Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
Self Portrait: Chris on June 2, 2017

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Poet Kim Garcia on THE BRIGHTER HOUSE

Chris Rice Cooper 


*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by :  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.  




Kim Garcia’s The Brighter House:
“The Power of the Poetic Trinity”

Copyright granted by Kim Garcia 


Experiencing The Brighter House
A book of poetry being read is a living thing like a plant, an insect, an animal, a human, or a spiritual being.  Then there are those books of poetry where the poet’s life is just as powerful. It matters what the poet was thinking when she wrote the poems.  It matters what the poet went through and how the poet conquered to come to a new world of spiritual renewal without having to deny an abusive past.


                Sunlight by Frank Benson.  Public Domain

The Brighter House by Kim Garcia is a poetry collection written by the poetic Trinity:  Poet Kim Garcia, The Speaker of the Poem, and the Poetry Collection itself The Brighter House.    


Photoshopped by Christal Rice Cooper 
     
The Brighter House is a book of autobiographical, biographical, and spiritual experiences where the speaker of the poem and the writer of the poems seem to be synonymous.  It is in this identity of speaker and writer that a different lens at looking at a narrative is adapted which enables speaker/writer to create a new narrative and a new life- that of forgiveness into a spiritual renewal all taking place within a safe dwelling called The Brighter House.


Log Cabin in the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History in Bygdoy, Olso.  Image Attributed to Kyjetil Bjorn.  GNU

Better yet, another way to define Trinity is that The Speaker of the Poem finds tiny crumbs (the individual poems) and in eating/reading each crumb she finds her way to the safe spiritual place called The Brighter House



The Brighter House can provide vindication for those whose stories of abuse have been swept aside; a voice for the voiceless; and more importantly a safe place for the lost and homeless to lodge. 


The Crying Woman attributed to Gustav Klimt P.D.

       It seems contradictory at best – able to create a new narrative without having to deny your past – but the two can be conclusive – thus the power of poetry.


                             Copyright granted by Kim Garcia 


Scripted Interview with Kim Garcia
       In the scripted interview, Kim Garcia, who resides in Boston with her husband and son and daughter, talks about the background of the poems, the deeper meaning the poems had on her during different stages of her life; and more importantly how she created a more positive uplifting narrative than the one she had as a child, which enabled her to embrace the child she once was while embracing the new woman she has become.   


 Girl In The Woman Attributed to Christal Ann Rice Cooper

What is The Brighter House?
          I think of The Brighter House as a set of meditations about a necessary spiritual reconstruction around joy and thriving rather than survival. It sets a particular problem and then seeks to enact that desire for transformation.

There is a soft fold in my belly
Let me tell the world the way I did
when I had small children.  If I were dying
tomorrow I would be bitter.  I would
buy a brighter house.   I would leave bad
memories.  I would be the brighter house.

--Excerpt “Aubade”

The Dawn Serenade 1912 Picasso.  P.D.

How much of The Brighter House is biographical and autobiographical?
The autobiography is the source material, but I worked with that material in whatever way served the poems, without any of the limitations a journalist, or even a memoirist might have. It allowed me to go at certain truths with great freedom of expression.


Kim Garcia.  Copyright granted by Kim Garcia. 

When you say “It allowed me to go at certain truths with great freedom of expression.”  What “certain truths” are you speaking of?
An example would be allowing my experience and my sisters’ experiences to blend, arriving at a more complete picture of the effect of my father’s behavior.

End times.  Cancer spreads from prostate to bone.  It could look like a judg-
ment on him

From a table by the diner window I see him walk in, moving slowly, painfully,
like a diver through water, bloated, papery, head stretched out like a tortoise’s.

I’m poleaxed with pity – Look what you’ve done.  How could you do that to him?
I’m sick on tenderness.  All I want to do is forgive.

