Poem of the Week | October 28, 2013

This week we’re featuring a poem by Rose McLarney from our new fall issue, 36.3. McLarney’s collection of poems, Its Day Being Gone, is forthcoming from Penguin Books in 2014 and her book, The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, was published by Four Way Books 2012. Additionally, Rose has been awarded The Fellowship of Southern Writers’ biennial George Garrett New Writing Award for Poetry, Alligator Juniper’s 2011 National Poetry Prize, and the Joan Beebe Fellowship at Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in publications including The Kenyon Review, Orion, Slate, New England Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and dozens of other journals. Rose earned her MFA from Warren Wilson’s MFA Program for Writers and has taught writing at the college. She is currently is Assistant Professor of Poetry at Oklahoma State University.
 
Author’s note:

A couple years ago, thinking about the cautionary-feeling but often rather irrational and amoral Appalachian lore that haunted the area in which I grew up, I set out to write contemporary folk tales and ghost stories. But, I’m not actually all that interested in the otherworldly or transcendent–and I am keenly concerned with the earthly and idiosyncratic. So the project turned into an examination of the many versions of any story that almost always exist. I looked at how, whether we are taking folk tales across oceans and through centuries, or forming our recollections of the events of our own lives, due to the subjectivity of first person accounts and the shape-shifting quality of memory, the telling makes the meaning. And I began permitting my poetic voices, which had once aspired to be authoritative, to speak like humans’, to ask questions, to pause, to waver if need be. Even more, I wanted to let them be generous and inclusive–allowing for the multiple versions of the story (and the reader’s speculation and input). There are signs of the poems’ restlessness and their dissatisfaction with the moral studying history is supposed to teach, as seen in this early poem, “Arcadia.” Then, the later poems (in my book and in the selection in the print edition of The Missouri Review) can be seen constructing themselves, and heard correcting themselves. Rather than the absolute of writing what I know, or continuing the traditions of a kind of regional writing in which I could claim expertise, I began to try to evoke another effect. It’s the feeling of the inquiry, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?,” a traveler gets when she walks into a new place and still, somehow, recognizes a quality in a face, or can somehow hum a refrain in an otherwise strange song.

 

Arcadia

I tried to leave behind
everything that could make me
burn, to evade the urges
of change, by shutting myself up

 

in the country. I live apart,
I stay in and spend evenings
on quiet pursuits, studying
history. What I’ve learned

 

is that the old house I chose
for its worn, creaking wood
was built after a woman
torched her first home,

 

that desperate for something
new. It’s to the house of her
wanting, her flame azaleas
all around, growing in closer,

 

where I have come to simplify
my desires. I wade in the creek,
collecting from the water, pieces
of china, edges charred.

 

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