Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The voice and setting of “Strawberry Season” intertwine with one another so memorably.  How did you develop your speaker in relation to the world of the poem, and do you view them as one person or a collective “we?”

Lucien Darjeun Meadows: Over the last several years, I have had the opportunity to research the interdependence of identity and environment. Richard Kerridge, in his essay “Ecological Hardy,” defines ecology as “the study of relationships and interdependencies within shared local environments and of the relation of such environments to larger ecosystems,” and I see that ecology—that relational interconnectedness—in the environments of personal identity and lived spaces, but also in the intersection of one or both of those with the environment of creative writing. As a novice learner of Tsalagi (Cherokee), I value how this language places high importance on relationality. For example, there tends not to simply be “mother,” but rather, “my mother” or “your mother” or “our mother,” or so on. We are defined by those around us, the land and all its inhabitants, and we co-define each other, as well. I hope that use of a collective “we” in “Strawberry Season” moves toward activating this mutual co-construction—which can be a freeing, dynamic, and inclusive space.

RR: We’re engulfed by the richness of details in your poem–can you talk about how you develop images in your work?

LDM: While I am working toward my PhD and am pursuing a professional life in academia, I am perhaps more often found outdoors, so I strive to bring a deep sense of specific lived placeness into my work. As a reader, I am drawn toward rich sensory details. (Maybe that is why I am such a devotee of the British Romantic laboring-class poet John Clare! You can see the specific birds and their specific nests, the young mice attached to their mother, and more, in his work — and hear and smell them too.) I love when a poet helps me to be there with them, in a particular place and scene — not just intellectually, but physically, as a creature in this world they are sharing. In my own work, I’ll often start with a single image or sound, moving out from that in a web of sensory connection that often converges with social connection.

RR: At the end of the poem, there is this sense of longing for escape with the lines, “With salt on our lips instead of sugar / And the same delicious thrill of drowning.” What does this “drowning” represent to you?

LDM: One way I’m often found outdoors is through my avocation as a longer-distance trail runner. Two years ago, I was inspired to begin working toward a race I’ll complete this coming July, the Never Summer 100K, after seeing a photo of one of the frontrunners in the 2017 race coming over Montgomery Ridge, in Northern Colorado. At first, the scene is just a curve of gold, green, and brown, with night shadow coming down over the photo’s upper third. And then, after looking at this photo for awhile, you see a tiny runner—almost invisible, he is so small—ahead of the shadow. And then you realize the scale of this photo, and how massive the ridge is, and how small the runner is—and that’s why, every time, this photo gives me chills! To be so small. To recognize your own smallness. There is a terror and a beauty in it, as per the Romantic sublime, and I live for the moments, as a runner and a poet and a being in this world in this time, when my “I” falls away and I am submerged—not merely interconnected, but submerged—into a natural space much larger and lasting than I could ever begin to comprehend.

RR: The poem is quite transformative in terms of seasonal change and tone.  How has poetry been transformative to you?

LDM: Just after my six-month birthday, my grandmother began taking me to the public library.  She would read to me in the children’s section, and, every so often, she would ask me to “Stay Put” while she walked to the adult mysteries. One month after my second birthday, we went to the library—but I did not Stay Put! When she found me, she said I looked up from an encyclopedia and declared, “White blood kells keep the body safe. Red blood kells give the body ox-ee-gin. What are ‘kells’?” Twenty years later, I became the first in my working-class Cherokee/German+ family to achieve a college degree. And while I came to college to learn the language to voice my identity and experiences, transplanted from rural Appalachia to a private liberal arts college as I was, I felt outside language.

Like Frankenstein’s monster, I wondered, “What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?” But always, in poetry I find voice. Reading Layli Long Soldier, for example, I can embrace streams of consciousness and memory as paths to immediacy. And reading Dan Beachy-Quick, I can merge emotion and landscape in a journey toward the unfathomable. If you had asked me, as a young teenager (and closeted poet), whether I would attend college, I doubt I would have said yes—and I certainly would not have imagined a future where I could attend college, and then graduate school, for poetry! But I am thrilled to be part of the vibrant ecosystem of creative writers, especially in this time of rising visibility of queer writers, Native and Indigenous writers, and southern writers, and I’m so grateful to the mentors along the way who told me that such programs and such spaces exist.

RR: You’ve mentioned the importance of inclusive creative spaces, especially given your background as a queer Cherokee Southern writer.  How do you strive to cultivate such a community in your own writing?

LDM: I’m so glad to be living and writing in a time of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are amazing queer, Native and Indigenous, or southern writers out there—and amazing writers from many, many walks of life publishing relevant, vital work. Yet, there is always more work to be done. Many graduate programs in creative writing, or even across the humanities, are largely white. There are profound barriers to writers from historically underrepresented backgrounds in accessing educational and professional opportunities. For example, I never would have known graduate-level studies in creative writing would have existed if it were not for a mentor. And, even after learning this, I never would have thought I could apply for such programs if that same mentor had not urged me to apply, explained how to apply, and helped me navigate the process. It’s not enough for opportunities to simply exist. We need to become more transparent and more welcoming, across the discipline.

In ecology, the transitional zone where ecosystems meet—the ecotone—is the site of greatest biodiversity. In literature, transformative work occurs for writers and readers where communities meet. In my own work, I strive in and out of the classroom to be visible as a queer and Cherokee and southern writer—but, even so, to be visible as a writer, questioner, discoverer, learner, and a being influenced by (and influencing) the places he comes from. I admire how the Rappahannock Review encourages community building and look forward all the future holds for our literary ecosystem.

Lucien Darjeun Meadows’ work in Issue 6.2: 

Strawberry Season