“When I Was A Girl Like Me: An Interview With Poet Margaret Bazzell-Crocker” By Chase Dimock

 

When I Was A Girl Like Me:

An Interview With Poet Margaret Bazzell-Crocker

By Chase Dimock

When Margaret Bazzell-Crocker told me she would be publishing her first collection of poetry in 20 years, I expected her to be revelation to anyone who picked up her book. As a good friend of hers, I knew readers would be equal parts charmed and provoked by her perspective. Her personality certainly radiates from the pages: funny, empathetic, authentic, unrepentantly unorthodox, and insightful.

What I didn’t expect was for the book to be a revelation to me. When you’ve known someone for a while, you tend to think you’ve got them figured out, even when your base assumption is that they are amazing and capable of anything. I learned a lot about Margaret: about her relationship with anger and disillusionment, how these feelings came from her upbringing and her dissatisfaction with the status of women in the world of her youth, and how the Margaret I met in her 40s is a product of decades of harnessing and channeling this into an energy that can create and nurture.

After finishing the book, I wondered if I had been daft and dense to have missed some of this in my friend. But, what I realized while interviewing Margaret is that it is through the language of poetry that so much of this experience can be expressed and heard. When I Was a Girl Like Me is the annotated guide to the life of Margaret Bazzell-Crocker. The following interview is just as much about wanting to better understand a friend as it is about wanting to share her with the world.

Chase Dimock: Your book contains a short introduction in which you address your anger. You write, “People are afraid of anger and especially women are afraid to be angry” and that you are now “comfortable” with your anger because you can “aim it with laser precision.” Why did you decide to begin by addressing your history of dealing with anger and what role does this anger play in your poetry?

Margaret Bazzell-Crocker: I think I wrote first about anger because it’s the emotion I’ve wrestled with most, and I’ve been fascinated with the idea that it seems to be especially shocking when a woman is angry. I remember feeling the same way when I got old enough for my mother to make me start wearing shirts. Why did I have to go around in shirts? None of the boys or men in our neighborhood did! Our household wasn’t really great when I was growing up and anger seemed to be the go-to feeling for all of us, although we always expressed it in gender-specific ways. The girls were allowed to sulk and the boys were allowed to hit.

I think a big, powerful moment growing up for me was when I discovered I had the power to express my anger in more definite ways, and I’m sad to say that I wasn’t, at first, very responsible with this power. I hit, I threw things, I did things I was sorry for afterwards, and I wouldn’t go through that experience again if I could help it. However, I think the message I got when I was younger, and that women continue to get now, was that a girl or woman could feel things in a corner, but they’d better not sit at the table with it. I’m not completely comfortable sitting at the table today, but I’ll do it, by God. As far as how anger affects my poetry, I think it affects some of it, of course. I hope readers will see that this collection begins with anger, but then talks about all kinds of emotions and situations. The collection gets past my anger, but still acknowledges it as a great source of power. Good and bad.

 

Chase Dimock: Let’s talk about where this anger and your attempt to harness and manage it surface in your poems. A few months ago, we published the second poem in the book, “The Art of Acquiescence,” in As It Ought to Be Magazine. In it you write:

To be a woman
in this world
is to bend and curve and slip around its corners
like a snake in the river.

You explain that a woman must “contort” herself. How do you feel this compulsory contortion and acquiescence feeds into the anger you feel? How does this connect your personal experience with the women of the world who you broadly address in the first two lines?

Margaret Bazzell-Crocker: First of all, I like the words you use about the anger in my poetry, because I think they are correct: “harness,” and, “manage.” That is what I tried so hard to do in the past whenever I felt angry. I would add another that’s in “The Art of Acquiescence” poem itself: “meet.” I did try to harness my anger because it went far into a dangerous field when I found I had the power to wield it, and as I’ve said, I regret that. But, then I found I over-corrected, because I was trying to be accommodating to everyone but me. There is still a tendency now to please everyone around me and be resentful of it. The more I matured and was around different women, the more I found their anger and resentment, even for the people they loved sometimes, matched my own. The more I still found this tendency in many of us, to turn the art of acquiescence into a line, drawn in battle. And the more determined I was to erase, or at least redefine, this line in myself. That’s why I would add the word “meet.” In the poem, the snake meets all obstacles. I love that little snake!

I hope, with this collection of poetry, readers see, not that I am finally at Hallmark Channel peace with my anger, but that I am working to remove the battle from it, to negotiate a peace-accord, maybe with myself. I have come of age, I guess, in my willingness to see it as a part of me, but no longer a defining part of me. I would never advise anyone else to do the same. My poem is my journey, and no one else’s. I wrote it because I feel my journey with anger and with other emotions that stand in the way of growth, change, or even just a happy, still life may resonate with others, too.

