How Time Moves: Harriet Lerner Interviews Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg

We are so happy to partner with the Raven Bookstore for a Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg's launch party for How Time Moves. The event is at 7 p.m., Wednesday, November 11. Register here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/howtimemoves/register. You can purchase a signed copy of the book through the Raven at https://www.ravenbookstore.com/product/howtimemoves.

Harriet Lerner sat down with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg – both at their computers – to talk about Caryn’s new book, How Time Moves: New and Selected Poems. Here’s their conversation:

Harriet Lerner (HL): When did you start writing poetry?

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg (CMG): I can remember the exact moment. I was 14, sitting on the stoop of a garden apartment in New Jersey. I had been an artist-child since I could grasp a crayon, and on that day—in the middle of my parents’ divorce—I needed words. Desperately. So I wrote, and once started, I was hooked, and I wrote a poem each day for years.

HL: Why did you write this book? What are your hopes for it?

CMG: About 15 years ago, I realized I had been grappling with time in many poems. Maybe it has to do with getting older, surviving cancer, losing people I loved, watching my kids growing up, or just some innate need to figure out how time moved. Asking what time is is a lot like asking what reality is. We can measure time in seasonal shift and the daily wheel that circles us through darkness and light, all of which interested me as well as human histories and stories that filter through generations and places. I also wanted to create a collection of my best-of poems, and it turns out that calling a new collection called How Time Moves was a greater container for selections from my six previous poetry books.

HL: What do you think should rightfully be called a poem? It must require something more than the handling of the margins.

CMG: Emily Dickinson said it best for me, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” A poem is a tiny house the reader can enter, and from looking out the windows in that house, expand her peripheral vision. Poetry is a compressed form of fresh language that lands in us, a little like those capsules that turn into little sponge animals when you drop them in water, and unfurls into something we didn’t expect.

HL: Do you find that poetry "strikes,” that is, it comes to you as a gift, maybe even fully formed, maybe like a flash of sheet lightening that brightens an otherwise darkened terrain. Or do you think that with no inspiration at all, one can plug away at it, as you would a blog or essay-and with plain old-fashioned hard work create something beautiful?

CMG: What a great question, and you ask it so poetically. My answer is, “yes!” Most poets I know occasionally experience that fully (or almost-fully) formed poem that lands with a flourish, but it’s usually the slugging away at the poem, fiddling with line length or breaks, honing images, finding the groove for the right rhythm, and putting our ear continually to the page to see what the poem wants to be.

HL: What role do grief and sorrow have in inspiring the poems in this book? What role happiness and joy?Is there a different process in each case?

CMG: This is another profound question, and it’s akin to how happiness, grief, sorrow, and joy interact in life. I’ve always been drawn to writing grief, writing sorrow— possibly because I started writing to deal with trauma and loss, but also because poetry is such an astonishing container for the hard stuff of life. In Theodore Roethke’s amazing poem, “The Waking,” he writes, “What falls away is always. And is near.” It’s the best description I’ve encountered for grief. Yet I write out of joy (and find such ecstasy in the process of writing), such as in the poem “The Visitor” about dancing the Swedish Hambo with a dear Tamil friend. There are many poems that play at the intersection of grief and joy because both are so entwined with what it means to be human, such as when I write, in the middle of a poem about the 1918 pandemic and our current pandemic, about my grandmother’s laughter.

HL: What inspired you to write an entire section of poems on "pandemic time"?

CMG: The book was about to go to the printer in early March when the pandemic landed, large and in-charge, in this country, and I immediately understood we needed to take a step back. How could I have a new collection about the nature of time without exploring the Groundhog-Day nature of our current reality? So I hunkered down on my porch and on the porch at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas to write new poems. Like many people, I found that human notions of time lost their grip, and seasonal time took on its rightful vividness in the pandemic. I couldn’t always tell you if it was Thursday or Monday, but I could point to the first Summer Tanager I actually saw. While I wouldn’t ever recommend a pandemic to catch up with the vast and vibrant daily changes in bird or insect song, flower or tree pollination, we have front seats to what’s happening in real time.

HL: How did you decide to dedicate this book to your husband Ken?

CMG: Thank you for asking that! I dedicated this book to Ken because, in addition to being the spousal love of my life, his constant interests and queries into the seasonal tilts of weather and bird migration as well as history, anthropology, politics, spirituality, and much more give me ample material for poems. Plus, I’ve spent about 38 years with him, tunneling through all kinds of change and time.

HL: This is a very large volume. If you have a few favorite poems would you be willing to tell us their titles and page numbers?

CMG: Oh, naming a favorite poem is like naming a favorite child. I tend to read the last page of a book first, and my last poem,“I Love You” (p. 339), might be a good place to start. I wrote it in response to two strange things. One was that we should avoid cliches in poems like “I Love you,” so how about a poem that repeats that phrase excessively? The other was Hans Christian Anderson’s story, “The Snow Queen,” about how an evil mirror was lifted to the sky broke into a million pieces, some getting into people’s eyes or hearts. The poem ends with these lines, which to me have a lot to do with what poetry keep showing me about life and love:

I stop climbing

and say I love you glistening

with one of the million slivers of the evil mirror

embedded in my heart. I love

from the bottom of my smashed mirror.

Don’t you see, nothing is impenetrable?”

HL: Congrats again my prolific friend!

CMG: Thank you so much, Harriet. It’s a joy to talk with you.

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Harriet Lerner is a psychologist and psychotherapist in Lawrence whose twelve books include The Dance of Anger, and most recently, Why Won't You Apologize? Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. For more information check out harrietlerner.com

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Kansas Poet Laureate Emerita and author of over 20 books, including Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other, Miriam’s Well (fiction), and The Sky Begins at Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body. CarynMirriamGoldberg.com.

-Kristin Soper is the Events Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.

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