--Excerpt, “Tales of the Sisters:  Judgment”



This also seems to allow readers more points of entry. I didn’t plan this.  I just made the decision not to edit as I would have for a traditional nonfiction work. Poetry deals in metaphor, which I think allows for a strange kind of precision that works by pattern and dream logic.

echo echo 

he fills my eye   beautiful boy in the pool   wash of cataract

cloud circling   crystal palace   pleasure dome   chasm

snow globe of delicate petals   returning to their source

with the scent of ice and fire   then vanilla   pin feathers

dropped vowel by vowel   uncut by consonant   simply

shuttlecock   simply snow   simply cloud   pool   boy   again boy



You describe The Brighter House as turning a pure trauma narrative into a work of art.  Can you explain the difference between pure trauma narrative and a work of art?
When I say pure trauma narrative, I mean a kind of testimony or witness that stays pretty consistent telling by telling. It’s a sort of recitation of the facts that is key to concepts of justice and good laws, so I respect it. But it only does one thing. That’s what makes it important in one context, but can be limiting outside the courtroom once your life experience starts to make the proportions change in terms of importance. The story wants to shift, the frame gets larger.





It is still a survival story, but now it might be something more too. Many trauma survivors have this experience, and it can take gentle work to trust that you’re not doing the wrong thing to stop witnessing in the same way that was so necessary at an earlier point in time. If you are also a writer or filmmaker or artist of any stripe (and in the broadest sense I consider human beings as a species as artists and makers, if only of their own memories), then you know that the form you work in will immediately push and pull that narrative. It will want to be a multiplicity of cross currents, each suggesting a different view.



This tension between views, rather than a single message or witness, is art’s strength. It’s part of its authority and power. It contains many.


But you can see how wrong that would be in a courtroom or when considering rape laws. So, we have these two powerful ways of speaking as human beings, and we need both—language that is relatively fixed and mechanical to do the hard work of clarity and justice, and language that invites the four winds. Then we enter long-time and music, the buffeting of the tradition and quicksilver dreams.




I think metaphor balances all of this so skillfully. I find that it grows with you and allows your story to change while keeping the essential witness true. I’m grateful to poetry for this, but of course our dream lives offer it to each of us every night.

                  Nun's Dreaming by Karl Brulleff 1831


What I hope is that metaphor and music allow people whose experience differs from mine, to enter my individual witness, transformed by the requirements of the poem, and get whatever they need, something I could never have planned or expected.

        Kim Garcia.  Copyright granted by Kim Garcia 

That is my experience when I read poets I love—the poem feels as if it were reading me and my life, even though on another level it is clearly telling their stories. I want to welcome that kind of reading everywhere I can. The poems told my story, my sisters’ stories, when I wrote them, now they can tell the stories you most need them to. Poets have given me that gift, and much more that I can’t precisely explain. It’s only right that I try to pass that on to my readers.


The Three Sisters attributed to Jeffrey Scott Thomas.
Copyright granted by Jeffrey Scott Thomas 
The ancient Native American technique of growing Corn, Beans, and Squash together in an arrangement called the Three Sisters is the ultimate in companion planting and helps increase harvests, naturally! 
Corn acts as a support for climbing bean vines, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil for the high feeding requirements of corn and squash, and the squash provides mulch and root protection for the corn and beans! After cooperating beautifully in the garden, corn and beans form a complete protein when eaten together!


How did religion play a role in your life as a child?

I think I had the natural religious impulses most children have, (which is) a mind open to a sense of belonging to Life in some way. At its most fearless, it was a sort of trust. Later I think it became something closer to magical thinking and bargaining as I became more afraid of the adults around me, but I didn’t forget my original impressions.

Little Girls In Church.   Attributed to Gwen John. P.D.


The religion that was imposed by my mother was a different thing. Luckily I could sense the difference.

Prayer on the Feast of the Assumption

A dead mother stirs, sits up, rubs her knees, puts on
the heavy wig, the burka, the whole body bag

that contains her radiance.  Steps down and rests
her hands on my shoulders.  I ask not to be given

away, to stay under her palms, to be over.  But she
is already unzipping the river, already rising.  Swim.


                                              Goddess Ganga drowned seven of her babies.
                                              Before she could drown baby number eight her 
                                              husband intervened. 1890.  P.D.


