Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Award. She is currently a Steffensen Cannon fellow at the University of Utah.
Plenty of books are described as “dreamlike,” but few back up that adjective as thoroughly as Molly Gaudry’s do. We Take Me Apart and Desire: A Haunting both traffic in impressions, generous space on the page, and characters we know without knowing how we know them. She describes them as verse novels, a term I’m not sure I fully understood until I read them.
And when I did pick both books up, I tore through them perhaps too quickly. I tried to savor their language, but felt more as if I was absorbing them physically than processing them mentally. Absorption is the primary way I take in poetry, rather than comprehending their craft. This is part of why I felt the need to ask Molly how she assembled these unusual books.
Katharine Coldiron: Your first book and your second book clearly go together. Are you writing a trilogy?
Molly Gaudry: Desire is the second book in a five-book series, but the first two are the most closely related. In many ways, Desire unwrites its predecessor, We Take Me Apart, or at least attempts to complicate its narrative.
We Take Me Apart is narrated by a dressmaker who travels with a dog. If you had asked me in 2010, when it came out, to tell you about the dog, I would have told you he’s a dog she acquired during the short time she lived with her first romantic partner. In Desire, dog is not a dog; dog is the dressmaker’s child; and dog is a girl.
I think a lot of readers are taken in by the dressmaker’s story, her voice. She’s a likable character, someone to root for. I don’t know if dog is likable, or if she’s someone to root for, but I do know that her version of what happened at the end of We Take Me Apart should change how we feel about the dressmaker—both as a narrator and as a mother.
KC: Tell me about the on-the-page style of Desire. How did you decide where to indent, where to drop a line, where to change pages? Was it instinctual or a matter of careful craft?
MG: It took years for me to craft the form for dog’s voice. In its earliest days, the manuscript went through a number of formal transitions, whether in sestets, syllabics, or different rhyme schemes. But once the full story was down, and I heard echoes of the dressmaker’s voice in dog’s, I formatted it exactly like We Take Me Apart. It wasn’t right, though; the form didn’t perform what it needed to—loss, absence, voicelessness. I won’t explain my stylistic decisions in full here, because I just want readers to experience the text however they will, but I will say that the punctuation (or lack of punctuation) follows a consistent pattern throughout. Desire respects the rules of punctuation, and uses different values of white space to mark them.
KC: What made you forgo punctuation for the dialogue?
MG: I didn’t use periods in We Take Me Apart’s dialogue sections, but I did use commas. In Desire, I cut the commas, too, but white space signifying commas is not the same as white space signifying periods.
KC: What inspired the books? Did they come out of dreams, or some other visual imagining?
MG: I wrote We Take Me Apart by cutting up Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, mixing up the words, shaking them up, randomly pulling them to compile lists of 10 words, and then using individual lists as the prompt and word bank for each of my own pages.
For Desire, I chopped up John Ratti’s A Remembered Darkness. The tone of his poems, I believe, haunts Desire’s. One of my favorites of his is “The Fire”:
We have thrown honey on the fire;
we have thrown wine on the fire;
we have torn red tulips apart
and have thrown them on the fire.
We hate eaten oranges
dipped in red wine:
we have eaten nut meats
and scattered their shells on the fire.
We have seen the frozen sky
torn by sunset;
from windows we have heard
the long moan of color and fire.
We have filled the room;
your skin has made a sharp smoke,
and the light of the fire
has fallen across your belly.
Our arms and our legs
have reached the four corners
of the room,
and we have thrown
the sound of our eyes
on the fire.
Starting from the top, words from this poem that appear in Desire:
• thrown (pp. 68, 216)
• honey (pp. 16, 113)
• fire (pp. 21, 43, 63, 84, 85, 88, 115, 148)
• wine (pp. 17, 25, 87, 168, 169, 206, 297)
KC: I love the specificity of the food and other concrete details, while the practical details of life remain obscure. Did you have a strategy for this?
MG: I did not, but my suspicion is that Ratti’s words are wholly responsible for creating this effect.
KC: The name Ogie feels like a choice that has meaning to you. Is that right?
MG: The very first line I ever wrote toward what would eventually become Desire was: “My Ogie is lonely in her house.” In the early days of that first draft, my publisher and I just referred to the book as “Ogies.” E.g., “When are you sending me new Ogies?” He meant stanzas, but even after the form changed, we still called the manuscript “Ogies.” At some point, the working title of the book became “Ogie,” probably because it was still her story, then.
KC: What personal meaning does this story have for you?
MG: After my head trauma in 2011, I developed a bad case of Sensory Processing Disorder. I couldn’t be near other people because of their smells (their shampoo, their soap, their perfume, their laundry detergent, their foods). I was overwhelmed by smells, nauseated by the slightest whiff of anything strongly scented, which then got scrambled up with vision and hearing and touch. Swimming, though, calmed my system—the pressure and weight of the water, the soundlessness underwater, there being only one dominant smell without any possibility of being ambushed by another. Swimming, of course, opens Desire. It’s what gets dog out of bed every day.
I’ve still not fully recovered, and I never will, but to move on I had to mourn the death of who I used to be. I think Desire got me through my mourning. The very specific ways I could not be in the world when I was writing Desire, are the same ways both dog and Ogie cannot be in the world—dog isolates herself from other humans; Ogie can’t touch or be touched. I think, if we read Ogie as an actual ghost, then when she finds a way to touch dog, she finds the way to for them each to begin to heal. But if we read dog as much more deeply traumatized than she admits, and Ogie as her invisible friend pulled from the pages of The Scarlet Letter, then dog is the one who can’t touch or be touched, even after her only friend finds a way.
KC: Whose is the desire? And for what?
MG: Oh gosh, I think it’s different for everyone. For all the characters, and for all of us, too.