A Chat with poet Adrienne J. Odasso, author of Devil's Road Down
It isn't often – anymore – that a book of poetry spends a great deal of time with me, traveling with me through my day, being read through at odd moments. It's even more rare that a poet's work will serve as a guide through my own personal process. Fortunately, my process – at least for the moment – has been completed – and I came out of it with an appreciation, as well as a respect for, the depth and excellence of Adrienne J. Odasso's new chapbook, Devil's Road Down (copyright 2009, Maverick Duck Press, http://maverickduckpress.angelfire.com/ ). Adrienne took some time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions, and for that, as well as for her excellent poetry, I thank her.
ml: Devil's Road Down, thematically speaking, appears to beg the question, 'What happens after one has reached 'the end,' and where does one go from there?' Why/not would you agree/disagree with this statement?
ajo: The end, I think, will represent different things for different people - the end of a long and difficult trial, perhaps, or (most obviously) death itself. Therefore, on a case-by-case basis, the answer will never be the same. For my part, it was the end of a particular trial which was mostly emotional and psychological in nature, and it's an end I'm going to reach many times in my life. The rollercoaster cliché is especially tired, but it's true. Either we find the strength to propel our momentum upward, or we find new paths downward. What's an ending for one person may be the descent into another steep slope. Depending on who you ask, it's bottomless.
ml: A few of your poems, "Devil's Road Down," "The Disappeared," and "My Brother's Keeper," quite artfully express the grieving process. Are these poems based on your own personal experience, or are they extrapolations of hypothetical experiences? Depending on which you employ, which of these devices works better for you as a poet and why?
ajo:"Devil's Road Down" is my personal reaction to the experiences of a fictional character, as I get quite emotionally involved with stories. Who doesn't? "The Disappeared" is one of many, many love-letters I've written over time to someone who didn't return my affections, although I'm not sure that it's as much a love-letter as a "get away from me" letter! "My Brother's Keeper" is a bit more complicated, as I'm layering together the fictional situation from "Devil's Road Down" with the distance that currently exists between me and my own brother. He and I were quite close when we were younger, but somewhere in his early teens, he just sort of shut down and retreated into Star Wars cards and video games. I feel as if I've never really known him since. Even when I try to engage conversations online, which is where our paths most often meet these days, it never seems to last long or delve too deeply.
As to which device works better for me as a poet, it's hard to say. Imagined grief, grief that's not mine - I feel as if I can all too easily slip into it, like an old coat I'd worn once, but forgotten. Once you've put it on, though, you remember everything. Real grief, too, cuts just as deeply - but I'd say the primary difference is that I haven't actually lost a friend or family member to death since I was about 17 (and I'm 27 now). Most of the grief I experience now is due to other conflicts and other losses - an ideological divide can sometimes feel like death. It manifests that way in my dreams quite frequently. On the archive of Strong Verse, an online poetry magazine, you'll find a poem of mine called "The Damage Done" (http://www.strongverse.org/poems/odasso_adrienne_j.html). It will look quite familiar to those who have read "My Brother's Keeper." It's based on a dream I had about 6 years ago; it's an older poem.
ml: Why have you, as a poet, chosen to walk so closely, literarily speaking, the road of death and decay?
ajo: Our society fears death with every breath it has. The obsession with youth, miracle-fixes for health and weight loss, beauty - all of these things point to a deeper sickness, namely that most of us refuse to acknowledge that death will come for us sooner or later. We quite literally seem to think we can cheat it. I study a period in time (the late Middle Ages) when death was still very much a tangible part of daily life, and there are parts of the world today where this is still true. Where you can't walk down the street without having to face the ugly reality of terminal illness, or through a field without having to cast your eyes on corpses. I admit that I quail inwardly at the thought of these examples, but I would also like to think that I've chosen this path because I prefer not to forget that even death holds a strange kind of beauty. None of us truly know what lies beyond it. Have you seen a Japanese film called After Life? If not, I highly recommend it. To the poet's imagination - this poet's imagination, anyway - beyond death lies infinite possibility.
ml: Would you consider the process of writing poetry, for you, to be an exercise in alchemy? Why/why not?
ajo: If alchemy is the transformation of archetypes, emotions, ideas, and thoughts into written works of art, then yes.
ml: What advice would you give to a fledgling writer/poet who wants to explore her/his dark side?
ajo: Be prepared for a rough time of it. If you have depressive tendencies to begin with, which I do, it may get worse. However, I find that writing when I'm writing from points of emotional extremity, the result is richer and more profound. You will find it easier to be honest when you feel there's nothing else left to you. You may learn things about yourself you didn't know were there. Now, I'm not talking about the old trope that poets need to suffer for their art, or that they need to be miserable to produce their best work. That's not true. Note that I said "points of emotional extremity" - that can mean points of intense elation as well as the lowest of the low. It just so happens that, for me, low points happen more often than high ones. And given that's my condition, pensive intensity, I work with it. Know your emotional biorhythms and work with them. Most of all, though, be bold. You will emerge fearless.
: You have a new collection, "Lost Books," coming out in Spring 2010. Can you share a few details of your upcoming work?
ajo: The irony is, most of the poems in Lost Books are older than the poems in Devil's Road Down. I'd put together Lost Books as a manuscript about a year before the first of the poems comprising DRD ever came into being, so the result is that I hope the editing process will greatly improve some of the older pieces! This isn't to say I think they're trash, but the collection as a whole - Lost Books - shows me as a much younger poet than I am now. Many of the newer poems in it were written from late 2005 through about late 2007, when I was still in the honeymoon period of just having moved to England. I was discovering new pieces of history, new ways of looking at the world, new mythologies. It's a book of hidden paths that criss-cross the Atlantic, of quiet wonder. Much more cheerful than DRD, I suppose you could say, but not as mature when compared to what I'm writing now.
Bio: Adrienne J. Odasso is currently completing her PhD in English at the University of York. Her poetry has appeared in a number of publications on both sides of the Atlantic, including Strong Verse, Aesthetica, Sybil's Garage, Succour, Farrago's Wainscot, The Liberal, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, and Cabinet des Fées—with new work forthcoming in Illumen, Not One of Us, Star*Line, Houston Literary Review, Midnight Echo, and others. Her first book-length collection, Lost Books, will be published by Flipped Eye Press in April 2010. “Snap,” a poem from her Gold Wake Press e-chapbook, Dead Zones, was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize Anthology.