An Interview with New Southern Voices Poetry Prize Winner Lindsey Alexander
Hub City: Tell us a little about your manuscript.
Lindsey Alexander: I resist telling readers what a book’s about, especially with poetry, which would necessitate dictating themes. But I will tell you some of what’s in it.
Rodeo in Reverse follows our heroine through Middle American landscapes—the trees with bitter crop of the South; the Midwest, where you can see the tornado before it hits you but your best bet is to throw yourself in a ditch; the duels of a cartoonish West.
Yeats said poetry’s an “argument with the self.” In Rodeo in Reverse, it’s more like feuds. Good Me and Bad Me (two characters in the book) squabble, duel, and hold fast to each other, for starters. Lovers and spouses and homesteaders and adventurers and Tiny Me and real-sized me duke it out, too.
And because it’s poetry, of course it deals in and with time. There’s a Portuguese kind of nostalgia, saudade—a yearning for a past (or imagined) future that probably never existed—and suspicion of that. Bits of American history are woven throughout, from art history to witches, further time-tampering. My imagination is chiefly a time machine.
Yet, when you’re exploring the past, you can’t help but be an impostor—you don’t belong or “mis-belong” at best.
No comment on other implications of the word impostor.
HC: What/who are you reading right now? What inspires you?
LA: Right now, I’m reading Who Killed These Girls by Beverly Lowry. Just finished The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg. But generally I tend to move around between books and drop them easily in the summer. I’m more committal come winter.
People-watching, eavesdropping, and historical fact-finding missions inspire my work the most.
HC: The New Southern Voices Prize features emerging Southern writers. Can you talk a little about how the South and place in general inform your poetry?
LA: This is a bit like that part in I Heart Huckabees in which Jude Law asks “How am I not myself?”
If I’m a fish, Kentucky is my water. I’m uncomfortable most places by nature and most comfortable with my discomfort just south of the Ohio River. I learned to eavesdrop there; I met most of my best friends there; I’m part of a family there. The mistakes I’ve made are Kentucky-tinged mistakes; the joys I’ve known are of the Kentucky persuasion. Kentucky’s uglinesses are my own. I’ve done time in Indiana and a summer in Georgia and for now call Tennessee home, but all these places are just moons (beautiful and weird but “cold and planetary”) to me. Even when in the persona of Abe Lincoln (Kentuckian), talking about Cher with her progeny, turning anger into a broom, or dropping a postcard in the mail from Paris, I imagine I do so with a lazy eye—one always on home.
A body is also a kind of place, isn’t it? A mobile home. I live in an cis white female single-wide, a Southern body, a Southern home—something that also informs these poems, I’m sure. The older I get the more I think about what all that means. TBD.
I love going to off-the-beaten path places, oddities. I’m the person who pulls over mid-trip when she sees the sign to Jimmy Carter’s birthplace or a cemetery that’s a perfect circle. Nearly any gimmick will do. Other people’s voices stir me, and wherever I am dictates much of my conversation and definitely my eavesdropping. In these ways, place (now Tennessee) also informs my work.
HC: What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I work as a writer and copyeditor. You can hire me. I also produce a podcast, Story of My Life, which features interesting guests over age 70 talking about how they came to be who they are and where they are. (Currently seeking guests for the 2018 season!)
I loaf. My grandmother told me repeatedly when I was young anyone with a working imagination has no cause for boredom. Then I met The Dream Songs (“Life, friends, is boring …”). Loafing leaves me opportunity to throw darts at the continuum between. I don’t think this was my grandmother’s intent. Ask any of my friends: I’m an excellent loafer.
Yoga every day and regular hiking keep me sharp. I like to work with my hands, as well, mostly sewing, and probably in some reaction to working on a computer much of the time. One of my aspirations in life is to have a fully me-made wardrobe, including the shoes.