Ask The Author: Nancy Flynn

Distant Early Warnings, from Nancy Flynn, in the January Issue.

1. How does one unclot a vapor?

With the wave of a magic wand? Alchemy? Other dark arts?

When I wrote that line, I was channeling the ancient Greek and Roman “four humors” theory of medicine. And how doctors as late the Victorian era believed that melancholy feelings hadtheir roots in the spleen, rising up through the body in the form of vapors thataffected the mind. So often our explanations for the cause of so many things—illness,event, catastrophe—are rooted in the superstitious and fantastic. If a body hasthe vapors, then surely, like blood, couldn’t they clot? And isn’t poetry just socrazy?

2. If Captain Planet read “Distant Early Warnings”, how would he react? What do you think he would do in response?

“Here I come to save the day!” Sorry,just kidding. You made your damn beds. Now lie in them.

3. Would you be arrested by the Secret Service for counterfeiting pain?

No need for me to counterfeit it—Imanufacture it openly, brazenly borne a bit like Hester Prynne and the scarletletter on her chest. Poor me, boo-hoo, indulgently self-pitying when I am (truly)the luckiest girl in puppet land with my life of central heating, organic quinoa,and Stumptown’s Italian Roast. For those reasons alone, I should probably betaken into custody—stat!

4. What inspired you to write “Distant Early Warnings”?

First, I was fooling around with a form called thetriversen, shorthand for triple verse sentence. According to Lewis Turco in The New Book of Forms, it’s “a nativeAmerican form of variable accentuals which was developed by William CarlosWilliams and others.” One can, of course, use google as a verb to learn moreabout it.

So I had something of a form in mind for starters with itsvague guideline of three-part stanzas, each a single sentence, an utterance. Whichfelt a bit formal and ponderous, if you will. And it was March of last year,2011, when each day’s news tried to put a positive “spin” on what surely seemedto be the meltdown of a nuclear reactor after the Japanese tsunami. This got methinking back to very tense days during another March (1979) and the accidentat Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; at the time, I was livingabout a hundred miles north with my not-quite two year old.

Being someone who is against the proliferation of nuclearweapons, who marched against them time and again, and who never got the why of nuclear power plants (Hello, whatdo we do with all that radioactive waste?) my leaping poetry mind immediatelywent to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then to global climate change, finally stallingout at the whole mess of our non-renewable, energy-addicted, money-maddened world.I grew up in coal country—a polluting resource if there ever was one. And thenotion of peak oil seems to be the elephant in the next room no one reallywants to talk about.

In that state of mind, I started playing with words. Followingaround nouns and verbs, sounds and shapes, all the while striving for thosesingle-sentence stanzas. Writing freely with those heavy-duty, portentousdrumbeats sounding somewhere in my subconscious. The poem was eventuallyexcavated from such ramblings. The epigraph came afterwards, a light bulbmoment, when I began to see how the poem spoke to a very human conundrum: howwe so need to invent and believe in our “warning” systems, ones we rarely evercan or will then heed.

5. How do you prefer to pollute your environment?

Flying to my favorite place on earth:Venice, Italy.

6. These crows you refer to, are these the same crows that bring back the murdered to make those wrongs right or are they the Heckle and Jeckle type that steal your corn and crack wise?

The crows in the first part of thepoem seem savvy to me. They are interested in self-preservation, know when it’stime to give up, to jump the ship of a particular landscape, in this case the treesaround the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The crows in Part 3—oh, they are the wisecrackers. They are back,claiming and declaiming, in spite of.