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10 Questions for Trey Moody

I realize my daughter just turned seven and doesn't know
I was seven when my mother crept into my carpeted room
while I played a video game to say my father, who had been
far away taking fluids from tubes in a California hospital,
has died.
—from "Scrubbing the Skillet", Volume 62, Issue 2 (Spring 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
In fifth grade I wrote a poem for someone I liked who was wearing braces, and the poem rhymed “braces” with “golden laces.” (My first memory of letting form dictate content for the worse.) I’m not sure why I decided to write a poem in the first place—I don’t come from a literary household. While I can’t remember how the poem was received, I do remember this person silently reading the poem for the first time among a group of friends, and I remember how nervous I felt. It took me about a decade to want to write another poem. Still, whenever I show someone a new poem of mine, I feel that same rush I felt in fifth grade.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Franz Kafka’s writing, such as The Metamorphosis, is never far from my mind; I’m always learning from his strangeness and lucidity and unflinching gaze on injustice. Gaston Bachelard’s meandering yet dedicated thinking in The Poetics of Space has been instructive. Among poets, I’ve learned an awful lot from Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems and Madness, Rack, and Honey, including how to hold silliness and graveness in the same breath. Nothing’s taught me more about image than Robert Hass’s translations of Bashō, Buson, and Issa. Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song and The Orchard instilled in me a love for story and myth. Whenever I need reminding that the mind is indeed wider than the sky, I return to Kathleen Peirce’s The Oval Hour and The Ardors. Jericho Brown’s The Last Testament and The Tradition never fail to tune my eye and ear to how shape and song can help tell needed truths. Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous instruct in the way they make metaphor from lived history. Melissa Cundieff’s Darling Nova helps me remember that being vulnerable in a poem is the least we can offer the language we use.

What other professions have you worked in?
I currently teach in the English Department at Creighton University and have worked in education for seventeen years, but one memorable job was staffing a sports cards and memorabilia shop—sorting the owner’s literal wall-to-wall collections, selling the more valuable cards kept behind glass (every day I eyed a Michael Jordan rookie card), driving around with the company credit card to all the area McDonald’s to buy Happy Meals for a chance to happen into one of the rarer Beanie Babies from the standard ones they’d include with each meal. Another was bussing at a barbecue restaurant—I got really good at sorting trash, cleaning tables, and avoiding hitting my head on the lamps hanging over booths. My friend was fired for hiding a customer’s untouched cheeseburger half in a takeout box behind a potted plant. That helped me understand Kafka a little more.

What inspired you to write this piece?
My daughter and her enormous capacity to love. Among the countless gifts my daughter’s given me as a parent, one is being able to reflect on my childhood with more agency than I ever imagined possible. These little milestones we create in our minds in relation to our loved ones can be so arbitrarily rooted in things like numbers or coincidences, but who’s to say there isn’t meaning to be found there?

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’m from San Antonio, Texas, and certainly the rugged, rivered landscapes of the Texas Hill Country lurk in my writing, as does the Missouri River Valley in Omaha, Nebraska, where I live now. Along with memorable landscapes I travel through, I feel the moods of fictive landscapes dwelling inside me all the time—the ominous seaside sand of Kōbō Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, the mythical backdrops of the painter Julie Speed, Zachary Schomburg’s desolate buttes or frozen lake. If you can’t tell, I’m a sucker for maps and topography.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
When writing or revising at home, I usually just like the radio—classical or jazz—because then I don’t have to choose. Plus, I’m too easily distracted by music with words. Silence works well, too. When I’m writing on a park bench or in a café, I’m lucky that I can tune out just about anything. When I wear earbuds while writing or reading on a plane, I’m not listening to anything.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I used to have some, but I’ve found rituals can easily turn into excuses not to write. While I write pretty much wherever, whenever, with whatever, I do have some preferences when possible—a certain kind of pen or mechanical pencil for drafting, a legal pad or something similarly large for longer lines, the quiet of a morning or a night, my laptop for revising, a favorite book if I’m struggling, an art object nearby, a walk or playing basketball if I need a break from my brain.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Choosing only one is tough, but probably oil painting. I love working with my hands, and I love fields of space. I have little adroitness with visual art (though my mother would proudly show you my pencil sketch of a can opener from high school), but as a writer I’ve felt kinship with painting as another medium that creates three-dimensionality from a (mostly) flat surface. And I admire painting’s ability to break from the figurative, like Agnes Martin and Joshua Ware.

What are you working on currently?
Right now I’m working on new poems at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. One’s a fairy tale, one’s a dream sequence, and others are more recognizably lyric poems. Before I left, my daughter saw a black cat walking on a balcony railing and told me I should write a poem about that, but I’m still figuring it out.

What are you reading right now?
I’m working my way through a few books I’ve read enough of by now to recommend: W.G. Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, Jesse Ball’s The Divers’ Game, and a weird reference guide called The Book of Symbols. Soon I’ll be reading whatever new comes along from the singular Fonograf Editions. Along with the influential books I mentioned earlier, some favorites I’ve been dipping back into include Jean Follain’s Transparence of the World and Antonio Porchia’s Voices.

TREY MOODY was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. His first book,
Thought That Nature (Sarabande Books, 2014), won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. His more recent poems have appeared in The Believer, Crazyhorse, and New England Review. He teaches at Creighton University and lives with his daughter in Omaha, Nebraska.

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