Molly Gaudry - Cubist Fairy Tale: rags, hunger, wish fulfillment, magical dresses, the loss of a mother, rebirth, but set in different landscape

Molly Gaudry, We Take Me Apart (Mud Luscious Press, 2009)

"There is no more perfect place to be than in Molly Gaudry’s tender, dirt-floored novel(la), WE TAKE ME APART. Oh cabbage leaves, oh roses, oh orange-slice childhood grins: this book broke my heart. Its sad memory-tropes come from fairy tales & childhood books. With language, Gaudry is as loving & careful as one is with a matchbook... when wishing to set the whole word on fire." - Kate Bernheimer

"Molly Gaudry’s debut evokes the spirit of iconic fairy tales that have transported readers for centuries. Her variations on these themes delineate the psychological journey from girlhood to womanhood. But WE TAKE ME APART is more than a retelling. In it, Gaudry reconstitutes the essence of what makes fairy tales compelling, & she does so imaginatively & with great attention to language, the earmarks of poetry." - Christopher Kennedy

"It’s gossamer & emotional, but it’s also a story of transformation over space & time, a story of love for mothers, partners, food & lace. It’s a story that slips between fable & experience, but seems somewhat unsure which is which." - Mathias Svalina

"It appears to be maybe the dissection of a young woman's mind, where language spawns chains of images and feelings that accumulate with the movement of the text. I like the way the piece lives in the borderland between prose and poetry, which serves the stream-of-consciousness-ness of it well. Gaudry makes good use of repetition and makes poetic use of technical language blended into the text." - Josh Maday

"Molly Gaudry's We Take Me Apart is a dazzleflage of a book. The stuttering disrupted language of this cubist concoction disappears before your ears, sinks into your eyes. This aggressive dress camouflage reweaves Gertrude Stein's rewoven grammar of worsted silk-screened gabardine into a fully ripped patois-ed pattern of stunning wonder." - Michael Martone

"Back when I first set about to become a book editor, Molly Gaudry is the kind of uncommon writing talent that I idealistically hoped/expected to semi-routinely discover and cultivate. But I spent enough time on the trade book publishing scene to understand that having something like this come across an editor’s desk is much more of a red-letter privilege than any kind of a right.
An epic poem of epic mastery, We Take Me Apart centers on a girl (the narrator) who grows into a woman who grows into a heroine. And like most bona fide heroines, she remains nameless and fanfare-free.
Brought up in an undisclosed non-American country, the narrator introduces the reader to the inner workings of the socioeconomic class divide through the eyes of a child who’s a member of (what’s considered) the wrong caste. Her only nearest and dearest is her mother, a domestic worker who cooks and cleans for wealthy families. So predictable are their days and hours that they “have no need for a timepiece.”
Despite all of the material suffering, the narrator is raised to “scrub away” the unkind words of “fine tall ladies with short tempers.” When other children tease her about the way she looks or when she overhears one of the snobs in her midst “define play clothes as rags,” it’s her mother’s words (assuring her that her appearance “was not so bad”) and her mother’s actions (anointing her with a homespun crown of red leaves, declaring her a queen) that stick.
As the narrator segues into young womanhood, she develops into a gifted seamstress, someone who stitches together disconnected pieces and fragments to make them whole. A random male houseguest whisks her away from home, gallantly offering to pluck her from the bleak tedium, and help her launch a more lucrative dressmaking career. He becomes both her lover and her entrée into the world of creature comforts.
She’s not the only impoverished ingénue to run off with the first seductively solvent male stranger that saunters along. But this narrator isn’t as emotionally vulnerable as many of those who have stood in her “canvas sneakers.” And it quickly becomes pretty clear that this inner strength and groundedness—a “single red leaf was worth more to [her] than a dozen red roses’ petals scattered on [her] bed with pink candles all around”—is moored in the wholeness of her mother’s unshakeable love. As soon as she realizes that her knight has a few too many chinks in his not-so-shining armor, and their honeymoon period comes to a violently screeching halt, she cuts her losses and takes her wanderlust elsewhere (with the couple’s household dog in tow). An itinerant seamstress weaving in and out of setting after setting, and new experience after new experience, she gathers the fragments of each setting and experience to stitch together a self-made tapestry of a life.
There are some who never stop nursing their grudges about the indignities their hardscrabble journeys have hurled their way. But this narrator-heroine chooses to become a healer instead of a hater, leveraging her craft into a singular art form. For example, she designs (avowedly impermanent) dresses out of flowers, to make other women feel distinctively stylish, attractive, and “protected,” if only for a day.
The same visions of community empowerment lead her to fantasize about taking a messianic mission trip with her mom, flying over huddled assemblages of people who have had to struggle the way that they have, to “take away all hurt” and “wash them at length with [their] tears until there is no longer any such thing as complication in their lives.” A seamstress of the human situation, she won’t abide by the notion that there are any prescribed limits to mending bits and pieces of scraps and fragments into something respectably whole.
Much like her flower dresses, this heroine’s seemingly indefatigable stamina turns out to be impermanent. The lurking, hulking ogre of pain eventually succeeds in pushing itself into the forefront. Yet even then, she takes her edges off by losing herself in flashbacks of her “kind,” “capable,” and “never disappointed” mother—her own, stitched-together pain management system.
There’s a languid, yet firm, Marguerite Duras quality to Gaudry’s writing and, like a Duras masterpiece, We Take Me Apart is as savorable as an expensive, hard-to-come-by bottle of Burgundy. This is the kind of book that you not only can read in one sitting, but one that you probably should try to drink in all at once, slowly and solemnly, in order to fully appreciate the adulation-worthy undulation of Gaudry’s verses. Don’t settle on taking We Take Me Apart apart—submit to the majesty of its wholeness." - Kadzi Mutizwa

