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Charles Goodrich Oral History Interview, April 26, 2019

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Chris Petersen: Today is April 26, 2019, and we are with Charles Goodrich in his home in South Corvallis and we will talk to him about his OSU associations and his life as a poet and as an editor of books and as lots of other things, but we'll begin at the beginning and talk about your childhood a bit. Where were you born?

Charles Goodrich: I was born in a suburb of Chicago. Only lived there for a short time and then moved to a suburb of St. Louis. My dad was in advertising and moved around. So, I grew up in little towns in Ohio and Illinois. My parents split when I was 10. I lived with my mother, and she went back to work as a food-service manager at small colleges and she was really good at it. She would get promoted every year and we would move to a new town every year. I went to 12 schools in 12 years.

CP: Wow.


CG: In all those little towns with ecumenical colleges throughout the Midwest and that experience made me good at making friends and negotiating the difficulties of entering communities, but it left me... I didn't have any experience with staying put and being faithful to one place. That was what my adulthood has been about, compensating for the constant moving as a child.

CP: That's really interesting. Were there pieces of that experience that stuck with you in the sense that you-you lived in a lot of places. Did you figure out what about a place that you liked from living in a lot of different places at that point, or...?

CG: You know, the effect of landscape and attachment to outdoors came later for 00:02:00me, and actually it came when I came west for the first time and went on a long backpacking trip in the west. Then I was like, holy shit, you know. I enjoyed my upbringing in the Midwest. I like small town people and values and I like small communities, but there are no mountains in Ohio. So, I fell for the Pacific Northwest the first time I saw it.

CP: What were you interested in as a child? Your individual pursuits?

CG: Sports and friends, not necessarily organized sports. I played little league and I played basketball all through school all the time. My friends and I were playing basketball all year around. I liked school I did well in school. I think I probably read as much or more than normal, and it would be something average. 00:03:00I wasn't really into academic, or reading or anything as a kid that much until high school probably. I was an outdoors kid.

CP: Something happened in high school? Something shifted for you?

CG: It did. I had some high school literature teachers, English teachers who kind of lit a fire in me, unpacked some short stories and poems which I thought were really cool, and I did some writing. I wrote my first short story about a car that got a lot of praise and I liked that. I thought, oh, I could do that. My father was a novelist. So, there was that history in the family. His one published novel: Cotton Cavalier, which he wrote before I was born, before he even married my mother, had reviews in the New York Times and was well received, 00:04:00and so it made quite a splash. But that was the only novel he ever wrote. Probably in my genes, too. I had a love for literature, but I really hadn't discovered it until... My mother's family on the other hand were farmers and I spent summers on my Uncle John's farm and I liked that. I liked to work and I like to be praised for work. I liked to feel part of it. I was not big and strong. I was a suburban kid, and I think my cousins on the farm didn't expect much from me so it was very easy for me to outperform their expectations. In the evening when my few taciturn and few-words uncle, John, would say, "Good job, Charles. I really appreciated your help today." That really meant the world to me. I would love to think that more people would have that experience as a kid 00:05:00and know they're valued for their labor in a family and community setting.

CP: Do you remember being drawn to particular authors or genres at this point in your life?

CG: That really came in college. I really don't have any... I still wasn't passionate about literature until midway, really, through college. I entered college as a math and physics major. I was a kind of a math whiz. That was easy for me. I could see that being a practical skill that could lead to jobs and that was what I majored in.

CP: Did you go directly from high school to college?

CG: I did.

CP: So, that was always something that was in your sights?

CG: Yep, that was part of the family expectation. Even my parents had gone to college. My dad went to Northwestern. My mom went to Ohio State. That was what 00:06:00middle class kids did if they were smart, and so yeah that had always been the expectation.

CP: And you went to Heidelberg College?

CG: I did. My mother had been the food service manager at Heidelberg the year before and then was transferred. But, I had liked Tiffin and I had made friends there and that was the easiest course for me. I applied to other schools. I was accepted at Princeton and some other schools and that would've been a real difficult stretch for our family financially, whereas at Heidelberg since I knew people and my mother had had been a valued person there I got a great scholarship, so that's what I did. It was the easy course, and I do remember feeling like I was wimping out a bit at the time. Maybe if I had gone to an Ivy 00:07:00League school my pathway would've been different from then on. However, Heidelberg was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I liked small schools. I was in small classes. I got to know individual professors very well personally and worked hard for them, so it was nearly an ideal educational experience for me.

CP: Can you tell me more about the environment there, the points of emphasis at the college and maybe what it was like to go to school in a small town?

CG: I think the curriculum was very generalized. They had every imaginable major. They were especially known for their music school, but that was not something that I was into. For a small college, I think there were 1800 students at the time, there was a decent physics department, a good philosophy 00:08:00department, which I ended up taking all their classes from. The literature people were wonderful. The math department... it was a full-service college at the time, even though it was so small. I remember tuition, I don't know if that included room and board, but tuition was $3,000 a year. So, highly affordable at the time. I lived in the dorm the first year, as was required. I was a RA, resident assistant, in the dorm the second year, which is good training, kind of boot camp kind of training. I paid part of my tuition that way and then lived in apartments off-campus with friends my junior and senior year. You walk 00:09:00everywhere and bike everywhere, downtown bars are a 5-minute walk. It has very self-contained kind of community. It was a good experience for me. I don't have any friends left from high school before that because I moved so often, every once in a while I'd get a note from somebody I knew a little bit growing up, but I still have some really good college friends that I'm still in touch with and see sometimes.