What was the religion of your mother that she wanted you to believe in?  

 My mother believed we should go to church (Congregationalist or Methodist for most of my early years), and we did so. I’m grateful for that because I was able to see other adults acting in basically coherent ways. My mother’s religious belief seemed to be mostly organized around her desires, often the desire to control others. Of course this didn’t work, so she saw sinners everywhere and was often very bitter. One good thing about my mother in church was that she loved to sing, and she had a lovely voice. And of course having strangers around always made things more stable

He was kinder than I’d imagined he’d be.
Get in here, he said.  Show me the way.

I thought strangers would look hard and eager
like my father, like my mother
when she caught you doing what she knew
you’d do, you were always doing or wanted

to do.  He was more like me,

--Excerpt, “How I Learned to Talk”


                             Copyright granted by Kim Garcia 

In my teenage years, religion, even fairly simplistic, rule-bound religion, was my avenue towards a broader sense of authority and truth than the inward-turning violence of my family, so it opened up a larger world. 


Morning Sun in 1952.  Attributed to Edward Hopper.  FU

How did religion become your avenue toward a broader sense of authority?  What religion was that?  Define “broader sense of authority”  Define “truth?”
In a very simple way, even fundamentalist beliefs were a reminder that there were other beliefs outside of parental systems of thought—and that can be helpful if you’re living in a violent home.

One page shows her heart before a God - minus sign sitting
on a chair.  Pluses and minuses whirl around it like confused bees.

And on the next, her heart after God.  There is a cross on the chair now, there
are no minuses, and pluses are crowded up on the white page like good chil-
dren, waiting in a circle for a story.

“That’s the throne of my heart,” she whispers, so only God and I can hear, 
“That’s a place no one can see.”

--Excerpt “Tales of the Sisters:  Bees”





If my parents had been able to get a church to go along with their agenda—and I know people who had that experience—I think the only option for me would have been to reject religious belief altogether. Sometimes rejecting God as you’ve received Him/Her is the only possible spiritual path. It’s an expression of authentic faith in a paradoxical way.

It was a fundamentalist church, pre-Moral Majority, but already describing themselves as fundamentalists—the Christian Church was the official title. It was and is a Protestant church affiliated with the Church of Christ. (I was only active there during my teenage years.) If I had been raised in it, I’m not sure it would have worked as a doorway in my life. It was the choosing for myself and beginning to understand that there were multiple ways of interpreting my own experience. Some were more life-giving than others.

I lived in Texas, catching rides
that took longer than I thought.
And death never caught me,
easy as I was to catch.

--Excerpt, “Oil”


         Christina's World 1948 attributed to Andrew Wyeth. FU 

But when I say broader sense of authority, I mean it was the beginning of thinking about authority as empowering those who followed, not ruling them for power’s sake. That desire for power is always a temptation in any human institution, and it is certainly there in churches. But I heard parts of the message as empowering, and I took that up.

A pink magnolia holding up palm after palm of blessing.

--Excerpt, “Early Morning”




I suppose what I mean by truth or the pursuit of truth is not a thing or set of beliefs and proofs, it’s a willingness to question how you interpret them. Not a denial of facts, but being aware that there are many ways to create narratives from those facts, and to be a little more aware of how I’m doing that. When we talk about conversions and transformations, I think we’re talking about this willingness to see the narrative in a new way. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t mean taking one fixed narrative and replacing it with another one, but being open to something like wonder—the vast connection to everything that is. That will sound vague, but the actions that come out of sensing that there is no “other” out there—not strangers, not species, not even a God separate from that oneness—can lead to very specific acts of kindness, compassionate intelligence, and social justice.


I want to talk about his health, about his dying, the only reason I can remem-
ber for being here.  His hands go on squeezing.

--Excerpt, “Tales of the Sisters:  Judgment”


I am not speaking of what I do, but on what I’m aiming for. Most of the time I’m rabbiting from one nervous self-preoccupation to another, but this is the point on the horizon I aim for.


                  Yes, I’m saying yes.
Not to death, which isn’t really my
business, but to heaven.