"Inspired by fairytales & Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Molly Gaudry’s We Take Me Apart, is the first novel(la) from J. A. Tyler’s mud luscious offshoot. Described by Gaudry herself as a “novella in verse,” the book does indeed read like a lengthy, narrative poem in spite of the author’s hesitation with the latter label. While there’s little punctuation, followers of mud luscious will immediately notice the publication’s calling card—ampersands replacing the word “and”—as well as the all-caps dialogue. For example, “I once asked BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GIRL IN THE GLASS DRESS & Mother’s answer was JUST COUNT YOUR LUCKY STARS YOU’RE SAFE IN BED & NOT A COOK FOR A RICH MAN”.
Story-wise, WTMA contains three characters: the protagonist daughter, her mother, & the daughter’s significant other. Though much of the book is in first person, it shifts to second when referring to the daughter’s love interest. Successful, too, is Gaudry’s adept use of voice, which changes as the main character grows older. I also enjoy the language she employs, drawing attention to diction & repetition a la Karen Lillis’s The Second Elizabeth & Peter Markus’s Bob, or Man on Boat.
Because the text alludes to other works of literature, those unfamiliar with such references won’t have quite as full a read as those who do—a gamble on the author’s part for sure, but one that doesn’t significantly alter the plot. Lamentably, the narrative meanders in the middle, lowering the dramatic tension that the beginning sets up so well. The end, however, is a saving grace. Not only is it unpredictable, it’s a refreshing jolt that avoids the formulaic by refusing to stoop to a happy (fairytale?) resolution for the main characters." - Jason Jordan