CP: You entered as a math-science major and you went through a progression. Can you tell me about that academic progression?

CG: I went through a radical transformation, actually. Part of that was social. The social time-Vietnam War was raging. My brother served in the army, so he was in Vietnam during that time. I had a low draft number and might've well got drafted if I hadn't stayed in school. The social upheaval of the early '70s 00:10:00affected me and everybody I knew very deeply and I went through a dark night of soul, really questioning the values of culture and how to live an honorable life and kind of switched from math and physics to philosophy. I wanted to address those questions directly as possible and that's the discipline that seemed to me to do that. I was fortunate in having one particular teacher, Dr. Tom Keen, who became a mentor, who I took all his classes and worked my tail off for him and also in that time I had some literature classes which were very meaningful for 00:11:00me. That's when I read the first writers who became important models and mentors for me: Gary Snyder, Kenneth Rexroth, Theodore Roethke, were the first people who seemed to me to, their evocations of nature, manual labor, those kinds of things were entering my thoughts at that time. The most important literary influence for me I didn't read in a class, which maybe made it better for me, was Walden. When I read Thoreau, I felt him going through those same questions about how to live an honorable life in the midst of pre-Civil War times and the rapid industrialization. His neighborhood was industrializing too, they had just 00:12:00ran the train through it, so he was... and I sought out to emulate Thoreau's life at that point and decided that was a decent way to, not try to be not as little complicit with the exploitive capitalist economy as possible.

CP: Did this manifest during college or come after college?

CG: Well, college is that, kind of. College is semi-socialist: everybody's poor, everybody's fairly low-consumption. I think if we all lived like we did in college that would be better in many ways. Not so much for those who live in a dorm would have to admit, but in terms of it being much more community-minded and focused on important things, like intellect and imagination and 00:13:00collaboration, all those things are much more prominent in college. I don't know how we get transformed into being so individualist and competitive after college so quickly. Interesting anthropological question. Still working on that one [laughs]. But I'm grateful to have the opportunity to have that transformative experience. There was beer and marijuana involved, also. A lot of outdoors time. My physics professor was the other one who was incredibly influential on me at that time, because he was a backpacker also: Dr. Stan Schmidt. Is still a friend of mine. He went on to be a science fiction writer and an editor of Analog, a science fiction magazine and one of the most prominent magazines in the field 00:14:00and is a big outdoorsman and a photographer. The summer between my junior and senior year in college he said, "Do you want to go backpacking with me?" That's when we came out west and we backpacked in Yosemite and the North Cascades and all over the place. Six-weeks trip and that was eye-opening from the point of view of landscape and outdoor experiences and led to my immediately after graduating from college to move to the west.

CP: You're acquiring a skill set, a toolkit as a writer at this time?

CG: I had started to write, emulating some of my favorite writers. Gary Snyder in particular was influential to me at that time, and Gary Snyder and Rexroth in particular. I took an interest in the classical Chinese and Japanese poets and 00:15:00translation, with their simplicity and their evocation of the landscape. I was bad like most beginning writers. I was worse than most I think. I was bad. I didn't have any training. Didn't really want any training. I was an upstart kid who wanted to do it himself. I struggled on my own for a while and I was a bit of a slow learner, I think, so it took me a long time to publish anything, even write anything that I was really felt proud of.

CP: You have this experience of transforming your frame of mind, your point of view, during college and you go out west on this backpacking trip and discover the landscape, fall in love with it, then you move. So, what happens then?


CG: The summer after I graduated from Heidelberg with a major in philosophy and minor in math and physics, I got a job at Mt. McKinley / Denali National Park with the concessionaire that ran the hotel. That's who they hired, kids. With a couple buddies flew up to Anchorage. Kind of wet behind the ears and ready to go and that was also a profound experience to really see the edge of the continent there. Also, a very, very direct encounter with the inequality of wealth and the exploitation of the masses [laughs]. That was us. The staff were paid minimum 00:17:00wage, which was $1.80 at that point and lived in really ugly housing in literally tent cabins, ratty tent cabins, catering to relatively wealthy tourists who were buzzing in. In particular what got my ire--I made lots of friends. It was an awesome experience--but really this dichotomy between the staff and the customers really rubbed me, and in particular there were 130 staff as I recall and we had 1 bathroom facility. It was just a pre-fab in the middle of the encampment with four stalls on either side for the men and women. It was never cleaned. It was filthy. I started a petition to get more resources into 00:18:00cleaning that which morphed into a threat to union, tried to unionize. I didn't know what I was doing, but I circulated a petition that we were going to unionize. The manager called me in and he said, "We hear your concerns, so we are reassigning you to clean the bathroom there." I did that for a little while but I was done. At that point, I was done. I could see that I wasn't getting anywhere with that. So, I quit and just went traveling around and went backpacking in Alaska. In the meantime, while I was still at the lodge I had met a woman who was still in college at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. I followed her to Portland at the end of the summer. I had trekked down the ALCAN and joined up with her in Lake Oswego, where she lived, and I got a job. I used 00:19:00my creative writings skills to falsify a resume and got a job as a cook at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Like the third day on the job, my boss, Charlene, came up and she was an enormous, enormous woman. She came up and put her arm around me, which was like a ham hock on my shoulder, and she said, "You've never cooked before, have you?" [laughs]. I said, "No, I haven't." She goes, "Well, I think you're trainable so I'm going to keep you." She did. She trained me and that was good, but I was not cut out to be a short-order cook. I started longing to be outdoors. I thought, what could I do outdoors? I thought well, I need an entry-level job so I started looking for a place that had a lot of grass. I figured they'd need a lawn mower.