Continue reading

“A Review of John Dorsey’s Your Daughter’s Country” By Chase Dimock

 

Your Daughter’s Country by John Dorsey

Reviewed by Chase Dimock

 

Reading Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press) is like leafing through an old family photo album. But, instead of your good-natured grandma narrating while tactfully dancing around family secrets and perfuming the pictures of cousins nobody talks about anymore with a folksy “it takes all kinds,” your guide is Uncle John, who tells you everything. Schlitz in hand, he tells you of aunts with “cracked skin” who could “eat $20 worth of burger king”, abusive great-grandfathers, uncles who never left their “mother’s side,” and cousins bathing in a steel drum.

You wonder if it’s appropriate to hear all this, but you can see the fondness, empathy, and pain in Uncle John’s eyes, and you realize this isn’t gossip or the settling of old scores. It’s love for the wear and tear we see in people content with their scars or nursing their bruises, and an almost ethical duty to present people as they are: neither sensationalized nor sanitized.

Dorsey’s first two poems “Poem for Olin Marshall” and “A History of Bite Marks” might best express this style of empathy through truth.

all my grandmother’s cousin ever wanted
was his own pizza & a used lawn tractor
the son of sharecroppers & war heroes
he drove a school bus & raised wild dogs
that bit the hand that fed them

We see Olin’s life as a series of loss: he talks of his dead sister “as if she were a saint,” his wife who passed the same year (“he had never seen a ghost quite as lovely”) and the death of his brother, whose estate he inherited, but simply let sit in a bank, resigned to “gathering his history up like dead leaves.” It’s this understanding of Olin’s melancholia that perhaps explains why in “A History of Bite Marks,” Dorsey does not complain too loudly about washing Olin’s dog Bruno as “he tried to take chunks out of our ankles.” Loving others means being bitten, and finding meaning in the language of bite marks.

When applied to his family, Dorsey’s trademark empathy for the underappreciated tells us more about his own identity. In “Tommy” he remembers a great uncle born with cerebral palsy like himself:

one of the sweetest men
i’ve ever known
he was a large baby
big enough to swallow
whole japanese tourists
in some infant godzilla scenario

Several poems remember his grandfather, who bears the decline of the Rustbelt on his shoulders. In “His Summer Place” he laments his grandfather losing an inherited family property after the failure of his painting business. “We Were Still Brave Then” depicts Dorsey as a child and his naive but charitable reaction to his Grandfather’s unemployment, gifting eight dollars to help the family. In a way, we’re reading the John Dorsey origin story, a look into how he inherited and developed his human insight and empathy as a poet.


The collection’s eponymous poem “Your Daughter’s Country” is Dorsey at his most revealing and unsettling, tracing the lineage of generational trauma. It begins with a fairly standard description of his great-grandfather’s depression era farm life, but then suddenly he exposes what the family long repressed:

the family history gets a little fuzzy

it wasn’t until i was in my 20’s
that i found out he had also been
an alcoholic
a railroad man
& a rapist

something my own father never knew

The rest of the poem delves into the tragic, abused life of his grandmother, for whom “there was never anywhere for her to go that was far enough away from where she’d been.” This is Dorsey’s greatest twist. He populates the book with several endearing, or at least sympathetic portraits of family, until you come to the poem that bears the book’s name, and he rips apart our expectations, like the way his great-grandfather’s abuse likely tore through generations of family.

While the poems about his literal family stand out, for John Dorsey, the familial extends beyond blood kin. Throughout his career, Dorsey’s work has been known for his portraits of people often overlooked or misunderstood. Whether it’s an old friend or a weathered stranger’s face at a rural Missouri diner, he has the ability to pull something from deep inside a person that feels as if it came from the memories of a cousin you spent all your summers swimming with.

In “Poem for Mary Anthony” Dorsey portrays a trucker who knows “you won’t find god in the stacks of books we have piled high in the bookstore in town.” In another poem, he mentions a friend’s brief recollection of a man who placed second in an episode of Star Search, but

just like in life
nobody ever remembers
the runner up.

instead they ask you
for your last cigarette

I’d argue that Dorsey’s poetry is all about remembering the runner up, as well as the last place finishers, those who didn’t get an audition, and all those who never got to dream of an opportunity.

 

Your Daughter’s Country is available from Blue Horse Press.

