by Isadora Gruye
He will leave,
or I will leave when the thaw comes,
when the sun freckles and burns the bridge of my nose.
Until then, we are gargoyles,
perched on our cathedral couch
with hands cold and noses running,
our cuticles swollen and stained yellow
with the ever expanding promise to be better,
RUTH: I'm intrigued by the title and subtitle you've given your blog, and the banner too speaks to me. How did you come to choose these as (presumably) the aptest characterization of work you post here?
IZY: You know, until you asked that question, I had never given it much thought. Nice Cage has been my website domain for a while now. Its origins are steeped in one of my favorite Homer Simpson quotes. In one episode he helps an island tribe build a church. When the construction was completed, Homer turned to tribes people and said, “I don’t know much about God, but we sure built him a nice cage.” I like the way those last two words resonate.
“Writings from the underbelly of comfort” popped in my head as the best description of where I write from. At the age of 21, I was diagnosed with stage 3C ovarian dysgerminoma (cancer). I did six months of rigorous chemotherapy, all of which was one big smear of vomiting, fatigue, sweating, muscle weakness, and hair losing, after which I saw no reason to make life any worse for myself. I constantly strive for comfort as a reflex. I hold down a good paying job that keeps me in rent and shoes and medical benefits in the event I ever get sick again. From time to time, that comfort and what it takes to sustain it can be smothering to my creative side.
The blog banner was a gift from a dear (and very talented poet) friend, Stacey Gruver. I am glad you enjoy her design. The long red line reminds me of a tongue or tail slithering out of cage, one free muscle seeking refuge from refuge.
RUTH: "Seeking refuge from refuge" - ah yes, I see the importance of allowing ourselves that out. One of the things that first drew me to your writing is what I think of as its what-you-see-is-what-you-get quality. Have you always written as freely as you do now, as openly?
IZY: As far as writing openly, I am happy to hear you perceive my work that way. The best writing advice I was ever given came from a Scottish novelist I knew: write to learn what you know is true. When I write a poem, that is me digging for fragments of truth, some great treasure I can put under my pillow to bring good dreams. I think people can relate because, hell, we are trying to find our truths that can keep us warm at night.
I have not always written this way. I wrote some terrible, terrible poems in my late teens/early twenties. My friends were devastatingly talented with poetry. I wanted so badly to write like these girls, their syntax all perfect and content glistening with imagery and metaphor, however I was squeezing out these turds of poems: weak grey droppings that no one wanted to read. My words were just flapping around like useless limbs. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, I just knew I wanted to be like my friends.
RUTH: I know that feeling. Somewhere I read that you used to write only prose. What birthed your first poem? Did its colour, texture, etc. surprise you?
IZY: With poetry, I’ve had a bit of a rebirth. I did use to write only prose. 2005-2008 I spent writing a novel, and afterward, I wanted to try poetry again. I figured “hey I wrote a novel. First, good job and second, I bet I can write at least one good poem.” The first piece I scrawled out was The Sailor’s Girl. (I cannot post it on my blog, because I have sold the rights but it is now published at Katherine Press and can be viewed here.) I wrote it while staying at a hotel on a business trip. Here I was, sitting in this room tailored to be as nondescript as possible. I tried to listen to what the sheets were telling me, what the table wanted to say, and what the white walls wanted me to know. I put pen to paper and jotted the first things that jumped from my brain. The voice of the thing shook me.
RUTH: When you sit down to write, are you thinking 'prose' or, conversely, 'poetry' (and if so, does the product necessarily comply with the preconception)? If not, how does the particular genre announce itself (if it does)?
IZY: When I sit down to write I don’t think in terms of prose or poetry. I am writing a narrative which reveals a form to me later down the line. Lately, I have conjured up poetry and want deeply to get back into the habit of prose. I have started a second novel which I want to complete this summer.
RUTH: In your Writer's Statement, you claim: "My poems are the girl at the bar who can hold an intellectual conversation while drinking your whiskey, then sucker punch you when the brawl starts." That is a wonderfully apt statement of how your writing (prose as well as poetry) hits me as a reader. Is this an effect you consciously work to achieve?
IZY: Ahhh, whiskey. I cannot convey enough how much I have worked to get my poems to have a gut reaction, only it was inner work. I didn’t read a lot or practice writing poems. I had to get comfortable with me as an instrument.
RUTH: In many ways, your writing appears effortless, as if it burbles up unasked from the writer's gut. This gives your work an immediacy, even an autobiographical feel. And I notice you have a poem (Bed: An autobiography) that reads no more nor less 'true' than the rest. Do you want to comment on this? What is your opinion on any (real or imagined) demarcation line between truth and fiction in writing?
IZY: First of all, I have to admit, I am a little unnerved at how you have pegged my writing process. I could not have described it better. Sometimes I will let a line simmer in my brain for weeks, months even until it surfaces and when it does, I can write the whole thing in about 10 minutes. With Bed: an autobiography, the title came to me, and I knew I wanted to work with it. At first I considered doing a long piece describing my beds through out my life (from my twin bed I had as a girl which was decorated with stuffed animals and dollies, to the stranger’s bed I slept in my twenties, to the bed I bought myself for my apartment), but that seemed too rehearsed and expected. So I wrote the title at the top of my writing journal and left a blank page until I was ready. The poem itself may read with the same tone as my fiction, but the autobiographical part lies in what the reader doesn’t see: the fact that I erased my own history and wrote instead in the moment. It’s all very meta.
For me, the line between truth and fiction is obliterated because if done right, they are the same thing. One of the most autobiographical pieces that I have written is For Magpie and Others. In fact that entire poem is one fact after another and nothing else.
With that being said, I want it to be known that I edit the fuck out of my poems. I write them quickly but can spend months refining them, adding and detracting lines. All of them are works in progress, because what isn’t?
RUTH: Indeed. Izy, it's been my privilege to interview you for Real Toads, and a pleasure getting to know you better. Thank you for being so willing to share with us these aspects of your life and writer's process.
IZY: Thank you. And I want to thank the entire Real Toads Community (and Kerry O'Connor specifically). I cannot convey the comfort and hope their friendship and readership has brought.