"The remarkable thing about love is how it operates as an entity—something born miraculously with a fast unraveling life span. Love lives, dies then haunts. The human body seems merely a house within which love can sully the sheets and leave its fingerprints on everything. Molly Gaudry’s protagonist in We Take Me Apart houses a love that ravishes her interior until all that’s left is a frame—walls with gaping wounds for anyone to enter. The last lines of the book reads, “Listen / if nothing else / I am at least a woman who has known & loved / the company of a lamp in a dark & empty room.” Lines such as these expose humanity’s exquisite vulnerability. Gaudry’s work implies that life, at its most essential, is the memory of love, hope, and the rooms it has occupied.
The plot of We Take Me Apart is made from reconstructed fairytales that center around the lives of three women: a mother, daughter, and the daughter’s lesbian lover. The lover leaves, the mother dies and the daughter is abandoned with no desire to experience more loss. Gaudry’s prose does not offer the comfort of a “Happily Ever After.” The novella ends with the main character cutting out her own eyes to prevent anymore ghosts—or rather memories—from overwhelming her. She has had enough. She wishes to remain with what life has already given her— to make time for reconciliation with her past.
It is the novella’s twisted fairytale quality that gives the reader the feeling that he or she has just had their umbilical cord cut a second time. The ending is necessarily visceral and suggests that there are multiple realities—that loss births its own children in us that require nurturing. Gaudry’s novella is a reminder that love is intangible and it demands our undivided attention. By gouging out her eyes, Gaudry’s character becomes a kind of ghost. She can no longer see our world. She has resigned herself to the past entirely.
We Take Me Apart begins with an homage to Gertrude Stein and could be read as a reinterpretation of the three-line poem, “A Carafe that is a Blind Glass.” This approach is an act of pure courage on Gaudry’s part. Only a brave and talented writer would dare mess with the perfection of Gertrude Stein. Add this offense to your favorite childhood fairytale being reimagined and We Take Me Apart reads like a novella about to implode. And yet, as if by magic, the story holds even as the narrative spins out of control.
Gaudry writes:
If there is a how to describe the what
I feel then a dead-red-roses-filled &
fingerprint-smudged carafe on the center of a
table in the center of a room in the center of a
house in a place called before the stitching years
where I have long collected dust
forgotten skin
fallen hair
sloughed cells that nowhere rise with the
entrance of a body
yours
perhaps
There is something brutally honest in Gaudry’s interpretation: she does mess with perfection and does so quite well. She continues by writing, “they stir me into steaming cups until I am gone.” Just as the three-line mastery of Gertrude Stein’s poem is gutted, the main character is consumed by her acts of self-sacrifice. Where Gertrude Stein was perfection, Molly Gaudry is human which is, in and of itself a different kind of perfection.
Not only does We Take Me Apart reimagine the works of others, the novella revises itself as it is being read.
This can be seen in the lines:
WHAT I WANT IS TO TASTE WITH
DELIBERATION THE WAY A
QUIET MEADOW BECOMES DIMMER AFTER
A WETTING AROUND THE EDGES
I said this not long ago for no reason really
except that by taste with deliberation I meant
hope & by quiet meadow I meant baby & by
dimmer I meant calm & by a wetting I meant
pink lips & by around the edges I meant clamp
mother’s breast
a revision
then
of what I want
which is to hope the way a baby becomes calm
after pink lips clamp mother’s breast
Truth is flexible in We Take Me Apart and evolves as the main character recreates herself after each loss she survives. This flexibility of truth adds to the sense that multiple realities are co-existing in Gaudry’s book. What one means is not what one says. What one feels is not necessarily mutual. That doesn’t make the words and / or feeling any less real. Gaudry’s character seems to be collecting herself—to be housing multiples of herself from different stages of life. The book shows adulthood to be our multiple selves craving wholeness.
I wish I could say for certain I knew how Gaudry does it. She uses such simple language to create an epic and moving tale. We Take Me Apart is an exercise in empathy for the reader. It is pure song and story. This book is a gift." - Nicelle Davis

"It begins, “Long ago,” and so you know that Molly Gaudry’s We Take Me Apart is going to be a fairy tale of sorts. But the next part of the sentence, “in a different version,” signals clearly that this will not be a tale you’ve heard before. And the repetition of that key phrase, in a different version, lets you know throughout this wild novella that this will be no comfortable, well-worn tale.
Sure, it’s full of the familiar trappings of the fairy tale: rags, hunger, wish fulfillment, magical dresses, the loss of a mother, red roses and cabbages and rebirth, both literal and figurative. But this is a different version, a different vision of the landscape that lies between girlhood and womanhood. Like the very best fairy tales, its heart is the dark forest that comes wrapped in lovely, evocative language, beautiful word pictures.
It’s clear immediately that the narrator is telling her tale from a distance. She is locked away now, it seems in some kind of institution, in a place where the plates “are not of the shattering kind.” And so right away we know this tale has no bright Disney ending.
The story is that of her passage from childhood into adulthood, and coming to terms with what being a woman means, to others and herself. Like Rapunzel, she is fiercely protected by a mother figure, and like the fairy tale maiden, she leaves the mother figure for a man. I was almost reminded more, though, of the version of the witch from Sondheim’s Into the Woods. She alone knows the danger of the woods, of men, of women alone in the dark, and yet even she can only protect her daughter so long before protection becomes a prison. Gaudry’s narrator reminds us that though we heed the warnings, we will eventually leave the nest and be caught by the pain of growing up and old.
The idyllic fairy tale, at first, is intact: we are introduced to a mother and daughter living humbly–but mostly, it seems, happily. Gaudry writes:
I quite often felt as if we were
two women in a garden in a famous painting
sitting as we were beneath a parasol of petals
protecting us from the sun
But then, appropriately arriving in a rainstorm and in need of a bed, the stranger appears and the mother and daughter duo is broken apart:
But then you came along & in this version
happiness was my hoped for ever after for us
One of the greatest strengths of the novella is Gaudry’s mastery of language. This “novel(la),” as it’s described on the cover, is really a prose poem; the language comprising it ebbs and flows, drifts and spurts and sometimes dries up almost entirely, in a manner that gives a clear urgency, but also a backwards pull, the gravity of nostalgia, to the narrator’s prose.
All childhood becomes a fairy of sorts to adults, and adulthood is myth of sorts to children. We don’t know quite what lies there; it’s undiscovered country. And Gaudry’s use of silence surrounding the words perfectly captures this unspoken unknown. As Calvino wrote:
Myth is the hidden part of every story, the bured part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.
The silence, the wet white space around the burn of language, reads at times as if a character from Beckett had crawled or hobbled into a fairy tale–the kind of Beckett character that keeps his or her silence, only to suddenly wax eloquent in manic bursts. Consider this passage from We Take Me Apart:
when she spoke her words were a flurried rush from the shallow space mistaken for her throat
scratched
papered

