The last line of the last poem in the new collection by Denver poet Molly Kugel, ground cover, is this: “our forgotten past in a seed.” It is a synopsis of the book as a whole, a paean to the natural world, the grief and heartache she is married to, and all the loss that entails . Kugel’s work draws on that of Emily Dickinson and Rachel Carson, who worked the soil and the greenery that sprouts from it with sharp tools and trenchant language.
We spoke after the release of Bullet to Bullet ground coverin anticipation of her reading at Trident Booksellers on Saturday October 29th. She will read with fellow poet Amber Adams, who will be appearing with her new book of wartime poetry, become ribbons.
west word: Tell us how this book came about; His focus on herbalism and mourning seems particularly timely in today’s world.
Bullet: My research for my dissertation, The Littlest Housewife in the Grass: Women, Poetry, and American Botanical Culture, definitely helped in parts of the book.
“The Littlest Housewife in the Grass” is a line from Emily Dickinson, right?
It is. My work with the 19th century lay botanical movement helped me make connections between plant life and grief and taught me more about many historical figures. My work with ecofeminism and ecocriticism has also inspired many of the environmental poems, but that’s also been a part of my life for a long time. As we all know, global climate change is driving us to focus on environmental concerns.
Certainly. Can you explain how you achieve this focus? What drives you and how does that in turn drive your work?
I read a lot of eco-poetry and prose, and am interested in poets and writers who think along similar lines about a biocentric connection between plants, animals and humans. I’m also very inspired to visit animal shelters and spend time with rescued beings. Luvin’ Arms in Erie and Broken Shovels in Henderson are two local sanctuaries. I also find inspiration from Farm Sanctuary based in New York and California. My daughter Ingrid is part of her Youth Leadership Council.
What about the scientific or ecological side of things? Who do you trust to do both your work and your own inspiration in these areas?
Angela Davis, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Gene Bauer, Greta Thunberg, Dr. Amie “Breeze” Harper and Michelle Carrera to name a few. I also draw energy from magazines dedicated to the Earth and our current crisis. Emergence magazine calls its mission an attempt to “share stories in dark times because (those stories) are regenerative spaces of creation and renewal.”
It’s a good point that the writing of others can often elicit a creative response from an author himself. What in the field of creative writing helps with this?
My editing work for Cordella Magazine definitely motivates my writing. The magazine showcases the work of female-identified and non-binary writers, creators and makers. I have the opportunity to work with so many talented writers; I’m also thankful for the community surrounding the project.
Speaking of community, how important are readings like the one you’re giving at Trident on the 29th to the author’s work overall?
Readings can be very helpful in creating a sense of community between authors and readers, but also among authors. I think poetry obviously started out as song and is meant to be heard to some extent, but I would say the same for storytelling and fiction. Who doesn’t love being told a story? This component definitely exists. I think it’s actually beneficial for writers to hear their work and think more about the audience. But I also appreciate the site and the way these forms were designed for silent reflection. So much writing can bring comfort and companionship to those who read it alone. Writing works in so many ways.
It does! So how do you balance time to write alongside so many other responsibilities—teaching, family demands, and the demands of everyday life?
That’s such a good question. At this point in the semester there is very little time left. There is ebb and flow. I try to write a freehand page before I fall asleep and before I do a bedtime read. I usually try to read a novel and a book of poetry. In less busy times, I also read a non-fiction book during the day. The process as a whole consists of a lot of reading, walking, looking for inspiration. Research is also a big part of my process. I’m usually looking for meaning and purpose and hopefully how I can best help. Amitav Ghosh said something inspiring in an interview: “The job of writers, artists and storytellers is to give voice to non-humans… that is the fundamental challenge of art. “
They are originally from Pennsylvania but have lived in Denver for several decades. How much did each of these places inspire the poems in the collection?
The location is really a focal point of the book. My hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania features in many poems. Denver is also a focus, as are other places in Colorado. The landscape is so important to the work I’m trying to do right now. Of course I enjoy the mountains a lot and visit RMNP. But here in Denver, I recharge my batteries by visiting simple natural sites like the Highline Canal Trail. Walking in general drives me in many ways.
I teach a walking class at CU Denver called Walking: A Meditative, Ecological, and Historical Inquiry, and I think as a class we all learn so much from this basic act if we’re lucky enough to have the skill. My students with complex mobility issues also teach us about the often overlooked realities of “walking” (and all forms of walking). We all seem to agree that even this quiet space granted to us for a short time can change a perspective in this busy world.
Molly Ball ground cover Reading/Signing, Saturday, October 29, 6 p.m., Trident Booksellers, 940 Pearl Street, Boulder. Visit the Trident website for more information.