I find your title quite confusing. Can you explain it?
The toothless house is an image that came to mind when I was working on this book, which is primarily about parenthood. I imagined that the experience of raising children was akin to being a krill swallowed whole by a blue whale. One minute you are just swimming along happily minding your own business, and the next minute you are in the belly of the whale. Blue whales do not technically have teeth, they have baleen, which are similar to the bristles of a brush. Though one’s house isn’t technically a jail and bristles aren’t technically teeth, escaping intact in either case would be quite difficult.
I know that is a ridiculously convoluted (and probably scientifically inaccurate) metaphor, but there you have it.
Parenthood has turned out to be the best experience of my life, but this book is about the first years, which were like knocking up against the bristles, both physically and emotionally.
Who do you think will relate to the poems in this book?
Any parent who has had enough of the park, anyone who has spent one too many afternoons jamming in a pot and pan band, anyone who has ever survived a school play (or god forbid a concert). I wrote most of these poems when my four children were young and I was tired in what felt like a life-threatening way.
THE YEARS PASS
The kindergarten parents clap
the loudest, descend from vines
passion flowers in their hair.
But one day the bloom pinched,
the seats grow hard, the sun
glares. Who cares who walks
the stage? The principal sounds
like Mrs. Donovan, wa-wa.
We give children trophies
for breathing in and out.
Clap and clap and clap and clap
The years pass like cafeteria trays.
Who won’t relate?
People who think the British television show “Fleabag” is too dark. People who live in houses that resemble the Palace of Versailles. People who wear makeup 24/7. People who only eat kale. People who enjoy waving in parades. People who don’t like snarky people.
Why don’t we all just return to the 1950s, don our aprons, and do leg lifts in the kitchen while making macaroni and cheese from scratch?
That’s a great idea. You go first.
I heard that after reading Goodbye Toothless House, a woman wrote to you and said: Maybe you should keep all these bad thoughts in a personal diary.
Are we all supposed to roam around the world in straight-jackets with magpies pecking at our eyes? I live in the suburbs where every third kid is suffering from anxiety, depression and/or is addicted to something. Way too many people in my neighborhood have died of overdoses and suicide, and yet, still, people try to keep their messy thoughts under wraps like rotting fish. Well, I’m in the opposite camp. Let’s compare notes. Let’s be real. Let’s cry a little bit. Let’s brainstorm. We might even laugh. We’re all in this together. As Matthew Zapruder said in one of your earlier interviews: “It feels good and necessary to think freely and with exactitude in relation to language and reality.”
What’s next for you?
I have a short story collection called “I Have the Answer” coming out in April 2020 from Wayne State University Press. I thought this was the perfect time on this planet in this particular country to let you know that I have the answer, because there are so many other people who think wrongly that they do. This book is sure to set the record straight.