I begged her not to speak & learned the actions of her bidding
Did them because I could not bear to hear her voice
Which in the past had been the bursting of winter into the green of spring but had become a memory in the middle of her bed in which she rested no like vegetables in a salad but vegetables in canned soup
The language can be florid and fluid, but also economic, sometimes achingly so. Phrases like this one: “Gratitude is a cousin to the squeezing of a heart” are sadder in their brevity than a full paragraph could ever be.
Gaudry also plays, skillfully, with contrasts throughout the novel. The use throughout of food and fertility, often coupled together, stands in stark contrast to the images of death and endings in the book. Consider this passage:
I like to think of those women growing larger with the growths of grapes and cherries and apples inside them
anything but citruses
of course
for I had given up citruses
Food is both a source of life and a path to endings, just as fertility itself leads to birth but also, eventually, to death.
Gaudry uses this same double contrast with food when the narrator returns to her mother, who has now gone from strong to weak and wasting. The narrator explains how she can’t even call her mother “Mother” anymore, because “Mother” is, in her vocabulary, a strength word. Instead her mother finally must go by her real name, and the foods associated with her have changed as well. She says:
Mother had been black cherries in a bowl& Susan had become chewed up & pit-spit out & Mother had been days & Susan was seconds…Mother had been pepper & Susan was the mistake the ruins a meal
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the narrator would choose food metaphors for her mother and herself; throughout the book, as here, the women’s worth always seems measured by others, literally parceled out and spooned up and sifted and served, as shown here:
the well-known people
they scoop me with a tiny spoon
you are the spoon in me dividing me
and in phrases like, “they stir me into steaming cups.”
Of course, there is no eventual savior for the women in this novella, after the mother’s death and a ghastly final act by the narrator. But though destroyed by the past, the narrator’s happiness is also salvaged, a little, by the grace of myth and memory. “When I think of Mother now,” she says, “I think of us as little women wearing white dresses with red ribbons woven into our hair.”
The child and the woman have merged, have gone back to the days of innocence to live in memory and in a woman’s strength, gone back to being whole, unparceled and able to eat the reddest fruits once again. Gaudry’s beautiful story is ultimately a tragic tale, but a kind of redemption mingles with the sadness: you can never go back again, but you can wander the halls of the permanent past for as long as you like." - amber noelle sparks