 

About the Author: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. He holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois and his scholarship has appeared in College LiteratureWestern American Literature, and numerous edited anthologies. His works of literary criticism have appeared in Mayday MagazineThe Lambda Literary ReviewModern American Poetry, and Dissertation Reviews. His poetry has appeared in Waccamaw, Hot Metal Bridge, Saw Palm, San Pedro River Review, and Trailer Park Quarterly. For more of his work, check out ChaseDimock.com.

 

More by Chase Dimock: 

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey 

Leadwood: A Conversation With Poet Daniel Crocker

First-Hand Accounts From Made-Up Places: An Interview With Poet Mike James

Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

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Leadwood: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

 

In Leadwood, Daniel Crocker surveys twenty years of his work as a poet. Ranging from the metaphysical significance of the McRib to courageous deep dives into bipolar disorder, Crocker’s book is more than a collection of poems; it’s a chronicle of a poet’s maturation and a man’s coming to terms with his upbringing and identity.

Leadwood is the Daniel Crocker origin story. He was born among the long closed lead mines and chat dumps that littered his rural Missouri hometown. He confronts poverty, bigotry, and religious zealotry along with personal tragedies that shaped him as man and a writer. As a middle aged poet, Crocker depicts the lingering effects of Leadwood, balancing nostalgia and care for his home with trauma. In his newest poems, he gives us stirring insight into his relationship with bipolar disorder.

No matter his age, his work has always been confessional and brave. Crocker is a rural Anne Sexton, a Sylvia Plath raised on Sesame Street and WWE wrestling, a John Berryman in the Wal-Mart aisles, a Robert Lowell with a smirk and morbid punchlines.

 

Chase Dimock: Although this is a collection of your work from the past two decades, you decided to give the book a title: Leadwood. Once the reader hits the first poem “Where We Come From,” they will learn that Leadwood is the name of your small hometown. Why did you decide that this one word would be descriptive of two decades worth of your work? What does understanding Leadwood as a town achieve toward understanding Daniel Crocker as a poet?

Daniel Crocker: This kind of dates back to my very first full length book, People Everyday and Other Poems (Green Bean Press, 1998), which I dedicated to  Leadwood. Later, me and my wife, Margaret, would do a chapbook together called “My Favorite Hell.” It was put out by Alpha Beat Press. We used the Leadwood population sign as our cover art. So, I guess Leadwood has had a hold on me from the beginning.

Like you said, it’s my hometown. I think most of us are shaped by where we grew up–for better or worse. Most of my formative experiences happened there, and I’ve written a lot about them.  And, I certainly have love/hate relationship with Leadwood. I have many great childhood memories, but also worries about lead poisoning and the ecological disaster that my home town is. Mostly, however, I wanted to make sure that the voices of my small town, and by extension other small towns, aren’t lost. There are small towns all over the country that have been ravaged and left behind by corporations–whether it’s Leadwood, which was founded by a lead mining company who later up and left the town with huge piles of chat (lead and dust) that were as big as football stadiums. The cancer rate there is extremely high. The soil has been tested there was found to be 10,000 more times the lead in the soil that is considered safe. Continue reading

“The Mark Twain Speech” By John Dorsey

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The Mark Twain Speech
for mark mcclane

you talk about frontiers
that only dead men
& drunks can see

not about the blood
& sweat that goes
into words that won’t sell
the stories of heartbreak
& what time can do
to beautiful things

everything turned to bone

words careening off your tongue
& down a river
slow to offer amnesty
to those in a sinking ship.

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Check out our interview with John Dorsey on his book, Letting the Meat Rest.

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About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com

 

More By John Dorsey:

Punk Rock at 45

Creatures of Our Better Nature

 

Image Credit:  Chase Dimock “The Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau”

Letting the Meat Rest: A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey

Letting the Meat Rest:

A Conversation With Poet John Dorsey

By Chase Dimock

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If you pick up a copy of Letting the Meat Rest, hoping to find tips for juicy pork chops, luckily, John Dorsey’s got you covered:

a pork chop sizzles in a pan
for six minutes tops
any longer & you’ll let the imagination
bleed out all over your plate
& escape into the woods
like magic.

