L.E. Goldstein was born in Niceville, Florida. She has two B.A. degrees and an M.A. degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. She recently graduated from Boston University with an M.F.A. in Poetry. While there, she received a Robert Pinsky traveling fellowship. She traveled to Ecuador and spent three months living in the Amazonian Rainforest. Her next stop is Texas.
In this interview with Editor Dariel Suarez, she talks about her study of translation, the lessons of her ancestors and her experience living in the Amazon rainforest.
Dariel Suarez: Where would you say the inspiration to write poetry comes for you?
L.E. Goldstein: I would say the inspiration to write comes from the external world, and particularly the natural world. As a kid I was fascinated with the words to hymns that I sang in church, and I was also somewhat of a loner. I spent a lot of time wandering around my yard, or the neighbor's yard, which was right on the bayou. My first attempts at poetry were sort of a response to this emotion I had, where the spiritual for me came in the form of song and the natural world. I think, in a strange way, not much has changed since I was eight. I've accepted the fact that I'm sort of a romantic, and I guess I'm not really ashamed of that.
DS: How did studying writing at the master level help your poetry and your perspective of the creative process in general?
LG: Besides the fact that I have had some amazing, inspiring professors, I think it was the years during my MA and MFA that I really fell in love with the revision process. It's hard to see your own work externally, but once you get there, it's amazing what you can accomplish. I do still think some of the best work can come without much revision—take Wordsworth's "Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey" for instance—he composed most of it in his head while traveling, put it to paper, and sent it off to be published with Lyrical Ballads, which was already being prepared at the press, without any lines being altered. You can feel that urgency when you read the poem. As poets we become obsessed with revision sometimes, but it's important not to forget that urgency. I know most people have read this poem, but even so, I urge you to read it again. Really read it, and read it aloud.
DS: Recently you spent some time in Ecuador. What was that experience like for someone coming from the U.S.?
LG: It was the most challenging yet rewarding experience of my life. I didn't know much Spanish at all before I went. I could only read a tiny bit. Learning to communicate without language, and then learning to actually speak a new language—and sharing my language with other people—all of these things were new experiences for me. I stayed with an indigenous community in the Amazon, and I had to trust strangers (and even small children) to teach me simple everyday tasks, like washing clothes on rocks and cooking with completely different foods. I, myself, felt like a child, which was often frustrating, but mostly rewarding, because I renewed that curiosity of the world that I had as a child. Everything is beautiful and magical. And even the disappointments, the illnesses, the failures. Those are beautiful also because you learn from them. It's a culture where the people have to do a lot of physical hard work to support their families. So instead of having a lot of written literature, everything in the world around you has a story, and that story is just a piece of a larger story that doesn't have a beginning or an end. If you want to spend time studying or writing in Amazonian culture, you have to get up at 3 or 4 am. This is something I will always take with me. If you want to do something, there is always space to make time for it. You just have to make it, even if it means getting up at 3 am. I am a better person and writer because of my time in Ecuador.
DS: What topics are you most interested in exploring in your poems?
LG: I'm interested in beauty, in the way that the different forms of beauty unite us with other human beings or with things in the natural world. I like to explore beauty in people or places that aren't typically seen as beautiful. I share this with a lot of other poets, but I think it is an important topic because it's different for everyone, and with everyone's individual experience. I like to bring things to life that may often be overlooked to remind people not to forget, to say that, yes, this thing is important.
DS: Who are your favorite writers? Why?
LG: I do have some "favorite writers," which I guess I would define as those writers you can read consistently, in the same way that you have favorite bands where you can listen to the whole recording without skipping over any songs. A few of those writers for me would be George Orwell, Pablo Neruda, Alice Munro, Eugene O'Neill. Really, I have favorite books or favorite poems more than I do favorite writers, but I've always admired writers who find humor or beauty in something that is in fact intensely serious or tragic. Percy Shelley was my very first love. My most recent is Bob Hicok. There are hundreds between, and thousands more that I have not yet read.
DS: How has your personal and cultural background impacted your worldview as well as your work?
LG: I think our ancestors create this link for us, between the personal and cultural. I had some really amazing grandparents. It's strange how you have one relationship with your grandparents as a child—when everything they do is magical, kind, fun and exciting. They might teach you to have a love for squirrels, for peanut butter. They might teach you how to tell time or tell you that you should never start coloring a picture if you aren't going to finish it. You have this sort of relationship as a kid, and you think you love them unconditionally. Then, as you get older, and even after they've passed away, you really do love them unconditionally, because you learn about their faults along with their achievements, their spiritual beliefs, and their anxieties. I think my interest in ethics, in the way we treat each other and the world, came from my grandparents. They were all so very kind. Even after my grandmother's stroke—she can't walk at all, and she can't talk very well—she's worried about other people. We'll be feeding her dinner, and she'll tell us to make sure we get some. One day a laundry lady came into her room to hang up some clothes and she said, so clearly, "I wish I could help you, hun." In my life and in my work, I'd like to always be kind, which as a poet, means being honest even if the truth is not ideal, and giving someone or something a voice who doesn't have one.
DS: What projects are you working on at the moment? How does translation, a subject you are studying, fit into the equation?
LG: The main project I'm working on right now is a chapbook. It wasn't something I was planning, but it's sort of writing itself, so to speak. It is definitely being shaped by some of the ideas in translation, especially those that discuss the way that all poetry is a translation of the poet's experience of the world. I love the study of translation. It is such a large, diverse, and interdisciplinary field. This excites me because I can incorporate so many of my interests into this study—music, art, philosophy, history, anthropology, language, poetry. I am working on a translation project, a collection of poetry in Spanish, but I'm just setting out and I have a long road ahead.
DS: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? What are your ambitions as a poet?
LG: Pick any year out of all the years of the rest of my life, and I'll want to be discovering something new about the world, whether in a landscape, or person, or poem. I recently moved to Texas, and my favorite thing about Texas so far has been in my observations of this new environment. I had never seen a "horse apple" (Osage Orange) until now, or witnessed migrating spiders floating by in their webs. I'm honestly amazed that there is so much life despite the lack of rain, and in spite of the surplus of concrete. The squirrels here are different, the same way they are different in Florida and Mississippi and Boston. I'm excited by these small differences in size and color of fur and personality. These are the types of details that show up in my work, and that I hope to continue to write about every year with more clarity and truth.