"HTMLGIANT: Can you explain your decision to write a “novel in verse.” How do you differentiate this from a narrative poem. What is verse to you.
- The term “novel in verse” was introduced to me by Abigail Beckel, of Rose Metal Press. We were chatting over drinks at some bar in Baltimore, and Abby mentioned Peter Jay Shippy’s novel in verse HOW TO BUILD THE GHOST IN YOUR ATTIC. Interestingly enough, it’s billed as a “book-length poem” on the Rose Metal Press website. Go figure.
Anyway, at that time, I was working on an early draft of WTMA. Though it doesn’t much resemble the final product, that first version was what I thought to be too long to be a poem and too short to be anything else. So when Abby said, “novel in verse,” I thought, “Damn, I guess that’s what I’ve been working on.” I consider that woman an angel of some sort, sent to make my life make sense. Having that term led to a breakthrough, truly.
I’m hesitant to provide an answer about verse and what I think it is. I feel I’m not really qualified to give it a crack just yet. Maybe in a few years, after I’ve taken a few more poetry courses, filled in this big gaping hole in my literary education. From 1999 to 2006, I was always, in some way, involved in a literature or fiction writing course or group. In my time away from school, I seem to have developed an intense interest in poets and poems. I plan to apply to MFA programs this year, and all of them for poetry. I’m looking to find my answer to “what is verse” as well.
Would you say there are any precedents to this book that you had in mind when writing WTMA... What I mean is, when constructing your book, did you have any previous book in mind that guided you. I believe you already answered this maybe by stating you didn’t even know what you were writing. But what about other books, irrespective of form. and also, I am now interested in personal motive if you had one.
- When I first began WTMA, I did not have any external guidance except Anatomy for the Artist, from which I borrowed chapter titles. That was the beginning, but then I scrapped the first version and moved on to something totally new, from scratch. I borrowed a lot of words from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and started threading them together, into a new narrative.
Personal motive: I think, looking back now, I wanted to be in love. I thought about how being in love, theoretically, could put a person back together again. I thought about how a person might be taken apart. I said, “we take me apart” over and over and over as I drove fourteen hours from Chicago to Philadelphia, and when I arrived, after I closed my fingers around the key to that room I’d rented, I began to write.
I get a sense that maternity and its residue in the child are important themes here. Am I wrong. Elaborate.
- You are not wrong. I’m very glad you picked up on this theme, actually. One of the storylines that never made it into this manuscript is that the speaker/narrator intensely desired to have children. Instead, I suppose, she creates other things. And she later returns home to take care of her ailing mother. The roles of mother and child are reversed, for a time. And I wonder if, perhaps, as a result of maternity (and the lack of maternity) “and its residue” within her, she turns to destroying her mother and then herself.
What do you do when you get nervous.
- If in public, I wear too much makeup and pace. If in private, I wear sweatpants and bunny slippers and pace.
You use second person in this book. Since in second person, the object of the narrative was witness to what happened, second person seems to me to be about confession. Am I wrong here. On page 66 you say “the idea of again binding two or more parts to/make a whole thing/to put together stitch by stitch” i think this evidences what i am trying to suggest about your themes. that “stitching”, which could be seen as a writing act, is the way to take parts, which can be seen as memory or individual consciouses, and make them something new, something new that will still bear the marks of its combination (stitches). I think this is further suggested by the title, “We Take Me Apart.” the title is inclusive, and references parts. That in this taking apart, or invesitgating, two people are involved, and the stitching is the book.
- Is the second person about confession? I’m not sure. I lifted the use of this particular kind of second person from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. And before I had anything else, I had the title, We Take Me Apart. And the question was, “Who are ‘we’?” I knew I didn’t want “we” to be too simple, with just two people, so I thought, “How can I have more than two people who take a person apart?” This led to a mother, a daughter, and the daughter’s love interest.
The lines you reference are really interesting; you are very perceptive, Senor Pink! I mean, I had never thought of “stitching” as writing. I always thought of “stitching” as, you know, sewing. With a needle. With thread. But in this context, yes, it really does work the way you suggest. Thank you for that. That is really lovely.
Continuing with the thread/stitch/writing metaphor, on page 68 you begin, “a great many things are strong/thread/for instance/which can be snapped in two with a quick pull/can also be wound into binding that cannot be broken.” I think this, to borrow from the title, takes apart the earlier concept of stitching. More specifically, you took apar what was taken apart. When something is stitched, it was once less than itself, and was brought together. It is still two or more things but seen from far enough away is only one thing. Does this represent further effort to explore relationships? If a break in a relationship, like thread, “can be snapped in two with a quick pull”, is it better to entwine slowly with another, to ensure strength in bonding. Speak on this.
