Knox Writers’ House 1st Birthday Sound Off

Posted on January 28, 2013


Knox Writers’ House Contributor’s Pick of the Week 1/28/2013

A year ago Knox Writers’ House went live. In honor of this and how our map-house continues to stand and grow, the original four KWH creators retell stories from its making. Thank you to all who have read and listened. And to Galesburg Illinois, in whose soil this seed took.  

The Raft by Carl Phillips in St. Louis, MO

Chosen by Emily Oliver in Ithaca, NY who says:

         How can I possibly talk about this?

          Early on, when it was for the adventure more than the archive, we’d joke that these recordings would just end up in our own Itunes libraries, for our own scratched-to-shit mixed CDs, to be heard in our headphones on icy walks through our pretty town whose eyes had closed with her factory.  

          For these years, I’ve lived inside this map because I’m in love with your voices. Bryce, Sammie, Monica and I built this house out on the prairie where your voice and I could go be in love. I’ll never love anyone how I’ve love the three of them from watching them build, from watching the way they each listened. This house became a tunnel I walk through towards everything else.

      This house is made up of all the front doors you opened to us, all of the rooms with the kitchen tables we sat Baby, our microphone on for you to read into. Each place we’ve been, these cities have been constructed, composed in my mind by your voice. The first time I knew we had something with the project was in the Minneapolis living room of Paula Cisewski and artist Jack Walsh. They invited their poet friends John Coleburn and Sarah Fox over and their house became a cathedral.

            For me, the project started out as an apology to the Midwest for ever, in ignorance, believing her to be pulseless or backwards or plain. The boys and I recorded about 100 writers that first summer traveling around the heartland. It all began with 8 initial emails I sent to the writers whose books Monica had given to me the term before in an independent study she and I called Writers in the American Midwest.

            Previous to that and mostly to make friends, I had recorded some Creative Writing students and faculty the Spring after I first transferred to Knox College. Then, the following Fall I recorded writers in Buenos Aires, where I’d studied abroad. That’s when the interviews came into it. What is it like to be a writer in Buenos Aires, Argentina? I was held up at gunpoint by two teenage boys when my date / interpreter and I took a side street to finish our bottle of wine.

            The winter I returned to Galesburg, Illinois, I was lonely. Bryce was in France. Sammie was involved with a girl. The books Monica gave me then were shelter. Monica held up walls around me so I could shout and shout until I heard my own voice. That is what she does for a living, build a space for other people to learn themselves in.

After the first few writers all got back to me with sure come on over and as long as you’re in town you should also record… I remember Monica and I sitting on the Gizmo patio at Knox with the sun in her eyes saying it could really be a map.

            Somewhere along the repetitive highway on route to the Twin Cities, our first real stop, we thought to ask everyone to read from a favorite work by another writer. There are moments in those recordings where you can hear where he or she got caught and fell in love. You can hear it in the Twin Cities’ own Kristin Naca reading Pablo Neruda’s Uno or when Michael Martone reads Rebecca by Donald Barthelme, when Robert Hass reads his translation of a found Frida Kalho poem called In The Saliva or when Jericho Brown recites this untitled poem by Lucille Clifton.

            There is something in gears or noise of those poems or stories that has made each person carry these words with them, made them return to it over and over. I live with all these, your voices.  The four of us, we have all been given refuge in so many of the voices collected on this map.      

     This is why I chose Carl Philips’ The Raft from a book I carried around in my purse for months. I’d spilled wine all over its pages.  When I listen to the early interviews, I can hear in my voice the ladder I was climbing out of my youth.

…I had thought the truth

would be a falcon–for how it rarely soars, as much as for

that precision with which, on wings built for speed

mainly, it descends, then strikes. But it is not a falcon. 

The truth is a raft, a rough-at-each-of-its-edges affair of many

sturdinesses lashed together…

thank you thank you thank you


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