage in the book—but on another level, the father is also a damaged figure. And maybe the only way to achieve any sort of reconciliation is to heal the father.


6. Leah Koliha asks:
Using very well recognizable figures in your titles as well as throughout your poems is a very interesting theme, and I am interested as to how you came about using these figures as well as why you chose to use the ones you did. Are they an attempt to allow your audience to understand better the meaning of your poems or is it simply a form of writing that you developed over time?

Patrick: The names in the titles function in a number of different ways. Sometimes they announce a theme, sometimes they prepare for a conflict that is central to the poem, and sometimes they seem only tangential to the poem but function like background music. Sometimes they suggest a monologue and at other times a dialogue.

Ultimately the names suggest the ecological theme of interconnectedness through disciplines, time periods, and cultures.



7. Jodie Wagener asks: My question is about the book itself. I was wondering why the poems appear to be written with such different texts. For example Ptolemy follows his map to Sojourner Truth on page 14 is very spaced out. Is it supposed to be read spaced out?

Patrick: I think ideally the poem is meant to be read with the spacing. I only did it at a reading once—and I felt I had tapped into the energy of the poem.


or how some of the poems seem to be randomly written on the page with no justification at all. Then there is the poem Margaret Mead Discovers William Burroughs where the entire poem is justified to the left except for one line: a different story...what makes that one line so special to stand out like that? What is the justification behind arranging the text the way it is?

Structurally, most of the poems emerge organically. I rely mostly on instinct. But then during revision, I ask myself why I did something a certain way. Sometimes I'll have good answers—and sometimes not.

In the Margaret Mead poem I think I can offer an explanation for the two lines that are different. The first ("a different story") is important because I think the poem is trying to arrive at a "different" way of saying things. The second ("one world") suggests the importance of moving from one world to another in order to survive. I think the indented line and the extended line are there for emphasis. And this may take things too far, but the shape of the poem is similar to the rope the grandmother hands the speaker. If so, then these lines are like knots.

I am aware of a lot of different movements in these poems—very much like a lot of different dance steps with a lot of different rhythms. Some freestyle and some more formal, some occurring in a mash pit and some on a ballroom dance floor.



8. Dana Littleford asks: How do you decide what subjects you use in your poetry? Do you first find a person with a unique or important life, and design your poem and theme around that person, or do you have a theme in mind first and then find subjects whose life mirrors that theme? Thanks for your time.

Patrick: Ultimately I begin with language, but the process always seems to be recursive. The poems tell me what they are about. I only rarely start a poem with an idea of a purpose or a theme or a direction in mind. The words have to find out where they need to take me.



9. Lea Littleford asks: From your collection of poems in Feeding the Fear of the Earth which is your favorite poem and why?

Patrick: This is a very tough question because so many of the poems have such personal links. The dedication page lists dozens and dozens of my former students. I teach on an environmental campus, and I have learned so much from them. This, of course, makes this book very special to me. Also, one of the poems is dedicated to my daughter—and though she has been the inspiration behind much of my work, this is the first one I actually dedicated to her. I also look at the book as one interconnected poem—and the ultimate shape of the book was the result of the suggestions of two very important people—George Kalamaras and your professor. Again there is a personal link.

However, if I were asked to write a one poem book, I think it would have to be "Whole Poems." It represents where much of the book had been heading, and combines the political and the personal, the historical and the poetic. And again there is that personal link—and this time it is with my parents.



10. Katie Hudson asks: What is Marcel Duchamp doing in the Ed McMahon poem? Thank you!

Patrick: Ed MacMahon asked me exactly the same thing.

But listen, I absolutely love Marcel Duchamp. I love his craziness, and how he makes fun of the pretentiousness in art, and how he has this incredible vision that is erotic and philosophical and bizarre and witty—and somehow true.

I've written a number of pieces where Marcel Duchamp has popped up—I think he is there to make me laugh.


I would like to thank the class for these inspiring and challenging questions. I hope some of these answers wiil assist you when you read the book. Thank you for this opportunity. You've been great. And thank you, Jeff.