Cynthia Cruz is the author of Ruin, published in 2006 by Alice James Books, and The Glimmering Room, published by Four Way Books in fall of 2012. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Field, and others. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and she was the 2010-11 Hodder Fellow in Poetry at Princeton University. Her poems “The Flooding Subject,” “The Billowing,” and “Weltschmerz” were published in the Winter 2013 issue of The Kenyon Review. The following interview was conducted by KR‘s editor at large G.C. Waldrep.
In these new poems, the speaker—the “I”—struck me as more outward-facing, simultaneously more exposed and less involutely present, than in your earlier work. Is there a sea-change here?
Yes, there most certainly is. These new poems are from my fourth collection, which is forthcoming in 2016. What this means is that, yes, there is a world of difference between the work of my first collection as well as my second collection and the poems included in this issue of The Kenyon Review. The fourth collection, How the End Begins, was a kind of full circle return to questions of faith that are present in the first books. In the fourth collection, these questions arise to the forefront. When I was writing the book I was questioning everything; reexamining my entire life. This shows through in the work–the poems are longer, the “I” is not fully immersed; is a witness, instead of main character.
I want each book of poems, each poem, to be different from the one before and I think, thus far, I have managed to achieve this. My job as an artist is to keep pushing myself past my comfort zone, to keep discovering new layers of meaning.
I’m interested in myth, and one of the questions I’m going to be asking each of the writers this round will deal with myth in contemporary American literature: whether or how it works. The foxes of “The Flooding Subject” tremble on the edge of mythic, or symbolic, resonance, and I’m tempted, halfway through the poem, to identify the governing myth as one of childhood. Later, though, you explicitly state that “our childhood” is a “soft hillside”—a landscape, not a myth. How does myth move in this landscape? What, if any, is the relevance of myth or mythic process to your work?
Good question! My work creates myth (I don’t use old myths)–the myth of childhood, for example and deconstructs that very myth. In this case, in this poem, this is precisely what occurs. Childhood is held up as myth then destroyed. Everything takes place in the mind–all of our mythmaking–and so none of it is real. My brother vanished for the majority of my life and then, as the result of a small change in thinking, the healing of an error of thinking, really, he was returned to me. Also, with regard to childhood being a “soft hillside”: again: the idea that it isn’t as powerful, mythic, as we made it. It isn’t anything except what we’ve allowed our minds to make.
In “The Billowing,” you open with the astonishing declaration that “God is taking me now / Into his blond forest of music.” These poems seem so perfectly modulated across line and stanza. Can you talk a little bit about poetic music, how you “hear” these lines and phrases as part of the compositional process?
I’m so glad you noticed this. I have always been lured into sound and music but this has become more and more important as time has passed. The more I write, the less interested I am in the subject and the more interested I am in music. I begin a poem with a sound. A phrase or a word and that leads me to the next word or sound. With the first two collections, though I was threading the poems along sound wise, the poems were still constructed along a story line. With the third collection, this begins to fray and music, sound become more important. Where I am now, the poems I am writing now, are based in sound.
Childhood is a “soft hillside” in “The Flooding Subject,” a “red door” in “The Billowing,” and then a “warm, white hive” in “Weltschmerz.” Is childhood a well from which you’ve often drawn in your work, or is this a new venture, a new generative approach?
Childhood has always been a well from which I have drawn my work. This was true, especially, in Ruin. I read somewhere that the first five years are what form us and this seems true to me. For all the ways I have changed in my life, in many ways I am still that five-year-old Cindy, seeing the world through her eyes but through a layer, through an adult’s scrim. On a daily basis, I try to return myself to that clear trusting point of view I had as a child. That absolute faith in the good of all things. Intellectually, I do believe in this now. But I have not always and, in fact, for the majority of my adult life, I had sunk into disbelief.
Childhood, regardless of how one’s childhood goes, is this kingdom of faith and clarity. This is how I want to be; this is how I want to be when I write. The world and all of its things, I battled most of my life: injustice, materialism, you name it and you can see this in The Glimmering Room, the world and its things blinding the speakers, where now the work I am interested in, the work I hope to be doing, is coming out of the hope, a light, I associate with childhood.