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Interview with John Goodhue

Interview with John Goodhue

 Many thanks to Katharine Hamill for letting us use the above image.

Stories in the Fewest Possible Words

Blog posts about poets should include poets of all types. Sometimes you read a poem with no context and you’re unsurprised that it’s written by one of the better-known contemporary poets. Then again, sometimes you love the work and have no idea about the author but you absolutely. must. know.

For this post, I interviewed John Goodhue, about whom I know nothing aside from the bio he sent us to include in the most recent burntdistrict issue. He shared with me his story about where he’s from and what kind of things send him to his writer-ey space. I still don’t know much about John Goodhue, but I hope you take a moment to read his poem because it contains some of those little gifts of poetry that I heard so much about in college. When you find them, it makes your Monday a little brighter!

As a side note, I haven’t heard anyone talk about Redwall in years. I owned the whole series as a little girl and I don’t know where they went to, but I might have to find them somewhere because I sort of miss Martin and I didn’t even realize how much!

–Rylea Anderson



We drag the body aboard
clean its bones, and look for a reason
in its chest, as though one is needed.
We stuff the body to keep it dry,
plum pits and ash, bricks and sheep’s tongue,
whatever we can find below deck.

I have to steady myself
once it is time to break the arms back.
Even if this body was of a saint
there is still a  time
the arms must be broken back.
There is still a time
it must fit below deck.

Supposedly, this is the noise God hears
every time you tell a lie.
A deckhand says this,
as he torques the wrist
up to the shoulder, and smiles.

burntdistrict Volume 2, Issue 2

And now, John Goodhue, everyone!

So, tell me about your native space. Where are you from? What I am really asking is “who are you?”

Well, if we’re talking space, it’s probably worth noting I grew up in a fairly small one, an island to be exact, Bainbridge Island.  So I experienced a certain degree of social isolation throughout my childhood. I sort of lived in a social bubble, if you will. Now, I don’t really know what that says about “who I am”, but if anything, it sheds some light on why I take influence from what I don’t directly experience rather than from what I do. That is, I find that drawing from only the limitations of my palpable, physical surroundings is limiting. Accordingly, my work doesn’t always reflect who I am on a day-to-day basis. Does that make any sense?

How or when did you know you were a writer? Did you wake up one day and decide to pick up a pen (or, more realistically, belly up to the keyboard)?

In high school, I had a teacher my junior year who introduced me to a bunch of writers, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Kesey, Alexie, some others.  I just started imitating them to the best of my ability, and as time would have it, eventually began to cultivate a style more apt to call my own, one eventually more suited to poetry, I suppose. But even before that, I used to write shorts akin to stories like Redwall. So its vague. There wasn’t much an “Aha! I’m a writer” moment. It wasn’t a revelation-in-minutes sort of thing. It’s been perhaps twelve years in the making, and my writing has taken all sorts of turns in that time.

Tell me about your process. What kinds of things send you to your writing desk, or cove, or writing … submersible?

Dreams. I mentioned before that I take more heavily from what I don’t experience, or at least what I don’t experience in waking life. A good deal of the material I work with is from my dreams, or dreams of others. Accordingly, a lot of it takes on a surreal quality, even if the images or the concepts behind it are concrete. As for the process, it is almost reminiscent of having food poisoning: it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, a lot comes up. I’ll go weeks without penning a single word of a poem. Then, out of nowhere, I’ll write maybe four or five poems in a day. Of course they’re not finished, skeletons without the muscle or flesh. So then I spend a while on revision. Eventually I may be content with one or two of them. On the extreme side of this, about a year ago I wrote nearly an entire manuscript of poetry (80 pages) in a few weeks, then cleaved it apart, and retrieved from it only five pieces I was happy with.  

Are you the kind of guy who makes his bed in the morning?

Well I’m looking at it right now, and its not made. So…

Your poem featured here, Cargo, is a little dark. It feels like an excerpt from a 300-year-old adventure. Tell me about the rest of the story.

In the last several years, a fair deal of my writing has concerned itself with the fragility of the body, with the sheer tenuousness of the vessel we use to explore this world, which lends itself to the darker undertones and contents my poems usually harbor. This piece is obviously no exception. It actually stems from a dream I had in which I was fishing aboard a large old ship and caught something I can’t rightly describe as either human or not. 

In my eyes, this piece is juxtaposing images of the body as something we hope to be holy, something long attested to be sacred, and as something that is easily made a commodity, something that can be slit, stuffed, and sold. It is investigating this question: how can something so sacrosanct also be so brittle and malleable?

What are you reading right now?

Well, poetry-wise, I’ve been reading a fair amount of John Taggart; if you havent read “The Rothkoe Chapel Poem”, I highly recommend you do. I’m also currently tackling Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History Of The United States. Though I don’t fancy myself much of a history buff, I’ve found this book to be one of the most fascinating pieces of work I’ve encountered in years.

Empire or Republic?


Well played.




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