Snapshot: Farrah Field
I have been lucky enough to know Farrah Field for quite a few years now. I can still remember reading her first book, Rising and thinking whoa, this is my friend! Over the years, our friendship and my admiration have resulted in many passing birthdays, traveling around Japan, and of course, a whole lot of poetry. Since Four Way Books has released her second book, I figured it was a perfect time to check in with Farrah for a chat.* Below, we discuss books, babies, touring, and all things Buffy. Enjoy.
“We Have A Long Time To Get Used To This New Loud Ringing”
SK: Farrah, OMG! so much has happened since the publication of your first book, Rising! You’ve gotten married, you’ve started a bookstore, and you and your husband have just had your first child. Your amazing second book, Wolf and Pilot has also been published by Four Way Books. So let’s talk books and babies, shall we?
FF: Yes! Let’s talk! Books are babies, ha ha.
SK: Your first book, Rising, was well received and certainly a darling favorite amongst many of us here at Coldfront Magazine. Many speak about Rising as a “Southern” poetry book and one could argue that the Southern towns and their landscapes are integral to the book. Your second book seems to place less focus on specific Southern locale and more focus on developing the narrative of the four sisters, the mother, and the teacher. When you began Wolf and Pilot, did you know that you wanted to focus on weaving multiple character narratives?
FF: Thank you, Steven and thank you Coldfront!
Rising definitely addresses the issue of place that has plagued me my whole life. My father was in the Air Force and our family moved around nearly every two years until I reached high school, at which point my father retired in Louisiana. Although I ended up in Colorado and finally in New York, when I began to write Rising the mesmerizing and baffling South returned as a sort of recurring character in my poems. Since the book directly addresses my sister’s murder, the South becomes, at least for me, a setting full of stickiness and suspicion. I have a sort of stage-like dialogue, Tennessee Williams in style, with the South that goes something like this:
Me: Get your hands off of me.
The South: It’s called humidity.
Wolf and Pilot is very different because I was primarily thinking of the character voices rather than the place where it all happens. I have some very New Englandy places in mind—my husband and I often go to Massachusetts to visit his family and there are witchy houses and woods there—but no particular place was pertinent, to me, for the poems to feel whole. The book trailer** that my husband Jared White created for me captures the place of the book really well.
SK: How long did it take you to write Rising and how long did it take you to write Wolf and Pilot? In what way(s) do you think you or your attention changed between writing Rising to Wolf and Pilot?
FF: Who said you have your whole life to write your first book? (Hand slaps forehead) Maybe that person was wrong? Maybe you have your whole life to write away from your first book or out-write your first book or you have your whole rest of your life to write back to your first book. I don’t really know. I’m not the fastest writer and I definitely worked on Wolf and Pilot for three or four years. I was able to really dig into it during a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, granted to me very generously by Four Way Books. And as you know, I workshopped the manuscript with six very cool friends.***
SK: Wolf and Pilot is such an ingenious book! It follows fours sisters who run away from their mother who is a witch. How did you come with this wonderful and zany concept?
FF: Thank you! I’m so happy that you have such a handle on the separate characters. Some people tend to confuse the mother and the teacher, which completely fascinates me. There is a super-clear story about it all in my mind, but what I wanted the poems to convey were the raw emotions of the story and not so much the story itself. In her book Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature, Alison Lurie points out that in fairy tales the women—the innocent and kind mother who usually dies in childbirth and the jealous stepmother—can be seen as two sides of the same woman. All of this is to say my goal was to do something different from my first book. I really wanted to create the world of the poems, to completely start anew, and the idea of a fairy tale type of situation became really interesting to me. What felt even better was to thwart fairy tale paradigms. In my book, the mother is the evil and not an interloper but a toxic nurturer. The detective is pretty much a bad detective womanizer (normally prince charming). The teacher is rather complicated. She is the girls’ chosen caretaker, although the girls seem to take care of her too. Having been a teacher myself I wanted to explore the idea that teachers are treated like surrogate parents.
SK: I love this idea of working within and against the constraints of a fairy-tale. I think it’s fascinating about exploring the idea of teachers as surrogate parents! I had not thought about it from that angle.
