“I was hurried, not agitated,” a poem
Multimodal artist Suzanne S. Rancourt, of Abenaki/Huron descent, has published two books: Billboard in the Clouds, which received the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award, and murmurs at the gate (Unsolicited Press). A third book, Old Stones, New Roads, is under contract, and her fourth, Songs of Archilochus, seeks a press. She is a U.S. Marine Corps and army veteran who holds an MS in psychology from State University of New York, Albany, and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Billboard in the Clouds (Northwestern University Press)
murmurs at the gate (Unsolicited Press)
The title’s distinction between “hurried” and “agitated” demonstrates the speaker’s intentional reflection. Did you make other diction choices that changed the trajectory of this poem?
SR: Not so much diction as breath and pause that cultivate the space for couplets to form organically and, in so doing, the pacing of what the physical action of contemplation feels like. Our thoughts are always linked together, even when we don’t recognize it at the time. Free-writing allows us to express those connections by bypassing the part of the brain responsible for cognitive constipation. Just write. Then, go back, see what resonates, read your work aloud; literally feel the words in your mouth. Images are concrete and to each image a memory can be attached and to each memory an emotion. You see, everything is connected whether we choose to acknowledge that or not.
R: Did your title inspire the poem or come about after writing?
SR: The body of the work, the poem, inspired the title. For me, this is a healthier process. It is a way to honor the story, the narrator of the piece of work, to acknowledge its voice. It chooses its own name.
MR: In another interview with us, you mentioned that this poem resulted from a free-writing activity. Did you make a conscious choice to use (or not use) traditional modes or forms?
SR: As I mentioned above, initially there was no form but the free-writing itself. And from there, through reading aloud and quietly, links, patterns, rhythms emerged that naturally settled into couplets.
MR: What is your connection to punctuation, or the lack thereof, in this piece?
SR: One of my first undergrad professors (years ago) at U.M.F, was a psycholinguist. I had a terrible time with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Fortunately, this professor knew of other ways the brain could learn such things and we worked on breathing. Just like playing a woodwind instrument, timing our pauses, rests, measures etc., to breathe through our music, we must read our work aloud. This professor simply stated, wherever you need to breathe comfortably in a line, you need some punctuation. Thus, line breaks, stanza breaks, hyphens are placed with specific reasons to regulate tone, pace, rhythm. My punctuation is not random. It is not carelessness.
MR: Can you say more about the themes of controlling time and fate in this poem?
SR: The next time you are waiting for an Uber, Lyft, or taxi, take note of where and how your thoughts wander. When something in our world causes us to pause, we don’t usually hold our breath. Eventually, something moves; our body, our mind, our thoughts. Take note of this because in this space we are not in control of the present but must move alongside in a parallelism of events. In this case, we are a passenger. “I was hurried, not agitated” and gave myself permission to coexist with this thread of free association.
MR: What made you include imagery in the lines, “Soil—dark chocolate loam sponge wet with ganache / granulated sand—good for drainage bad for meringue”?
SR: Perhaps I was hungry or watched too many British Baking Shows! But seriously, my mother was an incredible French pastry baker, so I draw from all of my experiences with her. Concrete with abstract: good healthy forest soil really looks like this and has a deep and rich smell. Where the soil has loads of stones, there may be eventually, below the loam, sandiness. Meringue is difficult to make and bake. There is a delicate balance between heavy (too much sugar or one speck of yolk,) light, not enough air, too much air, and time. Beat the egg whites too much and you must begin again, not enough, still must begin again. What tips us over the edge or keeps us present in the moment?
MR: How did the length of this poem shift from its initial to final drafts?
SR: There wasn’t a shift in length. It morphed into shape. My Grandfather really was killed when his Farm Haul flipped on him. Yes, he really was tilling his strawberry fields. By reading aloud it was clear that the last line brought the movement to a resolution.
MR: What is it like for you to read this poem out loud?
SR: Each couplet is a story, measure of breath, a contemplation that can bring calm and centering. When we find ourselves having to wait for something, we might as well make good use of that moment. Being present is a good use of time.
Writing Prompt from the Author
Explore your own family’s genealogy, your own roots, what connects you to the Earth, place of birth, or residence. This inspires and supports people in being themselves while validating their identity. We must honor all of our ancestors. We are born with this right to be our sacred selves.
1.A list of free-writing prompts from the Poetry Foundation, sorted by age.
2. A short history of dowsing, from the USGS.
10 Questions Interview with MA Review https://massreview.org/node/9580