10 Questions for Lindsay Remee Ahl
- By Edward Clifford
You might have a lover who builds you a castle,
and in the field beyond the pond, a lapwing makes her nest.
The long-legged mother, black and white, and beautifully agile,
will pretend to have a broken wing to lure you around and away.
“Lapwing” means “disguise the secret.”
—From “Mythographic Shorthand,” Volume 60, Issue 4 (Winter 2019)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Early on, I was interested in something unnamable that somehow became manifest in the act of typing. It had little to do with content—poetry or prose or an essay for school—something about the typing itself felt vital and important and mysterious. I received a typewriter for Christmas one year, and the first thing I typed on it, when I was 13, was an essay about Percy Bysshe Shelley. I had a terrible time finding the letters on the keyboard. I. Could. Not. Imagine. Why!? They would put all those letters in such odd places. I recall searching in vain, for what felt like hours, for an ‘n’ while typing out “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” which, when you don’t know how to type at all, is a ferociously long poem. So I typed, one letter at a time, searching between each letter for the next, as the sun fell across the table and fell away from the table as the day went on, and I believe that up until that point in my life, I had never experienced such quiet joy. I skipped school the next day to continue working, whiting mistakes out with liquid paper and retyping. Shelley had phrases that captured my imagination, like ‘starlight wood,’ or ‘Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bind.’ I typed on onionskin, a thin, almost translucent paper that makes sounds of crackling and whispering as though the paper itself holds a mystery, or access to something fleeting, if I could just capture it.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I haven’t found this question to be answerable in the way I want to answer it. Influence, ‘influx’, the ‘flowing in that which affects human destiny’ is a big question, and to pinpoint just a few aspects of influence causes me some anxiety because I immediately think, well, what about that person/idea/experience over there? But here is something I recall thinking about a great deal: when Jean-Luc Godard edits his films, he will often use sound bridges, so that the music or dialogue from one scene slips into another, even though the next scene might be a shot of the ocean that has no immediate relation to the narrative as we know it. Taking the sound from one scene into another is a way of connecting meaning from one disparate scene to another. What happens, eventually, is that the ‘threads’ of narrative repeat, so that an odd interlocking takes place with various emotions or themes. He also might break from the narrative and retreat into a long philosophical soliloquy, which, in my youth, I found intoxicating because this break from narrative asked questions about how something was working, what else in the world might be happening outside of our sealed selves, and what are the various ways to penetrate the reality around you?
What other professions have you worked in?
Mostly, I’ve done what was necessary to scrape by, from word-processing, to working in an art gallery, to doing graphic design. I also taught several poetry and fiction classes as an adjunct, and I loved it. I didn’t commit to teaching full time because I was afraid of being pinned down, but I ended up being pinned down in other ways.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This poem is in a series of poems that explore questions of how we know what we know, and what and how and whom we trust.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Often ‘place’ seems to be more a state of mind than an actual place. There are physical representations that some writers reference with precision, like Joyce knowing the exact number of steps from one bar to the other in Ulysses, but I might argue that in spite of his accuracy about so much of Dublin, that city was still depicted through Joyce’s imagination. If you were to take a location, let’s say the now closed Café Fortuna in New York, and set up Van Gogh across the street, and then Matisse across the street, in the same location, both would render the look and feel of Café Fortuna in completely different ways. Does the Café exist? Sure. But the depiction is filtered through each individual’s ground state. It’s true in writing as well, even in exact description. So to answer your question, no, but I do take my state of mind and try for blinding revelations as I move along.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
In general, silence is a kind of sound, and without music I hear the sounds of the text. Silence itself is its own kind of happening, a space that allows access to one’s identity. But I did listen to Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas when writing my novel Desire. Desire means to be ‘away from one’s star’ and the book was about a lack of access to oneself and one’s origins. The music served as a scaffolding of comforting sound to stay inside of.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I have a writing group—we’re small—only three of us altogether, but I listen to them and take my work there, most often. I read an interview with Katherine Anne Porter once where she said that SHE is the first and final and only reader of her work. Once she decides it’s perfect, she sends it off and if an editor doesn’t agree with her, she still won’t change things. I believe she said this once she was old enough to have fielded enough comments and criticism to know she could be her own critic. I admire that conviction in one’s own assessment.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I spend a lot of time making art. I’m not a purest about it, so I can listen to music or talk to people while I make it. Also, if I’m not talented or particularly good at it, I don’t care. I love it; I love working with color and paint and rendering form. Now if I had a choice, I’d be a singer. I’d hopefully sing with as much soul as Aretha or Janis or Mavis (Staples) and I’d be sitting at the piano or with my guitar all day making up songs. I love how a voice is a unique instrument—no other person sounds like that person—and that voice carries something essential and unique about their individual expression and of that song and moment.
What are you working on currently?
I’m revising two books of poems and working on what is turning into a very long novel.
What are you reading right now?
At this exact moment, I dislike reading anything that isn’t related to researching my novel, which is set in the 1930’s. I’ve become obsessed with 1930’s shoes and clothes and politics –and speaking of imaginary places–locations with their 1930’s buildings and forests and roads and pathways.
LINDSAY REMEE AHL has had work published in the Georgia Review, Southern Review, Hotel Amerika, Barrow Street, BOMB Magazine, The Offing, and many others. She was a Fletcher Fellow at Bread Loaf for her novel, Desire. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson in Poetry.