Louisville Magazine

OCT 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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Page 159 of 172

LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 10.14 141 arah Gorham's frst essay collection, Study in Perfect, includes stories that embrace our imperfect grasp on the world as much as they illuminate di- mensions of perfection that ordinary observation overlooks. Te poet and founder/president/editor-in-chief of Sarabande Books took 10 years to complete the essays, with titles such as "A Drinker's Guide to Te Cat in the Hat." Real Simple magazine paid Gorham $4,000 for "Te Changeling." Gorham, who is married to poet and Guggenheim Award winner Jefrey Skinner, says that, for the Real Simple piece, she was "treated to a personal visit by their photogra- pher from New York. It was to be a winter issue, so he insisted I wear winter clothes. Outside. In 90-plus-degree weather." How did you know that the unifying theme could be "perfect"? "As soon as I wrote that frst essay ('Study in Perfect'), I had my subject. It didn't stop me from writing on other topics. For example, 'Jimmy's Place' is about my six-month stay at the James Merrill House (the late poet's residence) in Stonington, Connecticut. In the end, no amount of seeding could force that piece into the collec- tion, so I dropped it. But look at 'Perfect Barn.' Tat essay began as an exercise: pure description, an attempt to re-create the building as if it were sculpture. I thought about how a bird, insect or rake might see the place, what it would look like in changing weather. Te epigraph — a defnition of perfect — came later, as did the essay's opening questions." What can you do with an essay that you can't accomplish in a poem? "Te titular essay, interspersed through the col- lection, could easily have been a series of poems. Each section contains many of poetry's elements: compression, imagery, music. Te only real difer- ence is the lack of enjambment. Tese were transi- tional pieces, the result of wanting a longer line. A sentence can be a long exhalation or a short burst. It can chug along with repeating consonants or S The Perfect Form By Lynnell Edwards Photo by Aaron Kingsbury Editor and poet Sarah Gorham fnds supreme comfort writing essays. of-rhyming verbs. It felt natural and more like the way I thought and spoke, so I went with it. Instead of crafting one pressured tuft of words at a time, I flled the page with anything that came to mind. It was a great relief." Te essays cover a variety of subjects — magic mushrooms, Japanese ceramic art, alcohol- ism, lying, the nature of fear. But at the center of nearly every essay is family. How do you see that theme intersecting with the theme of perfect? "To some extent you write what you live, and I was raising children during the years this book came about. But because I believe the recol- lection of experience should extend into the world and bounce of it, even the more personal essays contain digressions into history, biology, flm, art. Research and lots of literary reading were just as important to me as capturing the details of family life. For me, family stories and particularities were simply another lens through which I viewed the theme of perfection and imperfection." How does your experience as an editor infu- ence your own writing? "I've been able to observe trends as they appear and disappear, seen how a tremendous talent can go of course because the writer is disorganized or lazy. And best of all, I understand what lifts ordinary writing into extraordinary literature. It's the diference between writing as com- munication and writing as art. Extraordinary literature is steeped in fresh, startling, profound language that may employ any or all of the fve senses. It experiments with tone, structure and syntax. It's stylistically sophisticated with a wild underside. All of this has allowed me to remain patient with my own work. "I'm in the middle of another book, this one with no theme, so far, except that it's about Switzerland and the two years I spent there in a progressive boarding school. Why were those years so important? And why should that experience interest anyone? Being an editor has shown me what I absolutely must think about, as difcult as that is, on both the macro and micro level. No paragraph, sentence or even word should be called fnished without some thought, without consideration of its usefulness, its originality." "Perfect Barn" "Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be." "Who named it perfect? Who made the declaration? Was it a swallow, nest mud-plastered to a piece of solid timber? Dried herbs sprouting a cottony mold? Rain that slides in sheets down the red tin roof? Wasps that appreciate ventilation but would never tell you so? Folding chairs in need of a stiff brush and paint? The straw, the long-dead horse, and its hocked saddle? The what that will take the place of rakes, dangerously rusting in a webby corner? "Soon I'll move my chair, or run inside for oranges, or fail to sleep very well, and then humidity will lay a green slime across the siding. The barn will not resist. In this the barn is no better than fence, or catalpa, or felds of medium-brown wheat. "But for now, the barn has perfect siding the color of coffee grounds fecked with salt and a long gray wind-stroking. The door doesn't ft and I love it so, love the shoulder lift I must perform in freeing it from its lock. I'm a little frightened of tetanus but the bottom gap that brushes grass and hedgebrook sets forth a minty smell. The tractor on blocks, the barn's ambling house- shape with hexagonal door frames. Above, parabolas of bird-hunger chasing mosquitoes. There's an easy reason for the barn's abandonment. I love holding that reason back." Gorham will read from Study in Perfect from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Frankfort Avenue Carmichael's.

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