Shortly after the release of Wolf and Pilot you embarked on a reading tour with your husband Jared White and Dan Magers. Recently, you and Jared just completed another series of readings. Can you share for us some of the highlights (and places visited) from both of those reading tours? Also, for the first tour your were pregnant and for the tour you just concluded you traveled with your son, Roman. How has having a baby affected your readings and ability to travel?
FF: What’s strange is that I actually didn’t read in very many Southern places when I was reading around for Rising. Recently I was in Toad Suck, a place in Arkansas mentioned in Rising, and I was reading from Wolf and Pilot. Jared and I joked how funny it was that I didn’t have my Toad Suck poem with me.
Here are highlights from some of my favorite readings. With the one person who attended our reading, we broke into a cemetery to find a Civil War memorial, a mortarless pyramid (Virginia). We once arrived at a bookstore, after having driven nearly eight hours, and our hosts had forgotten we were coming (Texas). One of the best-attended readings I’ve ever given was in Vancouver; there were so many in the audience that the applause was deafening. I’ve read with Matt Hart, who is a magnificent and dynamic reader, several times at more than one AWP and every time I am slotted to read shortly before or after him. No matter what I do it feels as though I’m whispering my poems. I’ve read in three black box theaters—one in DC, one in Santa Monica, and one in Hattiesburg. I had one of the best times of my life being interviewed with Jared White and Dan Magers for Poet as Radio in San Francisco.
Roman has been really wonderful to travel with. Someone very wise told me that when you have a baby, your baby joins your life. Gulp. Jared and I often travel for readings and we both enjoy traveling in general, so Roman is learning how to adjust to being in new places and has made traveling quite fun. We think he’s really in tune when one of us is reading and I feel so warm holding him while Jared or someone else is reading. Also, he’s not walking yet so all this may change once he’s mobile.
SK: Speaking of your son, how has becoming a mother affected you as a person and you as a writer?
FF: Becoming a mother has been really fun. I feel different. The little things don’t bother me because I’m either too tired or don’t have the time to deal with them. I’m getting a little better about carving out time for myself, especially for writing. I used to write in the mornings and now I have to write late at night or whenever or when Roman is sleeping. I’ve been typing lines into my phone, which feels weird because usually I write things down before getting on my computer. I feel worried and scared about some things, but overall I imagine all the New Yorkers around me as babies and it makes it all feel tender.
SK: I know a little while back (pre-Roman) you were working on your novel? How is that coming along? What else are you working on, or what else do you wish you had the time to work on?
FF: I’m pretty sure Zadie Smith said the best thing you can do after you write a novel is to put it away and come back to it in a year. Without planning to, I have more or less done that. The novel is written and I’ve published an excerpt in Harp & Altar. I have not really felt the need to do anything else with it. Jared and I recently went to New Orleans and while sitting in the backseat with Roman, so many changes and edits were coming to me. Because I get motion sickness while reading or writing in a moving vehicle and parked boats, I couldn’t write any of my ideas down and decided that if they were good enough and important enough changes then I would somehow remember them. It was a welcome urge, however, to work on the novel. I don’t usually let myself expand like that, you know, for four hundred pages, so I really enjoyed the process of writing it and I’d certainly like to write another.
SK: Would you rather be in the cast of The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, or The Walking Dead?
FF: I would love to be a zombie!
SK: Who or what were you in your past life?
FF: I was a cat and I was a weaver.
SK: Farrah Fawcett or Famous Farrah?
FF: Ha ha. Guess I have to stick with my namesake Farrah Fawcett, but love it that Famous Farrah wears glasses!
SK: Would you rather be a puma or a bobcat?
FF: Bobcat—they have the most patterns.
SK: Would you rather be Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or a rouge samurai?
FF: Buffy, of course. All roads lead to Buffy.
SK: Would you rather be a famous unicorn or salty old dragon?
SK: Astrological sign?
SK: If you were in a band would you be the lead singer/rhythm guitarist, lead guitarist, bass player, or the drummer?
SK: Final question, if you were a tree would you be a deciduous or a coniferous?
FF: Deciduous with hopefully beautiful orange leaves.
* Read Ken L. Walker’s snapshot with Farrah Field from 2009 here.
** Watch Farrah’s book trailer here.
*** Many years back, Dan Magers organized a manuscript workshop consisting of Farrah Field, Jared White, Kaveh Bassiri, Rich Scheiwe, Dan and myself. In that workshop we saw an earlier version of Wolf and Pilot.