Yet, Dorsey’s subject matter extends beyond pork products. Reading Letting the Meat Rest is like rummaging through a friend’s box of old Polaroids. You want to learn more about these people and moments captured in time. Some snapshots are brief, impressionistic prints of a person frozen in a sliver of life, while others have their detailed history scrawled on the back. These vignettes present us with visions of addiction, poverty, and trauma, but also optimistic moments of youthful ambition, rebellion, and intimate friendship. No matter what Dorsey depicts, whether it’s a full portrait or a quick sketch, it’s always crafted with deep humanity

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Chase Dimock: I first became acquainted with your work when a mutual friend of ours told me he was driving up to Central Missouri to pick up the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. At that moment I learned a few things: 1. That a town named Belle, MO exists 2. That a town of less than 2,000 people in rural Missouri has a Poet Laureate, and 3. That the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO is John Dorsey. Having lived for a few years in Cape Girardeau myself, I know there are quite a few cultural gems to be found in rural Missouri. How did you become the Poet Laureate of Belle, MO and what has that experience been like? I saw one poem in Letting the Meat Rest depicting the appropriately named Dinner Belle restaurant in town, so I am curious to know how this experience in Belle has impacted your writing.

John Dorsey: Well, to make a short story long, Chase,  I ended up in Belle at the end of 2015, from Wisconsin, after being awarded a residency at the Osage Arts Community and through that connection, in particular with the Executive Director Mark McClane, I started to meet more people in town,  including Mayor Steve Vogt, who seeing all of the work I had done and was continuing to do, offered me the appointment as Poet Laureate, I’m actually the first Poet Laureate the town of Belle has ever had. Since my appointment we’ve opened a Non-Profit used bookstore, Barb’s Books, and I founded, and Co-Edit, with Jason Ryberg, a literary journal, the Gasconade Review, which received grant funding through the Friends of the Belle Library, from Kingsford/Clorox. As far as the impact on my work, the first full book I finished here was Being the Fire, which was 80 new poems, written in my first two months here, and published by Tangerine Press in London in Fall of 2016. Since I’ve been here I’d say I’ve written between 300-400 poems, which have gone into 6 or 7 different books or chapbooks and have written a full length feature film, Missouri Loves Company, which was produced by Paladin Knight Pictures out of New Jersey, on a budget of around $60,000, which was shot on the East Coast and here in town, and is currently being edited. In terms of my poetry, I’d say that at least half of everything since I’ve been here has to do with Belle itself, so the impact has been significant. Continue reading

Snuffleupagus as Depression: A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

Snuffleupagus as Depression:

A Conversation with Poet Daniel Crocker

By Chase Dimock

 

If you ask Daniel Crocker how to get to Sesame Street, he’d point you toward a twisting road of manic depression, frustrated desires, and existential malaise. In his latest book, Shit House Rat, Crocker’s poetry reimagines the furry childhood icons of Sesame Street embodying torments and foibles as adult and human as the people whose hands are lodged up their muppet behinds. Cookie Monster is an addict, Big Bird has mania, Snuffy is the haunting specter of depression, and Grover’s anxiety led to a hell of a divorce. But, Sesame Street is only the starting point. Shit House Rat takes the reader to Leadwood, Missouri, Crocker’s rural, predictably lead polluted hometown, where he engages themes from his childhood to his adulthood, including mental illness, queer sexuality, poverty, and small town conservativism. I got a chance to ask Crocker about the appeal of dark humor in poetry, the struggle of growing up bipolar and bisexual in rural America, and most importantly, what exactly a “shit house rat” is.  

 

Chase Dimock: The first thing your readers will notice about your new book will obviously be the title, Shit House Rat. I know that as you were working on this collection, you had some trepidations about how the title might be perceived by your audience. Where did you get the idea for this title and why did you ultimately decide to use it?

 

Daniel Crocker: I have trepidation when it comes to just about anything, so I try not to let it worry me too much as a writer. I really put myself out there, especially in this new book, and there’s always a lot of anxiety that comes with that. I did have some specific concerns about the title though. I got the idea from the old saying, “Crazy as a shithouse rat.’ I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern or southern thing, but I’ve heard it a lot growing up and even now. It’s a nice turn of phrase, really. So, I just took the last half of  the saying (kind of like I did with Like a Fish) and used it. My worry is that it’s a real putdown to people, like me, with a mental illness. I don’t want anyone with a mental illness to think I’m making fun of them at all. My hope is to take the phrase and subvert it. Own it.

 

Chase Dimock: I think it will be clear to anyone who reads your poetry that your goal isn’t to make fun of the mentally ill, but to use humor to explore the experience of mental illness. A lot of your poems are funny, and I mean literally laugh out loud funny, which is pretty rare for modern poetry. (Robert Lowell wasn’t much of a yuckster) Why are you drawn to using humor in your work? What does using humor reveal about the experience of mental illness?

