Posted By jatyler / 5th October 2012
interview /// Goat in the Snow by Emily Pettit
Emily Pettit is the author of Goat in the Snow (Birds, LLC) as well as two chapbooks How (Octopus Books) and What Happened to Limbo (Pilot Books). She is an editor for notnostrums and Factory Hollow Press, as well as the publisher of jubilat. She teaches at Flying Object.
MB: One element of Goat in the Snow that struck me within the first few poems (and carried through the entire collection as well) was the subtle use of slant rhyme and word repetition, making many of the poems in this collection doubly forceful. For example, from ‘How to be Responsible’:
You breathe out of order. It doesn’t totally suck.
It staggers. It’s not like being a hook.
It’s more like being a hook ladder.
Like the silence that sometimes accompanies the
unexpected. What are your ears hearing?
I mean move over falling days,
I am attempting to be responsible.
Can you talk to us about your use of these tactics?
EP: I love slant rhyme and I love repetition. I love letting sound be loud. Or be quiet.
MB: A majority of the poems in this book are titled using ‘how to’ phrases – ‘How to Throw Things Around’, ‘How to Make No Noise’, ‘How to Build a Fire in the Snow’ – is this a commentary on poetry as a tool, what it can or can’t do, or is there some other function for titling so much of Goat in the Snow this way?
EP: My HOW TO titles are not a commentary on poetry as a tool. I certainly can talk and think about poetry as a tool. Though while doing so, perhaps good to be careful. The HOW TO titles come from my delight and comfort when engaged with instruction.
MB: Goat in the Snow is divided into three sections, and although these three movements have many similarities, the second section seems noticeably more curt or direct in its phrasing – leaning even towards lists at some points, as in ‘How to Start a Fire Without Sticks’:
Get up. Get up and pretend your head isn’t full
of tiny broken sticks. It will be worth it to walk
through the door such a complicated mess,
crazy to such purpose. One way to torture a person
who is sleep deprived is to pretend the house is on
fire. Look very serious and say, Fire! Fire! Fire!
Can you explain a bit about how you assembled this collection, and how you came to divide the book into these cohesive and yet distinct sections?
EP: If the sections do indeed feel cohesive and yet distinct, then I am very pleased and yet unable to articulate very well my thoughts regarding assembly. I put the book on the floor. All over the floor. So I could see every poem. Not every page, but every poem. I then let my eyes lead me to looking at and knowing how poems might work together in close proximity to one another. Dean Young, my thesis advisor had advised me to put my book in sections for the simple reason that it would allow for a little highlighting, particularly of the poems that begin and end each section. I decided it was worth seeing what might happen if the book took on this structure and then upon became attached to seeing the book look this way.
MB: Animals and rural scenes / settings abound in the contemporary lit scene, and Goat in the Snow has a wealth of its own animals: goat, mongoose, duck, owl, rooster, elephant, moose, dinosaur, horse, wasp, etc. How did these animals get in there, and will it always be a part of your poetic process?
EP: These animals are here where I live. I am looking at three elephants. Earlier today I saw a mouse. But not in my house! At a school where I teach. But not inside. Outside! Goats often visit my mother’s house. My mother lives close by. My mother lives where I grew up, in an old farmhouse in Amherst, Massachusetts. There have been boats and bears in our yard. The boat fell off a truck and into our yard. The bears came from the woods. The woods are everywhere. So are the bears. The other day I saw so many turkeys! At least once a week I drive by the Dinosaur Museum. Where aren’t there wasps? When I was super little we had two horses. One was named Thunder and the other Lightening. I hope and think I need animals to be a part of my life for my entire life and as long as they are, I imagine them in my poems.
MB: If the titular poem ‘Goat in the Snow’ is the crux of this collection, in particular these ending stanzas:
we will repeat over and over again.
I said, I want to be a fly on the wall.
Someone said, Be a goat in the snow.
We like to think of shipwrecks
as beautiful fuck-ups
and that goats’ eyes are the secret to goats.
I think if I had a soul it would be saying soul.
To move quietly past a fence without hesitation
is what a goat does.
What does the fence represent?
EP: A fence.