Marsh Hawk Press offers a "Three Questions" Series for its authors to discuss individual titles—an index to the Series is available HERE. We are pleased to present this Q&A with Susan Terris and her 2012 book:
1) What is something not known or obvious about your book GHOST OF YESTERDAY, New & Selected Poems?
When I began to write the sequence of new poems that begin this book and that give it its title, I had no idea who the Ghost of Yesterday was, other than that he was a voice speaking to me of the past and of the present. I'd written about 30 of these poems when I first realized that the voice was that of my father, a man who had died more than 30 years ago.
2) What was your process in assembling a New & Selected volume of your poetry?
To me, the process of putting together a volume that had poems from all five of my previous poetry books was daunting. Selecting the poems was difficult because I wanted the poems from each book to form a coherent whole. The poems in the sections of Ghost of Yesterday do not always follow the same sequence as in the books where they were initially published but are rearranged to relate to one another and bridge the gaps of the non-included work. I also did (though some disapprove of this) some editing of my earlier poems. Mary Mackey, who worked with me as editor on this book, was extremely helpful—even encouraging me to add some poems I was planning to omit.
Initially, finishing the book was depressing, as if I'd never write anything ever again. Then, gradually I have come to feel that I have a book with a selection that shows the reader what I have done over the past 25 years, and that has freed me to move forward and venture into new territory.
3) If you had to choose a favorite poem or a poem to highlight from the book, which one would you choose and why?
The new poems are all diptychs: two takes on a subject, two poems with the title terms reversed. You'll find a sample below—a diptych where I was finally beginning to realize that the Ghost of Yesterday is my father:
Warp & Woof
The ghost of yesterday is in the garden
Cleaning his nails with a silver file. He says
The camellias and hosta are lush this year,
But the red squirrels need to be shot.
I'm on ice skates trying to race away from him,
On stilts anxious to rise to another plane, but he
Has picked up a bagpipe and is warping and woofing
Until its clamor makes it impossible to think.
Who is that man, he barks, between the wheeze of
Pipes, and what do you think you are doing?
Woof & Warp
In the background, a chorus hallelujahs in some
Language I don't speak—Greek perhaps—
As the texture on the loom exchanges thick for
Thin. A thread breaks. Then another. Now
What? I ask the ghost, but instead of replying
With words, he uses his hands to sign. He may be
Saying sock or socket, love or lust. Looming above,
He pokes my chest with his silver nail file.
He may be saying the game is not worth the candle
Or just telling me to file this one away.
We thank Susan Terris for participating in this Q&A. You can visit her at her website: http://susanterris.com