- Wow, this is a difficult question to answer. The relationships in WTMA are central to the story. They are, as I seem to be bludgeoning to death, the meaning behind the title’s “We” and “Me.” I think, perhaps, that the relationship between the daughter and her mother is strong, wound and entwined, whereas the relationship between the daughter and her lover is easily snapped, easily broken. Yet, both are formative for her; and each lives on to haunt her, long after they no longer exist. The speaker is clearly weaker without these two others in her life.
On a personal level, I’m just not sure. Most of my relationships–and I don’t necessarily mean romantic–have snapped “with a quick pull.” Whether due to moving around so much or being a very private person, I’ve had few lasting relationships. Despite this, those that have endured have certainly benefited from slow entwining. I think in this sense, “entwine” means to in some way have suffered through and survived something together. I guess this is where strength comes from. Odd, then, that something so desired–strong human connections–happens so often as a result of pain and suffering.
It seems like fairy tales, maybe pieces of fairy tales, are incorporated in WTMA. What is the place of fairy tale in WTMA, according to you.
- Certainly, key objects from the more well-known fairy tales (and, of course, the more well-known versions of those fairy tales) have been recast in WTMA, just as key words (objects) from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons were also recast. As for the place of fairy tale in WTMA, I consciously borrowed the rule of three. There are three main characters (a mother (she), her daughter (I), the daughter’s love interest (you))–and they are the collective “we” in “We Take Me Apart.” There are also three main settings (a village, the rest of the world, and a ward), as well as three main time periods (childhood, adulthood, old age). Fairy tales, too, are almost entirely rooted in the women’s sphere, usually very domestic, so I also borrowed that. But I wanted to subvert the heterosexual fairy tale romance storyline by including an ungendered love interest. And, of course, I hope I was able to escape the need for a happy ending.
In any case, it all started with Stein. There was a lot of food I didn’t really know what to do with. “cocoa,” for instance, made me think of “cocoa bean,” and “bean” made me think of “pea” and “The Princess and the Pea.” Usually, some food item led me to some fairy tale. All of it was very much like this, with the word associations, etc. It has turned out to be a useful method for me. The project I’m working on now uses words from Jeanette Winterson’s story, “The Poetics of Sex.”
I remember reading something about you teaching writing and environmental issues. What is the discipline of your mind when trying to discuss writing and environment, how do you bring the two together and from what perspective environmentally.
- It’s true. I’m not much of a theorist–not yet, anyway–but in the years to come I hope to be able to contribute to the field of ecocriticism (the study of literature and the environment). Unlike most ecocritics, however, I’m interested in representations of the natural world that aren’t realistic. There is a place for magical realism in ecocritical discourse, and I intend to be someone who speaks out (or writes) on its behalf. Take, for instance, the rain of flower petals in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the rain of fish and leeches in Kafka on the Shore, the (unsurprisingly, yet still beautiful) metaphorical (but literal) rain at the end of Blindness, and the many forms of rain in Scorch Atlas. Although these rains are not the product of realists, not the product of environmentalists (or nature writers), is the message any less clear? Rain isn’t always cleansing; it isn’t always symbolic of rebirth. This is what ecocritics, I hope, would want people to understand. Texts like these are important contributions to this field, I think.
Here’s the kicker: I’m no nature lover. I don’t hike, I don’t camp, I don’t fish, I don’t hunt, I don’t garden, I don’t commune. I’m an indoor type of gal who enjoys, occasionally, a walk on a path, a cabrewing trip, a county fair. Still, I believe in the balance of our ecosystem, in the reality of global warming and potentially catastrophic and irreparable climate change. As human beings, we need to have more awareness of and care for the natural world. Engaging in literature and exploring its relationship(s) to the natural world, publishing stories and poems that do the same (Willows Wept Review), I hope to help (maybe subconsciously) create that awareness (among other bookish and indoor types, who don’t care any less than the next person).
Does fairy tale have a specific tendency for environmental address.
- Absolutely. And what a good question, Sam! You get bonus points!
Nature is perhaps the most consistent character in fairy tales, across the board. If not as character, then certainly as setting. There are woods, fields, meadows, moons, bodies of water, magical animals and trees. I worry that the Disney versions of the fairy tales we know only help to perpetuate this problem of ours–how we humans so sorely mistreat the rest of the world’s creatures. In these versions, the natural world and all its inhabitants serve to aid and/or rescue the human characters (the pumpkin chariot and seamstress mice in Cinderella, the boar’s heart in place of Snow White’s). This goes back to Christianity’s creation myth, does it not? God provides animals (and plants) for Adam (man) to name and possess. They are his to do with as he pleases; they exist to serve him. It’s something to be aware of, is all I’m saying–the why and how we got to where we are today. Literature may play a larger role than we’re willing to admit, and if this is true then literature must also do what it can to undo damage. Which is, of course, where ecocriticism comes into play." - Interview with Sam Pink