-Excerpt, “Heaven”


From the Divine Comedy:  Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest heaven.  Gustave Dore.  P.D.


How does religion play a role in your life today?
My beliefs have changed significantly over my lifetime, but I think that’s what beliefs should do. Doubt should have a healthy role in plowing up the ground and letting fresh understandings in. I could probably be equally comfortable and uncomfortable in many churches, but my family is now half Latin American, so we are Catholic. I am most comfortable in my Catholicism with the Catholic mystics. I also like the incarnational aspects of Christianity — the straw, the mud, the spit. I distrust lines of meaning that suggest it would be great if we could all be more spirit and less body. I think that’s going to end up smacking of misogyny, even when that’s not intended. We are bodies that can create bodies. If you don’t honor our beautiful incarnations, you’re probably going to have a hierarchy that puts women down the chain. Nothing interesting or life-giving there. No good news.



Saint Hildegard of Bingen was a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary and polymath.
               
There is one poem in the book “In My City Of Z, Forgiveness” that I’m not sure what exactly is going on.  I’m thinking is it an abortion – but it can’t be an abortion – could it be a woman going through surgery to better her chances of having children?  Could it be a violent attack? Or perhaps a war crime since manioc is a starch plant used as a food staple?
Interesting. I wasn’t thinking about an abortion, and I’ll have to think more about how that reading might fit with what I’m doing. It’s interesting. I was thinking about the problem of forgiveness—trying to will yourself there, trying to earn your way into being a better, freer person. I think the suggestion of the poem is that you can’t will your way there, no matter what extreme ways you try. Trying to force your way, no matter how well-intentioned, is like seeking after the City of Z or El Dorado—sure to be frustrated. Transformation is not earned. It’s something else, something received as gift.

In the City of Z, I was scarred – three lines, sternum to solar plexus.
They wept and festered and would not heal.  How else can you be beautiful?
asked the angels of that place.  I had hoped for something more

than my own body handed back to me, still barren, still bargaining,
My mouth was stuffed with manioc.  My belly gave up its worms,
still I would not abandon the pictures hope twisted from my dreams.

-Excerpt, “In My City of Z, Forgiveness”


                              The zipa used to cover his body in gold dust and, from his raft
                              he offered treasures to the Guatavita goddess in the middle of the 
                              sacred lake. This old Muisca tradition became the origin of the
                             El Dorado legend.

Can you go into detail about the environment in which you wrote the chapbook TALES OF THE SISTERS, which is included in THE BRIGHTER HOUSE?
I wrote both books over a long period of time, so all of these factors varied, but let me say something about my poetic practice.  I do try to maintain a rhythm. I try to write in the morning before anything happens. I try to read in the afternoons or evenings. I listen to music, instrumental always, classical often, and I listen to it on repeat. I try not to read immediately before writing, and I like writing by a window when I can, but I write everywhere. I fall out of the pattern all the time, but it’s there for me to fall back into. When I’m not writing, I am not happy, but of course there is resistance. That’s the job.


                    Kim Garcia.  Copyright granted by Kim Garcia

How did you determine the structure/ order of the poems in THE BRIGHER HOUSE?
I have the privilege of being part of a coven of fine poets who help me with that. I come in with some loose structure, and then we take turns reading them out, one by one, and pinning them to a huge white board in my house. They discuss changes and make many. We each work on at least one larger project per year, but many of those end up changing or sitting in a drawer for a while. For me, books are created glacially.


                 Copyright granted by Kim Garcia

One of your two sisters is darker than others.  Did you have parents of different races?
No,we’re all Anglo mutts, but they did have different coloring in personality and feature.

My dark sister is beaten in that first beautiful, wished for snow.

-Excerpt, “Tales of the Sisters: Snow.”



                              Aerial view of the Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon, from the 
                              southeast looking north. Left to right: South Sister, Middle Sister, 
                              and North Sister. In the left foreground is the 'Newberry' flow of 
                              rhyolite lava, which is 2200 years old, one of the most recently 
                              erupted units.


