Another Letter To The Soul: The Poetry Of Melissa Kwasny
"They do say women are most at risk of being beat up during the Super Bowl, statistically. So I was just thinking, when are men most dangerous? And it seems—I could put war in there—but when that kind of energy is clustered and then what does the Great Mother of the Animals think of that?" -- Melissa Kwasny
The following are highlights from a conversation with Melissa Kwasny about her book, 'Where Outside the Body Is the Soul Today.' She joined us as part of the 2017 Montana Book Festival. To hear the entire conversation, click the audio link above or subscribe to our podcast.
Sarah Aronson: Where outside the body is your soul today, Melissa?
Melissa Kwasny: Probably in the rain, this blessed rain that’s happening right now in Missoula and falling on the still-burning fires. I guess that’s what I’ve been paying attention to this morning.
In ‘A School For Girls,’ you wrote this line and I laughed out loud:
“Hunting season, like football season, when men are at their worst. . .”
I know, I think that’s the one place I’m just going to get grief over.
I felt there was an archetypal conversation going on there.
I do too because there is an enjambment there, even with the comma after “worst,” we have an enjambment over into the next stanza that says:
“Hunting season, like football season, when men are at their worst,
says the Great Mother of the Animals.”
This is a school I made up. This is what we’re teaching there and one of the teachers is the Great Mother of the Animals which has been a phrase that cultures have used, not native cultures, but European cultures. You’ve heard people say, when they can’t get an animal in Montana, they say, “Oh, the elk are all hiding under rocks.”
I thought that’s such a funny phrase, but what if they really are? Laughing. And who would help them do that? Well, the Great Mother of the Animals would do that.
You know, Melissa, when I think of ‘Melissa Kwasny,’ probably the last things that come to mind are snowmobiles and football.
And I got them both in there.
And you got them both in there. What was your instinct behind those things and what’s your relationship to those things?
I’m just so proud of those football players taking the knee and everything, but I never watch football. Everything about it goes against my sensibilities.
Which is amazing it’s in this beautiful book.
I live in the country. I live 3.5 miles up a dirt road in the Elkhorn Mountains, and on the weekends ATVs control the airspace, especially during hunting season. So, they’re part of my reality.
They do say women are most at risk of being beat up during the Super Bowl, statistically. So I was just thinking, when are men most dangerous? And it seems—I could put war in there—but when that kind of energy is clustered and then what does the Great Mother of the Animals think of that?
What would she say about when men are most vulnerable?
What would she say? I would like to know that too. War might be that too, and the aftermath. What would you say?
I don’t know, but I’m curious.
About the Book:
Where Outside the Body Is the Soul Today comprises two interwoven series-one of linked prose poems called "Another Letter to the Soul" and one of individual lined poems that explore the connection between anima and animal. The volume speaks to and questions the ancient concept of the soul and its contemporary manifestations, including the damaged soul, the American soul, and the blind, gagged soul of history.
Melissa Kwasny does not define the soul in traditional religious terms, but in a shamanic, perhaps ecological sense, as the part of being that continues its existence after death. The poems in "Another Letter to the Soul" point inward, addressing the human soul directly, while the individual lined poems search outward, sensing the soul in the plants, animals, rocks, waters, and winds that surround us.
This is Melissa Kwasny's sixth book of poems. Her previous collections include Pictograph, Reading Novalis in Montana, and The Nine Senses. She is also the author of Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision. She has won both the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award and the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America.
About the Author:
Melissa Kwasny is the author of six collections of poems, including Pictograph, Reading Novalis in Montana, and The Nine Senses, which contains a set of poems that won the Poetry Society of America’s 2009 Cecil Hemley Memorial Award. A portion of Pictograph received the society’s 2009 Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, judged by Ed Roberson. Kwasny’s nonfiction book, Putting on the Dog: Animals and Our Clothing, is forthcoming from Trinity University Press, and she is author of the essay collection Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision. She has edited multiple anthologies, including Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800–1950 and, with M. L. Smoker, I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights. Widely published in journals and anthologies, Kwasny’s work has appeared in Ploughshares, Boston Review, and The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral. She lives outside of Jefferson City, Montana, in the Elkhorn Mountains.