"DE: Describe to me how this novella in verses came about? It’s available for pre-order now, and hits for real in December? What’s it like working with JA? One of the coolest things I’ve seen, blurb-wise, is “With language, Gaudry is as loving and careful as one is with a matchbook… when wishing to set the whole word on fire.” How does reading that feel?
- The novella in verse came about as a result of my move to Philadelphia in February of 2009, immediately following the AWP conference. I’d packed my bags, hit the road for the conference, moved into the Hilton, then hit the road for Philly, with a brief pit-stop in Cleveland where I slept for a few hours. On the drive from Ohio to Philadelphia, I repeated the phrase “we take me apart” over and over again. I loved everything about it—its suggestiveness, its aural qualities, and the way it prompted all these thoughts about the literal and metaphorical process of dissembling a human body, mine. Upon arrival to Philadelphia, I moved into my room-for-rent, shut the door, and wrote a ten-page, single-spaced poem that I then blogged about. I said it was too long to be a poem, too short to be a story, too weird to be either, really, and the best thing I’d ever put on paper. I knew that if anyone would get it, that person would be J. A. Tyler. I queried him for the mini-chapbook series, told him I knew it was over the 1,000 word limit but wondered if he’d make an exception. He said he’d give it a read.
I then blogged about how I thought it could become something longer, a full-length work, perhaps. He read that post, I guess, and a few days later sent me a note saying he’d like to read it again when I’d turned what I had into a longer work. We set a deadline, and as it approached I began to freak out. What I’d sent him just wasn’t going anywhere. I kept trying to force this longer storyline, and it was awful. The deadline grew closer and closer, and at the final hour I abandoned all the new pages and started over from scratch, borrowing key phrases from Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons. I sent J. A. a note saying, “Hey, I started over, I hope you don’t mind, and here’s what I’ve got,” and he was nothing but encouraging. I think, probably, most publishers would have pulled the plug right there, but J. A. supported the new material. When the deadline arrived, I sent him the first draft of what is now We Take Me Apart. In no way does it resemble the original poem (which is to be published as an e-chapbook titled Anatomy for the Artist by Blossombones), but the essence of the initial idea—the taking apart and putting back together again—remains. Without the pressure to deliver (on time) to the guy who was willing to publish my first book, and without his support and encouragement, and, later, his editorial genius, I might have given up altogether. I will be eternally grateful to him for everything he gave me—most importantly, his belief in me.
As for Kate Bernheimer’s blurb, I’m still in shock. Here’s a woman whose writing I absolutely love, a writer who ignored all my fan mail, a (now-former) professor at the university that rejected my MFA application, and what does she do for me totally out of the blue? She writes the best damn blurb a doe-eyed fan could have asked for. I want to hug her. I will hug her. When she calls security and I’m led kicking and screaming from this year’s AWP, you’ll know why." - Interview with David Erlewine


