Once you’ve appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, we’re never going to let you go! We love finding out what contributors have been up to since they’ve been in Hayden’s Ferry Review, and we feel a certain sense of pride and affection when we see them doing cool things (which they almost always are). Today, Sarah McCabe, one of our editorial assistants, catches up with Mary Quade, whose poem “To Bear” appeared in issue 48.
Mary Quade: The manuscript I was working on was born of a fascination with the story of the passenger pigeons, those icons of extinction. Observing a flock on the Ohio River in 1813, John James Audubon wrote, “The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse, the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.” A wonderful sight to imagine. One hundred years later, the last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. When the Bush administration placed the polar bear on the Threatened Species list, but refused to enact any policies that would actually save it, i.e. reduction of greenhouse gases, I felt frustrated. We declare a species doomed, which allows us to ignore the problem and get on with our lives. We prefer the afterward, the autopsy of the disaster, to the sad story in progress; we’re essentially lazy and unwilling to take any steps to stop tragedy that isn’t directly our own. So the poem was an indictment of that mentality I think we’re all guilty of embracing, on levels both small and great. I love that we’re prey to polar bears, too. These aren’t pandas who nibble on bamboo and look defenseless. Polar bears will eat us, given a chance, and why not? The polar bear is sublime. I also just find the little facts about the bears ripe for metaphor.
SM: What about this poem surprised you as you wrote it?
MQ: These lines in the poem: “A walrus is twice the size, but/ this means nothing to me. What do trees/ missed by lightning know?” I was staring out my window, trying to figure out why I’m not in awe of the walrus in the same way, when lightning struck my front lawn, about twenty feet away from me. To me, that said it all. It was about missed inspiration, which is a smaller tragedy than extinction, but a similar sort of disregard for what’s outside of our immediate, selfish concerns.
SM: What kinds of responses to the poem did you receive after it was republished by Verse Daily?
MQ: I remember I got an email from a man who liked the poem but informed me that the polar bear recently has been increasing in number. But he missed the point. If the habitat is disappearing, if the future is in question, outside of the present, the current numbers are pretty irrelevant. I mean, where are they going to live?
SM: What is the hardest part about writing poetry?
MQ: Hard? Digging ditches is hard. Caring for sick people is hard. Writing poetry is sometimes a struggle, but it’s a pleasant struggle, an intellectual adventure, a puzzle to solve about one’s self. What’s difficult is finding someone else who wants to read your poem and think about your puzzle as well and maybe even share it with a few friends who find comfort or inspiration or awareness in it and, in doing so, make it a less useless exercise—so thank you for printing mine.
SM: What sorts of things do you find yourself obsessing over in your writing?
MQ: I obsess over etymology. I find the origins of words open up connections in meaning for me to explore between elements of a poem. For example, in my book Guide to Native Beasts, I have a poem titled “Cadaver” which grew out of discovering that the word cadaver may have come from the verb “to fall.” I’d observed a cadaver lab and felt a little guilty about digging around in the poor guy’s guts. I liked the echo between my wanting forgiveness for looking into the body and knowing its secrets and sins—that knowledge—and the sacrifice of the body as the mechanism for forgiveness, as in the crucifixion. I look up etymologies when I’m puzzling over words to use, places to go.
SM: What have you been up to since publication in HFR?
MQ: I’ve been mostly working on essays—about Superman and Cleveland; about mallard ducks who nest in my barn; about steam traction engines; about the kilogram; and about my recent travels to Vietnam, Turkey, and the Galapagos.
SM: What are you reading these days?
MQ: Just finished teaching Donovan Hohn’s epic environmental adventure Moby-Duck. I’m re-reading Muriel Rukeyser’s “Book of the Dead,” a poem that represents everything I wish I could do and that got me started writing poetry twenty years ago, and also Pat Moran’s fun collection of poetry Doppelgangster. I just started Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue.
SM: If you could spend a day with any literary figure in history, who would you choose, and what would you do?
MQ: I’d want to hang out for a day with Flannery O’Connor and her peafowl and then be her pen pal forever. If she wouldn’t let me, then I’d spend a day eating oysters on the half shell and drinking champagne with M.F.K Fisher until we had to stumble our separate ways.
Mary Quade is the author of Guide to Native Beasts. She’s been awarded an Oregon Literary Fellowship and two Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awards. Her poems and essays have appeared recently in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Grist, Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment, West Branch, The Cincinnati Review, Wake: Great Lakes Thought and Culture, and Cold Mountain Review.