Carlene Gadapee is a high school English teacher and part-time wordsmith in northern New Hampshire. She shares her small New England home with her husband, a bossy Chi-pin dog, and a few beehives. Carlene is a devoutly sports-addicted bibliophile and her work has been published in Thimble, Parks, and Points, The Henniker Review, the Aurorean, Postcard Poems and Prose, the Northern New England Review, and Sojourn (UT-Dallas).
“There are only two creatures of value on the face of the earth: those with the commitment, and those who require the commitment of others.” –John Adams
Interview with Featured Poet of the Week (7/31/19) Charlene Gadapee
Fishbowl: So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing poetry.
CG: I’ve always loved musical and rhythmic language that is full of evocative imagery. My dad read to me every night from books like The Color Kittens and The Wind in the Willows. I wanted to make language that sounded like that.
Fishbowl: How would you describe your style of writing? Where does it come from?
CG: I am, at heart, drawn to compression and evocative imagery. I also need to “hear” the first line in my head before I can write anything at all. I’m always in tune with the musicality of language; sound matters as much as sense. My family is a musical one, which might explain it! I’m also a formalist; I love sonnets, sestinas, etc. just as much as I do well-crafted free verse. A poem needs to have a solid architecture; if it’s all fluffy bits with no foundation, it just doesn’t work.
Fishbowl: What are you reading right now?
CG:.I’m reading a really fascinating book called Words to Eat By, written by Ina Lipkowitz, which explores the history of food/language/culture. I’m reading a variety of poets’ work as well. And I am an info junkie—I’ll read just about anything in print and online media if it catches my interest: science, politics, weird events, etc. Heck, I read the back of the toothpaste tube.
Fishbowl: So, shameless self-promotion time. What projects do you have going on right now?
CG: I will be working with a wonderful practicing poet on developing what I hope will become my first full collection! Other than that, I’m prepping for another year of teaching high school classes.
Fishbowl: Any social media links you would like to share so our readers can connect and learn more about you and your work?
CG: I don’t really have a huge online presence other than a personal Facebook and an Instagram. I tend to be pretty private with the online stuff.
Fishbowl: So, tell us a bit about your featured poems.
CG: My poems are generated from sound and image first; when I draft a poem, I blurt blurt blurt. Then, I let it sit awhile before I come back to it. If I feel the same pull as I did when I drafted the original material, then I dive in. I tweak it, read it aloud, and then…hope it resonates with a reader. Often, I read my work aloud to my husband, who has a really good ear for language. He is one of my best readers and editors!
Fishbowl: Let’s take a look at the pieces.
I sat outside in the warm rain,
Skin drinking it in,
Soul-soaking sweetness, drenched–
It was summer.
And I asked what is skin?
A wrapping, hide, organ,
Tissue and tautness,
Stretched thin, old, sinking to age,
Spotted and translucent
Blue-veined and fragile;
A flower, petals
Under glass or stars.
And I wondered, what does it mean
To be hide-bound?
Darkness, no air, musty, cracked,
Leathern and dead, soft flakes
Filtering under the touch,
Drifting away in a sudden sunbeam.
What is light? I asked.
A breath, a glittering, warm
dust, illusory, intangible:
Clarity in sepia,
Enveloping and dazzling sight.
Sweetness, drenched hide,
Sepia petal flakes
Of grey stars.
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s going on? -Four Non-Blondes, “What’s Up?”
We are betrayed and fed great, squishy boluses
of pliable play-dough lumps
that choke out air and force hot tears. My mouth
is a teeth-clacking
rictus of unbelief.
I want my eyes to shoot
laser beams or
It feels right.
I am staggered and aphasic.
The news unspools, a curling, smoking
bibliography of outrageous acts.
Truth is a discarded Chinese take-out container,
attracting creeping things, like ants and flies.
Webbing unstrung, lawn chairs take flight, break windows, tangle in wires. Sparks
shower between leaden raindrops. Staccato fusillades of egg-shaped hail dent
car hoods, gas grills, and metal slides in the park. Large, sodden branches, stripped
of leaves, wave starkly like crazy orchestral violin sections, desperate major league
baseball batters swinging wildly at invisible pitches. Our roof cracks and swoops,
an angry eagle’s wing mowing down small trees, chasing cats, and crashing into sheds.
I glance at the sky, heart racing, even though there’s no wind and little rain. Cars hiss by.
Damage imagined. Lightning flashes.
I look for you.
You’re not here.
Fishbowl: Some of the qualities I appreciate most in poetic works are word economy and simplicity (being quite MAD for the style of haiku myself). I see these in these pieces, especially in “Benediction” with its distillate ending stanza. What is your relationship with language and its use in your work?
CG: Compression and white space matter a lot to me; line breaks, room to breathe…again, it’s the sound first, then the sense. Cadence, syllabic structure, the texture of language, the specificity of words—these all matter in equal measure.
Fishbowl: I find “Contradiction” to be a curiously beautiful piece with a little ‘edge’. What was the inspiration behind it?
CG: Quite simply, the daily news. So much pain, anger, disbelief—and no words can even capture the frustration sometimes.
Fishbowl: “Tornado Warning” is a lovely piece of prose poetry that captures the ‘internal environment’ of the narrator. I am interested to know if it is a wish for safety, a betrayal, or—indeed–a warning.
CG: Yes. (Okay, maybe that was a little simplistic.) It started with a real tornado warning, to be honest. Then, I let my doomsday imagination play it out, playing a little game of what if? I think you’ve hit it on the head, actually: wishing for emotional and physical safety, fear, and a warning of what might be.
Fishbowl: What is next for Carlene Gadapee?
CG: I have a lot of things I want to work on; there’s a fun project of blending a short prose narrative I wrote from a borrowed character’s point of view with two shorter, struggling poems that I want to see if they will work together and become something interesting. I also have a memoir piece I am thinking about investing some new energy into.
Fishbowl: Great, Carlene! Any parting thoughts? Advice for aspiring writers out there?
CG: Find mentors, attend readings, get involved in seminars, workshops, a writers’ community—whatever feeds your skillset, exposes you to new work, and will help you make and set deadlines.
Fishbowl: Last question…What would you want the epitaph on your gravestone to say?
CG: To be honest, I have actually thought about that. I love Whitman, more and more as I get older. So, I’m pretty set on the following from Leaves of Grass, even though it’s probably too long:
“If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good help to you nevertheless
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”