An excerpt :

long ago
in a different version
it was not a glass slipper but a glass dress
it was not beautiful
it was not flowing like a stream
it did not have a train wider than an acre
in this version everyone could see everything
nothing was left to the imagination
due to the drought
all the people in the town
children too
used their spades to uproot the vegetable gardens
day after day
after day
the day finally came when all they could do was look into the cloudiness & pray
disgraced
for why else would the gray lining of their clear sky withhold unless it had been
decided that the only useful thing was for them to suffer
there was not so much as a cabbage leaf that year
cold came to be known as night
heaviness was no longer a worry
the town turned to violence
a rich man's cook was discovered making sauce in the heart of his house
as everyone knows that food does not smell until it boils
until it sweats
the people still there
who had not yet gone away
their bellies round with malnutrition
tongues useless calluses
detected that woman's sauce
came for her with a knife
the first ingredient they added was her toe
cut at a neat incline
they called it butter
they added her bottom half
called it custard
her top half
they called tea
when she cried they heard only the whistles of their stomachs filled with her
they raised their glasses
toasted

*
this is the story Mother told to get me to behave
tucked into my bedding
I once asked BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GIRL IN THE
GLASS DRESS & Mother's answer was JUST COUNT
YOUR LUCKY STARS YOU'RE SAFE IN BED & NOT A
COOK FOR A RICH MAN
the way he made her feel
the way he looked at her
she left nothing to the imagination
"


Molly Gaudry, Parts (Mud Luscious Press )

"Stories in verse, as a concept, are fairly amorphous. Abstract yet accessible. After all, literature (all of it) stems from them and the oral tradition. With this plethora of history, you’d think talking about modern stories in verse would be easy. Instead the discussion often becomes mired in debates about form. What is a prose poem, what’s the difference between a story in verse and a regular poem, when is a story a story? Each link of this chain is broader than the last. Have we yet asked when is writing writing? If not, we will soon.
Parts by Molly Gaudry is an excerpt of We Take Me Apart, and while, like any good writerly-nerd, I am intrigued by all the questions of form and content that so often plague discussions of “genre-confused” (for lack of a wittier description) work, I decided to simplify things and think of Gaudry’s piece in two ways: first, as a poem, and second, as a story.
Parts poetically fits into the grand tradition of the feminist canon, by which I mean to invoke the reclamation of the female gender as an identity, as it is so beautifully rendered in the work of Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Ellen Bass, and many others. Gaudry defines the femininity of her subject with an adept strokes that move from the women’s outer shell (their clothing) to their inner terrain (their bodies). She begins:
I began to produce several dresses a week &
in the making of them not a single flower
part was left out because every part has a function…
While the narrator’s gender remains ambiguous, Gaudry here has introduced the subject of gender with a single word, namely, “dresses”. Two stanzas later she writes, “for we are more than our parts,” letting the reader know, this poem isn’t just about what makes us or what separates us, it’s about the human condition, the ultimate muse of great poets. As the poem moves on, the parts of the flowers are given, acting in the absence of the what that is not given: the body. Gaudry, working almost the way a Soviet montage in film works, weaves images of the tailor putting dresses together with the flowers, these disparate images inferring different meanings, allowing open-ended interpretations:
I sewed buttons so that
those dresses would not come undone &
leave those women bare without their
wanting to be
This passage is followed up by the word “stalks”, a stanza unto itself, listing the next flower part, but also playing off the idea of a woman bared. Not a sexual image, but one of an identity having been stripped away. But in the end nothing is hidden from the tailor:
I like to think now of these
women in the moment of their undressing
fragmentary
ripe for fertilization
These final lines tie the whole piece together, bring us back to the beginning of the poem where Gaudry writes, “we are all of us more than our parts.” At the same time, though there is the feeling that though we may be more, there is no escaping our parts, just as the flower cannot shed its petals without remaining a flower. And though this assertion is humbling, and possibly, given your mood, morose, it is also comforting, especially to the tailor, one can assume, as he or she clearly finds solace in his or her occupation which only exists because of the parts in the first place.
In a story one must look at plot or at the very least the arc from the beginning to the end. What happens, where does the story take you as a reader? Parts, ostensibly, is about a tailor, working on a dress detailed with flowers, reflecting o what they mean to the women who wear them. The tailor likes to
think of these women sitting
cross-ankled on park benches thinking of
their ovaries

We are, of course, drawn back to reflect on gender, but not in a banal way, as the next stanza reads:
I liked to think of these women thinking of
how to decrease the contamination of their
ovaries

The women in the tailor’s imagination are not concerned with the latest fashions, with reality television shows, or making babies. They are concerned with the health of their womanhood, as represented here by their ovaries. Fertilization is a pervasive theme in Parts, as the word is used once for every two pages of the chapbook. But here it is a source of conflict. As the tailor sees the women as “ripe for fertilization” he or she also feels the need to give the women shelter: I made
hidden pockets because every woman
should have a place to hide her personals

While she clearly sees the utilitarian view of fertilization, the tailor wants to give women protection, a way to secrete themselves from the world if need be.
More than anything, Parts, as a story, is a learning process. A character study. The reader is given a chance to learn how the tailor’s mind works, how he or she views the world." - Ryan W. Bradley

Comments

  1. It must have taken you a long time to gather all of these. Thank you for taking the time.

    M.

    ReplyDelete

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