Sunday, September 7, 2014

Interview with the author of Poets Are Not Useful, Gwyndyn Alexander

Poets Are Not Useful spans twenty years, detailing the author's abusive childhood, her recovery, her love for New Orleans, and the triumph of a broken soul healing and finding her voice.

Gwyndyn Alexander (1969-) is a feminist poet from New Orleans. She was born in San Francisco, but moved to New Orleans and never looked back. In 2005, she lost her house and job and her library to the Great Levee Failure. In April of 2006, she moved into exile in Austin, Texas where she currently resides. Her greatest hope is to someday move back to the city that will always be her home, because she knows what it means to miss New Orleans with all her heart. She survived an abusive childhood, and transmuted her experiences into art. She is a fervent supporter of, donating 10% of all book sales to the organization. This is her fifth book.

What inspired you to write Poets Are Not Useful?

I had a very abusive childhood, 18 years worth of awfulness. It's never easy recovering from that sort of thing. These poems were very therapeutic for me. It really helped to tell my story, my get that anger and grief out and on the page. My hope is that other survivors of abuse will read it and realize that they're not alone, that they can survive and thrive and transmute their pain into something positive.
That's also why I'm donating 10% of all proceeds from the book to They are a wonderful group fighting for the rights of children, and fighting for justice against the abusers.

How you came up with such engaging title?

It's explained in the intro. I was having a drunken conversation with a hard core scientist type. He kept asking what the function of poetry is, what IS a poet, whether poets are even useful. The book as a whole is my answer to him.

At the very end is a kind of epilogue to the book, where I answer that poets are NOT useful. Microwaves are useful. Duct tape is useful. Poets are essential. :)

How long did it take you to write this book?

This book has been 20 years in the making. A year ago, I shared my poetry on Andrew Vachss' Facebook. He told me that it was criminal that such powerful, important work was out of print. He said that my voice needed to be heard.
So, I buckled down and got to work, revising old unpublished poems and writing new ones. I think it's a good collection.

What books and authors have most influenced you?

Andrew Vachss, definitely. His Burke novels introduced me to, and were instrumental in helping me internalize the truth that what had happened to me was not in any way my fault.

Judith Tarr has also been a huge influence. I sent her an advance copy of Poets Are Not Useful, as a thank you for all of the hours of pleasure her books have given me over the years. Luckily, she liked it. :)

In fact, she gave me a blurb for the back cover: “These poems pierce the heart and twist the knife. Visceral, dark, and beautiful.”

If you were to write in a different genre, what it would be?

I would love to be able to write novels, science fiction would be great. Unfortunately, my mind seems geared towards poetry. Maybe someday, I'll discover I can write actual plots and characters...anything's possible in an ever-expanding universe.

Do you have current work in progress? 

I've just started work on a collection of poems about New Orleans. I lived there for over a decade, until the Great Levee Failure of 05. I lost my house and my business, and was forced into exile here in Austin.

Don't get me wrong, Austin is a great town, but there's no place like home. I just need to find some ruby slippers....

Where readers can find your latest achievements? 

The book has its own Facebook page:
I'm Gwyndyn Alexander on Facebook, if anyone wants to say 'hi':

My husband Jonathan runs the Twitter thing for me at I may be a twit, but I don't know anything about tweeting.

Here is a sneak peek of Poets Are Not Useful:

Poet as Reflection

Do you know that late at night
alone in the dark feeling?

Too much wrong, too little love.

Helpless. Hopeless.

You can't cope,
can't go on,
can't face another day

I live there
in that cold empty pain.

If you look
in the too-bright 4 a.m. mirror,
I'll be there looking back at you.

Maybe we'll sense each other,
touch fingertips to glass,
and know

we are not alone.
Poet as Portrait

I had my portrait painted once
when I was five.

Static image:
the child I never really was,
never grows or learns,
two-dimensional innocence
in my painted eyes.

I see that portrait in my mind
and wonder,
was I ever that girl?

Five years old, so solemn.
Cheeks plump with baby fat,
mute accusation,                     

Sometimes I feel
that flat image
is truer to
than the me I push through
my self as marionette.

I want to step into my painted
self and rest,
but my strings bind me,
tether me.
Is this what I have become?
That painted girl transformed,
out of the canvas
but still
the work of someone else's

Available in both print and Kindle editions on Amazon

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