Chad Faries is the author of The Book of Knowledge and his forthcoming memoir Drive Me Out of My Mind. Chad’s Midwestern upbringing and international experiences give his poetry a unique perspective. His brand of poetry possesses a singular combination of the humbly playful and historically engaged. In the words of publisher Lisa Flowers, founder of Vulgar Marsala Press, “his work [is like ] a trip through Disney through the eyes of Woody Guthrie through the eyes of Ezra Pound, like an ever-overlapping pair of bifocals.” Chad answered my questions I emailed to him.
It has been an eventful summer, but that likely is the wrong adjective. My grandmother, the matriarch of my new memoir, Drive Me Out of My Mind, died a couple of days after the release in late June. Then I had to drive across the country to Arizona to spend some time with my biological father who didn’t know I existed until about 15 years ago. In those 15 years, we have spent about 5 days together. Now, he is dying and I am with him, learning about him, and talking a lot about movies and women and it is wonderful. He gave me a treasure of journals from his 70s exploits last night and I plan on doing something with them. I have also been working on a series of what I call Death Poems. They are different than the tradition of death poems where one writes a poem on his/her death bed. The Koreans had a strong tradition of this. I guess my poems are more direct ruminations on death. The cliché is that indiscriminate readers say poems are always about death, so, there you go….Death Poems. And of course some are completely antithetical and celebrate a life force.
What drew you to The Children’s Encyclopedia by Arthur Mee for The Book of Knowledge?
I had just finished my collection, The Border Will Be Soon, and those poems were written in a very heavy, war trodden, first person narrative. The subject matter was based on my travels to the former Yugoslavia between 1995 and 2000. It was so difficult to read those poems in public because of their immediacy. Sometime in 2000, my father gave me an old copy of one of the original 1911 volumes. When I read the titles of the entries—“The Wonderful Things That Happen When You Hurt Your Finger” and “Why It is Bad to Sleep With Flowers in Your Room”—poems started taking shape. The diction in the book was freeing because the first person in those poems was really distanced from a first person that was closer to the actual voice of the author. Plus, it was just so damn cool to look at and cradle in my hands. It smelled wonderful.
How does the poetry in The Book of Knowledge relate to your memoir Drive Me Out of My Mind?
Autobiography and the play of innocence and experience are an integral part of both. In both the poetry and the memoir, there is no “moral” to the stories because judgment is withheld. There may be some moralizing, but that is likely done on a more emotional level—the emotions being created through tone and image, not necessarily through expository prose.
One section of The Book of Knowledge focuses on the history of the Iron Range in Michigan. How does the practice of history relate to the creation of your poetry?
The way I see it, there is recorded history, and then there is this blossoming history that surrounds our every moment. I like to posit autobiographical history into the context of a known and documented history. For example, in the poem you refer to, some of the recorded history of the first settlers in Iron County Michigan are contrasted with the exploits of friends and family members from the region so that the histories blend into a single, inclusive narrative. Also, the geological descriptions of the land of the land are metaphorically transferred to the actions of the characters.
How did your vision influence the overall design for the book?
I wanted the cover and every page to tell a visual story that also contextualized the somewhat awkward diction that peppers the book. I wanted the design to be beautiful, yet disorienting. Hopefully the reader might ask “Where am I? What are ducks doing at the bottom of this poem? Why don’t people design books like this anymore?”
In these days of political and economic upheaval, what can poetry offer the individual?
A deeper contemplation and an entirely new dimension that might make fear and mortality seem utterly absurd.
Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
I like Ezra Pound because of the way he collapses the personal and historical. The Cantos does this over and over. Pound drags us through the literary and cultural histories of the world, and then describes his cage, or tells us about the smell of a tent. Marianne Moore is capable of this too. She can encapsulate humanity into the scientific description of a spider. Paul Celan has also been a favorite because he has his own emotional lexicon of lightness and darkness. “He speaks truly who speaks in the shade.” And then there are the two pillars of America poetry, Whitman and Dickinson. One speaking in long, uncertain breaths, and the other in short, terse jabs. That is what makes American poetry so dynamic.
It would only be detrimental if a writer didn’t make allowances for surprises. The History of Iron County Michigan I mentioned above is an homage to Pound, but I am sure there are occasions in the poem where Pound would have taken out his pen, as he often did, and slashed entire lines. This wasn’t his poem. This was my poem. If you lose your poem in your nod to a favorite author, the poem has failed. And if the favorite author were to read that poem, he/she would tell you so.
Do you have any helpful tips or words of encouragement for aspiring writers out there?
Go find a flock of resting birds and run at them as fast as you can. When they lift, keep running, but raise your head and track their assent until you lose sight of the horizon and all you see is bird and sky. At that moment you will be flying too. Harness that sensation and translate it into a new language.