 

Daniel Crocker: A lot of my early work is pretty dark and without a lot of humor. I don’t like a lot of that early work either (some of it still holds up). But, I always like humor. I thought I was funny. Eventually, I wrote a short story or two for Do Not Look Directly Into Me that were funny, and I quickly found that I loved doing it. I haven’t written fiction in a while, and it’s pretty clear to me now that I’m mainly a poet. However, once humor started seeping its way into my poems it was like a creative flood. I guess it was me finally finding a voice that was all my own. As Steve Barthelme one said to me, it has to be more than just funny though. I think that’s true. For me, the perfect poem of mine is something that makes people laugh when they first read or hear it, but then they find they are still thinking about it later because there was something deeper and darker in it as well. Which I guess if you think about it, it’s the two extremes of bipolar disorder mixed together.

I can’t say what dealing with mental health issues with humor means for anyone else, but for me humor is just a way I deal with a lot of things. When you have mental health issues, every day can be a struggle. With my own particular diagnoses–bipolar, anxiety, OCD, probably PTSD, I worry about a lot of things. I’m doing well on medication right now, but when I wasn’t little things like planning an extra ten minutes before work just to get out of the house just in case there was something you needed to check over and over. You never really know what kind of mood you’re going to wake up in, what your anxiety level for the day is going to be, etc. If you’re going to be successful in any way, you have to plan ahead for just about anything. It’s tough to commit to anything in the future because you don’t know where you’re head space is going to be on that day. Or, before medication for me, I might commit to a ton of stuff while manic and then regret it while depressed. I guess this is a long way of saying if you don’t have a sense of humor about things they can become overwhelming. At least that’s my go to stress relief. Jokes.

The good thing about writing funny poems is everyone usually likes them. The worry is if they are going to take them seriously or not. In Shit House Rat I’m using Big Bird as a symbol for mania and Snuffleupagus as depression. Will people buy it? I dunno.

Continue reading

LEAD

 

 

From the journal Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, Vol XVII, 1917

Lead

By Daniel Crocker

In a 2016 MSNBC opinion piece,  Hillary Clinton wrote, “Flint isn’t alone. There are a lot more Flints out there — overwhelmingly low-income communities of color where pollution, toxic chemicals and staggering neglect adds to families’ burdens.” She is right. There are too many Flints. I come from a town called Leadwood that resides in an area in Missouri commonly known as the Lead Belt. As you might guess from those names, we have a lead problem. Most of them have been knocked down and covered with rocks now, but until recently Leadwood (population about 1,000) and the small towns surrounding it had “chat dumps”–huge mounds of sand mixed with lead waste. The one in Bonne Terre, MO for example was about 160 feet high and 32 acres. I would guess the one in Leadwood was slightly bigger.

The giant mounds have been flattened, but the chat is still there. Miles of it. I’m in my 40s, and we’ve known since I was a kid that the water isn’t safe (though not the toxic levels Flint has at the moment). A few years ago, we got the attention of Erin Brockovich. She came to the area. Her team called it the worst thing they’d ever seen. Tests were run. The dirt in some people’s back yards had 10,000 times more lead than what is considered safe. Promises were made, but not a lot has gotten done.

The biggest detractors of Clinton’s article made two main points—that Clinton is only interested in Flint for political reasons and that her article is race-baiting. It would be naive to think that race doesn’t play a part in Flint and other areas, just as Clinton said. Facts are facts and anyone who says otherwise is just trying to detract from the actual problem. The economy plays a part as well. The Lead Belt is a mostly white,  poor area. I don’t think we talk enough about the similar problems the urban poor and the rural poor face. In fact, we too often separate the two for no other reason than political ideology. Environmental problems like the ones in Flint and Leadwood are not political. They are man-made disaster areas that overwhelmingly affect poorer communities. On this, we should be united.

There are, of course, different circumstances. The lead mining companies from where I live provided good jobs for people for a lot of years (my dad was a miner), but when it stopped being profitable they left a toxic mess and said they didn’t have the money to clean any of it up. This was decades ago, but a lot of people there still have fond memories of those good jobs. Some folks were actually upset that the chat dumps were knocked down. When I was a kid, we used to go play on them.  Finally, however, people there are starting to get it.

From the journal Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, Vol XVII, 1917

When you come from a very poor community, it’s hard to get anyone with any power to listen, and the people who do have power think they can do what they want because of it. Luckily for Flint (if you can say there’s anything lucky about this disaster at all) is that Michael Moore was able to give them a national voice, and Rachel Maddow’s coverage had been fantastic, but quickly dropped off after Trump was elected. Continue reading