Open Alphabet welcomes Annie Guthrie and her recent book The Good Dark,
published by Tupelo Press (ISBN 978-1-936797-59-2).

Annie Guthrie

Annie Guthrie is a metalsmith as well as a wordsmith. Her poems have appeared in Cutbank, The Volta, Drunken Boat, Omnidawn, Ploughshares and more. She is currently translating a book of poems by her husband, the Italian poet Tommaso Cioni. She practices metalsmithing in a warehouse studio in Tucson.

Annie teaches Oracular Writing at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and offers private apprenticeships through her website, annieguthrie.net. She has been awarded an Academy of American Poets prize, and an Arizona Commission on the Arts fellowship.

vandal to rue

rues the day
rulers the dawn

maws dark tresses
the claws darks's ledges

-- from THE GOOD DARK

Open Alphabet: What spawned this book? Did the poems come together of their own accord or did the notion of The Good Dark precipitate the poems? The Good Dark

Annie Guthrie: Yes, I had a notion – a vision, a something – a peeling? A moment in which the fabric of the world came slightly apart, enough for a peek, enough for a feeling glimpse of superconsciousness. The origin story of the book: I was housesitting for a summer on a little island in Maine, reading and making jewelry and negotiating a reality that did not match up to my fantasy of living alone on an island. I was wandering the shores looking for fishmongers, thinking about cooking foods that were exotic to me, like lobster, and fishcakes, or somesuch, and I was running in the woods. I ran to the docks of ferryboats, hopped on them, glid along, and ran off of them to neighboring islands, where I would just keep running. I was running and running but my project was to stay very alone. I was reading the literature of mystics and saints. I kept imagining the sound of whales thumping around in the bay, and this did not seem discordant or improbable. Looking back, I can say it was probably the sound of foghorns, but I know I was trying to listen carefully. One afternoon I was taking a bath in the widow’s loft of this old house I was caretaking, and there was a map of the island hanging above the tub. I can’t imagine or remember what state I was in, but I do remember clearly “seeing” all the letters of all the towns suddenly peeling off the map and into the water, where they fixed letters and names all over my body, and in a flash I understood the answer to the question I had been asking, and I understood that there is another way of being alive, a way of being awake -connected, and yet, in place. But as soon as I understood this, I started losing the sense of it: to bring awareness to consciousness is perhaps to immediately risk getting lost. But I also saw clearly that I could write my way back to it, and that I could leave a trail of evidence of the journey, a trail of poems. And I knew it would take a very, very long time, because I was going to write the self into a new being, and include every turn and misstep. To write and erase the poem was to write and erase the self, over and over and over, one hundred and forty two or so times, I think that’s how many versions of this book there were.

OA: What was most challenging about the publishing process? Is there anything that you wish you had known then that you know now?

AG: The manuscript had been a finalist a great number of times over a ten year period. When it was finally accepted, I had to wait four more years for it to come into print. I think what people should know, is, in fact, not to wait, but rather to keep on, keep in it, and to keep the eye off the prize – what’s most important is the writing process.

OA: Do you have a structured writing practice -- a preferred time or place?

AG: No, my whole project for writing is to integrate it, or, better, to see how it is already integrated with the whole being. That means, I am “writing” all the time.

OA: When poems arrive, are they mostly intact or do they come as fragments?

AG: Probably they come as the tail of an animal I get a good hold of, one which then drags me off for a tour through its particularized territory.

OA: It seems that poets in other cultures and other centuries were often valued as seers. According to your bio, you mentor poets in Oracular Writing. Can you say something about Oracular Writing and how it happens?

AG: The classes and the sessions I teach are primarily generative, and are grounded in observation, encounter, and inquiry. We are researching wakeful presence as it relates to writing, and we are learning to understand this idea that we are “writing all the time.” There are more opportunities in the private sessions to explore the relationship between “seeing” and poetry, more exploration of divination and ritual as constraint or as practice.

Annie Guthrie workspace

OA: Who do you see as your poetic predecessors? Is there another poet who beckons? A poet who haunts?

AG: I just do what they tell me to do, I don’t always know their names.

OA: Who are you reading right now? What is on your desk?

AG: Several books by Kamau Brathwaite, and also, “The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness.”

OA: In addition to writing and teaching, you are a jeweler. Does the making of poetry intersect with the making of jewelry?

AG: At the moment, they are only approximate friends.

OA: Poetry-wise, what is next for you? Are there more poems waiting for the next book?

AG: I have another completed manuscript, called “Let x (be Rogue),” that I have in rotation – it has been a finalist a few times…….and I am working on several other hybrid manuscripts that will hopefully melt off occasionally into poetry. Thank you for asking!