Can you give a geographical biography of your life (the places you have lived in chronological order)?


Born in Washington D.C., Virginia, New Jersey, Boston, San Francisco, Houston/NYC after my parents divorced, and then in my teenage years I worked for my sister in Alaska. I went to school in Oregon, backpacked in Europe after graduation, had my son in Ann Arbor, MI, had my daughter back in Oregon, then we all moved to Tallahassee, Houston, and back to Boston. We have rented a cottage in Nova Scotia every summer for the last 12 years or more where I do a great deal of writing every summer. It shows up in my poems quite a bit.

                 Copyright granted by Kim Garcia 

What is your first memory of poetry?








Margaret Wise Brown, left, and illustrator Garth Williams, right.  


Children’s books—Margaret Wise Brown’s book Wait Until the Moon is Full was read to me in Sunday School, and I never forgot it. And of course you get some rhymed verse, mostly doggerel, in school.
The Bible was read in church as well. It’s a weekly poetry reading if it’s read well. I’m sure all that registered.
But I did not know what poets did. That was a world away that I was slow to embrace. I thought of myself as a writer, but not a poet.

I read in an interview where you attended a Benedictine monastery and was told that Poetry was prayer.  Was this what compelled you to be come a poet?
No, but it was part of the permission and support I received from unexpected quarters. I have been very fortunate in the teachers and generous strangers in my life.
I went to Mt. Angel monastery when I was a very young mother. The guest master would give me a room with a desk, a bed, and a private bathroom, and I would have this incredible gift of time. And I could go and hear poetry  (the psalms) chanted six times a day. Poet heaven.




When did you decide that you were a poet?
Not until my forties. I’d been writing poetry all the way along, but I sheltered in fiction for a long time. I wrote the way a poet writes—by sound, over character or plot—but I worked the sentence as a unit rather than the line.


               Kim Garcia.  Copyright granted by Kim Garcia


What poets affected you and the writing of The Brighter House?

I wrote that book over such a long stretch of time that the list would be unbearably long. In the Acknowledgments I tried to thank some of the fine poets I have the privilege of working with, and of course I was affected in every way by their work:  Allison Adair, Ed Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski,, Sue Roberts, Skye Shirley, Holly Iglesias, Mark Doty, Nick Flynn, Van and Geoff Brock, Lisa Steinman, Brook Emery, and the poets at Boston College and the Brookline Poetry Series where I’ve listened to fine poetry for years.



(https://www.brooklinelibrary.org/events/ongoing-events/brookline-poetry-series/)
But beyond that I certainly have loved poets who I know only from the page—Tomas Transtromer, Amichai, Rilke, Jean Valentine, the usual suspects.


                         https://tomastranstromer.net











                         http://jeanvalentine.com

And the Biblical writers’ cadences were deep in my inner ear. And I have a magpie ear. I’ll pick up bits from eavesdropping. People say such beautiful things without even planning them. I like the lovely idiomatic collision of everyday conversational and high poetic passion.



What led you to enter the White Pine Press Poetry Prize and how were you informed that you had won?
Let me put the last first—Dennis Maloney called me at home. The news was a total surprise and an honor. I entered many contests once my fellow poets had vetted the final order. Publishing, in my experience, is usually a lengthy process of submission and rejection, with many close calls and encouraging notes along the way. The poetry world is a generous one, but it’s supported by hardworking publishers, working on a shoestring. It’s a labor of love, so you have to be patient and resilient.


The Story of The Brighter House
       The speaker of the poem, one of three abused sisters, reveals how she and her two sisters were conceived in violence in the poem “1943, How We Got Made.”

My father led her down
into the basement of the Chicago warehouse
took off his shirt

And my mother
tucked up her legs under her skirt
pretending to be scared

as he bludgeoned rats, big as small dogs
and threw their bodies into the furnace.
The stench of burnt fur, blood, coal

chummed the air.  What was
hungry in them rose and fed.
Every violence, then, was conceived.


