Monday, November 18, 2013

G. C. Waldrep Interview

How would you describe your faith? Do you identify with any specific denomination or follow any specific interpretation of doctrine?
I would hope to describe it as a vital, New Testament, Spirit-filled faith.  I underwent a conversion experience in the early 1990s and was baptized (in a Mennonite church) in 1993.  From 1995 to 2000 I was a member of the New Order Amish community at Yanceyville, N.C.  Since 2005 I've been a member of the Old Order River Brethren

How does your faith connect with your writing? Do you ever have conflicts between faith and writing? If so how do you deal with it?
Likewise, I would hope my faith is everywhere in my writing, although it's not always obvious--to either traditional Anabaptist audiences or the larger poetry-reading public.  I do believe that a complex faith deserves--demands--a complex art, by way of reflection or articulation, and my aesthetic roots are in Surrealism and High Modernism.  I often tell friends that I speak as plainly as I know how, but I also keep in mind Flannery O'Connor's dicta about speaking from within a conservative faith community out into an unbelieving world:  "To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures."  I also think of my work as having deep roots in the parabolic tradition of Jesus, who repeatedly said "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear."

As for conflicts between faith and writing:  I'm asked this often, especially from within the Anabaptist community--and especially by those who have felt stifled by their own experiences from within Anabaptist Christianity.  The answer is actually no, I have never felt either internal or external conflicts between faith and writing.  Perhaps this is because writing came to me--as I've written elsewhere--as a gift, a much longed-for gift, alongside conversion:  faith and creative expression have always been organically intertwined for me.  Or perhaps it's because even by the standards of my own conservative Anabaptist congregation I am extremely orthodox.

For me, orthdoxy has always offered a large, spacious architecture to move around in, as someone with a creative vocation.  It is not oppressive; it is generative, in Christ and on the page.

There is the occasional poem that I decide not to share, much less publish. (And yes, as a person of faith I find the question of where, how, and whether one publishes to be much more fraught.) Some poems turn out to be private poems. When I am writing, I don't think about audience at all. But later, in revision and once a poem is done, I do think about it--and even pray about it, as necessary. But really these are quite few. I generally try to work out any spiritual problems in a poem during revision, to the best of my ability.

What are you doing in Wales? Does it connect with your writing? Can we anticipate any new works in the near future?

I am on sabbatical from my teaching job at Bucknell University in central Pennsylvania. What I'm doing in Wales is walking and listening, mostly. Wales is a country I've always been interested in, since reading the ripple of children's books from the 1970s set in Wales and adjacent counties of the English marshes. It's a green land, shot through with gray and blue. It's also a land that remains deeply inscribed--I mean this in the tangible sense--with its Christian past (and, to a lesser degree, present). What I am supposed to be doing here is researching and writing a long poetic sequence about Christian attitudes towards the natural landscape: pre-Norman, post-Norman, Cistercian (remember that Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian foundation), Protestant. There are some parallels between Anabaptism and pre-Norman Welsh Christianity, although it would be easy to overemphasize them.

Anyway this is a long-term project of grappling with faith, landscape, and environment (the first movement of which was published as a chapbook earlier this year: Before any of that comes to fruition, Lord willing, BOA Editions is scheduled to publish a long poem, Testament (written in 2009), in the spring of 2015.

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