The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: In your poem “Unpacking,” the speaker mentions the vision of the father as a “memory.”What is at stake when using memory–a speaker’s or a poet’s–as the vehicle for a poem?
Larry Thacker: What is at stake is being vulnerable, right, wrong, or strictly dependent on the creative mind. Right in that you’re accurate and confessing, which can be painful for you and others, cathartic, whether you’re ready or not. Wrong in that you only think you’re in a correct memory, which is what I think is happening with the speaker in the poem who is going back too, but feels it can’t be anything but true, always running the risk of inaccuracy and unreliableness. As for being purely creative, you can go too far, even for yourself, believing your own fantasy at times, tempting others to believe it, getting lost in the combined worlds where you play ultimate creator. So much is at stake with memory, yet it is a common material we work with, and all spaces of memory make us vulnerable which can lead to fear and withholding. Yet there is where some of our best work can happen.
RR: The middle of the poem seems as if it cuts a line in half, placing the beginning of the line as the last line of the first stanza, and its ending as the first line of the second. Was this cut a way of generating a turn in the poem, or was there an alternative motive behind it?
LT: Quite a deliberate line cut, a volta representing a kind of generational flash forward, the first stanza heavy with the father, the second stanza not only the father but the family, the future, and all the challenges the father brings with starting and having a family. The cut, while visually abrupt, is the opposite of what’s happening subtly within the backgrounds of families struggling with everything warfare pushes into everyone’s lives through those who fight. It’s an intimate mixing of emotions rather than a clean cut from one emotion to another or one generational challenge to another.
RR: The poem’s idea of emotions and memories being passed down genetically is really intriguing. How did you hear about this idea? Do you think it’s true, or did you just like the idea for the poem?
LT: It’s a concept I believe. I’ve seen headlines over the last two years about the genetics of memories, not just the passing along of tendencies such as alcohol related issues and health. It made me think that if a bit of the traumas as life defining as Vietnam, like my father was experiencing just before my conception, couldn’t get caught in our DNA, what could? From there I wondered about where lucid dreams that seem like memories originated. Or déjà vu experiences. Might these be momentary lapses of memories of our elders? It has led to quite a bit of writing.
RR: How do you get over writer’s block, do you have any specific rituals or routines?
LT: I have a simple working mantra: Write, edit, read, submit. I try to be engaged in all of these at all times. If I feel the well running dry, I’m probably not reading enough. If I’m not submitting much, I’m not writing new things or editing old things into new lives. Above all else, however – awareness. The practice of awareness is how we can mine the details we usually skip over all day.
Getting stuck is often a side-effect of hesitation, or desiring perfection in a first writing, or a fear of failure, sometimes a thing deeper than the writing. An activity other than the writing can give us not only ideas but permission as well.
Headlines, as we mentioned briefly before, often give me ideas. Scanning strange ideas in science journals continuously gives me raw material. I also involve myself in other arts – painting and photography, as well as short story, novel writing projects, and creative non-fiction. It’s also important to have a writers group that meets regularly, having people keeping us on a friendly sharing deadline is so helpful.
RR: Do you find it helpful to place yourself within a poem, whether the subject matter is true or not? Or do you prefer to work objectively, based on others’ experiences?
LT: Empathy, not only for fellow human beings but for inanimate objects, is essential. The ability to “see” yourself in the emotional conflicts of another person in this scenario you’ve designed on the page is the only way to offer a close-to-authentic experience for the receiver. Likewise, getting into the imagined thoughts of the thousand-year-old tree, for example, who lives an entire existence in this one spot, though your purpose isn’t to give it a voice, may be essential to understand how to communicate the “voice” of the poem you’re trying to hear. Being inside a poem as realistically as possible is a craft act we must work on regularly. Of course, there are objective times we are strict observers as well. It’s situational, which is the great challenge with every moment of inspiration we feel we’ve stumbled upon, isn’t it?
Unpacking appears in Rappahannock Review Issue 3.3
Larry D. Thacker is an Appalachian writer and artist. His poetry can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, Kudzu Literary Magazine, The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VI: Tennessee, Unbroken Journal, Mojave River Review, Broad River Review, Harpoon Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Appalachian Heritage,among others. He is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia and the poetry chapbooks, Voice Hunting and Memory Train. A student services higher education professional for 15 years, he is now engaged full-time in his poetry MFA from West Virginia Wesleyan College.