Attributed to Hanna Barczyk.  
Copyright granted by Hanna Barczyk
 http://www.hannabarczyk.com


       In “Tales of the Sisters: Snow” the speaker of the poem is a five-year old little girl witnessing her feather beat her sister:

                      My father beats her with snow chains on her shoulders, her back, through her dark green winter coat.  He beats one sister and quiets three.

                                photoshopped by Christal Ann Rice Cooper
                           

       There is evidence that the daughters experience abuse at the hands of their mother in the poems “Strangers,” and “Rumpelstiltskin.”

Our lawn was dead.
The car was dying.
She wanted grass.
I was useless to her.

A few days later he came with a load.
After he laid the sod, he drank
a glass of lemonade at the kitchen table
with my mother.  Then he took me to the drive-in.

-Excerpt from “Strangers”


What mother promises her own child to a stranger?

-Excerpt from “Rumpelstiltskin”




       There are tales of sexual abuse from the father himself in the poems “Tales of the Sisters:  The Walrus” and “Tales of the Sisters: Judgment.”

We are so intimate,” he says spinning his private verse, “We could be more so.”  We must complete the couplet.  We must return the tide.
--Excerpt, “Tales of the Sisters:  The Walrus”

Now maybe French kissing your sister was bad judgment.”
--Excerpt, “Tales of the Sisters:  Judgment.”

The speaker of the poem tells of the abuse she and her two sisters experienced at her father’s hands while at the same time facing her father’s dying:

but what is rest to a man who could not hold
a child on his lap without teasing it,
who into a family of cold anti-Semites
introduced my dark mother as a Jew,
who beat his children so passionately
we had no choice but to love
and fight him doggedly forever?

--Excerpt, “Transfusion”


                                   Photoshopped by Christal Rice Cooper 

The speaker of the poems ages as the pages turns – she is a fetus in “1943, How We Got Made”;  a little girl in “Tales of the Sisters: Snow”; teenager in “Oil”, “Strangers”,  and “Tales of the Sisters: Cherries”; wife in “Unicorn and Virgin, Cloisters Tapestries”; mother in “Annunciation”; in present day Boston in “The Dead in Summer”;  and finally the daughter facing a father in need of forgiveness on the cusp of death in “Tales of the Sisters: Judgment” only to refuse to acknowledge his wrong doings.

Those terrible things my sisters have said about him.  Very unfair, a  
misunderstanding, worked out, in the past, a pack of damn lies.  I keep
mopping up with a little rag of forgiveness borrowed from therapy-speak.

“That must have been very hard for you, Dad,” I say, sic with pity going
cold and my own hypocrisy.  Under the table my legs start to shake.


                               The Three Ages of Woman by Gustav Klimt PD

The speaker of these poems is engaged in what could be described as a mythological spiritual warfare:  she must forgive the unforgiveable in order to be free. 



In the poem “For my father and the cancer that killed him” the speaker of the poem describes her father and the cancer as two Greek gods/animals, the duck and the hawk, fighting one another to the death, which results in her father, the duck, dying a painful slow death:

                for the hawk to find the place
between its neck and back, to pierce the artery,
open the blood gate, let out the fight and begin
 to feed.



This poem is also a great description of the inner spiritual torment the speaker of the poem goes through – how to forgive a father who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing?  How to forgive a father who you don’t know, and when you do know, he is a monster, while at the same time there is that little girl in the adult woman who wants to call this monster “Daddy”?

The Crying Little Girl - Unknown 

       The speaker of the poem doesn’t have one specific answer but rather numerous memories (usually of her and her two sisters) and visuals (usually of nature) she describes in her poems help her to come to the point of forgiveness of her father, never forgetting or even excusing him for what he has done, but to forgive in order to let it all go in order to live freely.  In fact, forgiveness is no longer just an action she participates but a place she lives – a place where there is no bitterness and only joy.

There is a soft fold in my belly,
Let me tell the world the way I did
when I had small children.  If I were dying
tomorrow I would be bitter.  I would
be a brighter house.  I would leave bad
memories.  I would be the brighter house.


--excerpt “Aubade”


                   Woman Before the Rising Sun attributed to Caspar David Friedrich

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