A Conversation with Kathleen Driskell
What was it like to imagine the lives and afterlives of your “neighbors?” How do you translate their voices into poetry that mixes both lyrical and narrative elements?
I’ve been thinking about the lives of these people for twenty years, since the day my husband and I stumbled upon the church property for sale and I spied its humble graveyard right next door. As a young mother, I was first moved—I could actually feel my heart move inside my chest—standing in front of a row of seven small headstones, infant brothers and sisters who died within a few years of each other in the late 1800s.
All cemeteries are filled with mysteries. I think that’s one of the reasons people are drawn to them. Mt. Zion next door is no different. Slave graves rest in one corner and at the opposite corner sits a man’s headstone that seems determinedly placed outside the boundaries of the cemetery proper. Those mysteries provide the perfect soil for the imagination to take root. It’s more difficult to try to place myself inside the grief of those who have recently buried loved ones next door, particularly the twenty-three-year-old son of my neighbors. As my poems address both those who have died long ago and more recently, I tried to take on, at least to some extent, the diction, sensibility, and rhythms of poetry necessary for the particular time and situation in which the person lived and died. I hope the reader can feel those differences when reading through the book, comparing, for instance, the lyric “Infant Girl Smithfield” with the more narrative “The Mower.”