The closest place to where I was staying with my girlfriend was a convent just 00:20:00south of Lake Oswego: Marylhurst Convent. I went out there and asked if they needed any help and they put me in touch with the business manager, a nun, and she said, "Well we already have a groundskeeper, but why don't you fill this application out and if we ever need somebody, maybe I can give you a call?" Well, their groundskeeper did not to show up to work that day. He went on a bender and he didn't show up the next three days. Then kind of in a panic they called me and said, "Do you want the job?" That was not just mowing the lawn, although there were many acres of lawn, but that was taking care of a Christmas tree orchard, a small herd of beef cattle that would roam the pastures, an old orchard, vegetable gardens, flower gardens for the alters, formal rose garden. It was a beautiful, beautiful old estate that had been allowed to go to seed, 00:21:00but it had everything. I had to care of the sewerage treatment plant there. I had to dig graves. I dug graves by hand. I loved that. All of that, every bit of it, including digging the graves.

It was an apprenticeship by experience. I went out that day and bought the Sunset Western Garden Book and a pair of gloves and started in trial and error and a couple of nuns were good gardeners, grew up on farms and knew what they were doing, and they were really thrilled that somebody cared because previous people hadn't. They had had a habit of hiring the down and out. The pay was wretched, either somebody was down and out or, like me, young and dumb. That was a terrific way, I fell into a career as a gardener. I was incredibly grateful 00:22:00for that experience and the only drawback is they couldn't really, as a group, they could care less. I put in a huge vegetable garden and I would bring bushels. There were 100 nuns there, so they could use the food, and they had a food service that ran that. I would pick a bushel of green beans and take them up to the kitchen and the cooks would go, "Oh, we have to snap all those green beans? We'd much rather open a #10 can." But they were farm women, too, and they felt obliged to use it all. There was conflict [laughs] between my ambitions for them and the reality of the situation that they were mostly old and not invested in their... it had been a self-sufficient farm in its day. It had 100-tree apple orchard in which they had used all that stuff, but it was all overrun and decayed by that time. So, I did that for 2 ½ years and then...


CP: Could I ask another question?

CG: Absolutely.

CP: Can you tell me more about the cultural experience of working in a convent?

CG: Sure. There are 100 nuns and 5 men that ran the physical plant: carpenter, an engineer, a boiler man, a laundry man, and handyman, and me. We were completely isolated. We were not really, there was nowhere in the convent that we could go unchaperoned except for our little lunchroom and some public areas on the ground floor. I wished I had tried to get to know-I'm agnostic. I'm a slouch Buddhist, I call myself, and I have been since those early days in college when I went through that experience and I didn't have much interest or 00:24:00respect for Catholicism per se, but I missed an opportunity there. There were nuns who would have, without proselytizing, who would've shared with me some of their spiritual experiences. In particular, I wish also that I had learned about the history of the convent and the land. In fact, I was with this little cadre of men. I didn't really have much experience of the nuns' life there.

CP: Then you left? CG: I decided... the girlfriend that I had followed down from Alaska, we married. We had a 1-year marriage that ended amicably and an 00:25:00agreement that we weren't suited for each other down the road.

So, that was all tied with another kind of, at that point wasn't upheaval, but it was plenty enough things going on in my life that I was ready for changes. I worked for a couple years with private clients as a gardener. I worked briefly at Lewis and Clark College on the grounds there. When my wife and I split up I decided a change of scenery was in order and that's when I traveled all around the Northwest looking at college towns: went to Bellingham and Eugene and some others. I can't remember. Came to Corvallis, and Corvallis won my affections, in part because of people I met at the Beanery, hanging out, easy to talk to people 00:26:00like-minded kinship. Partly because at that time here at the corner of Park Street there was campground, the public campground the city ran and that's where I lived the first 2 weeks in Corvallis. I thought, well, that was enlightened to have a city-run public campground.

As a way of healing my wounds from my breakup of my marriage I decided to go back to school. So, I enrolled at OSU in science education. So, my science and math background came back as a practical way. I thought I wasn't qualified to teach philosophy. I wasn't going to get a Ph.D. I thought I could get an M.A. in teaching science and maybe I could be a public-school teacher. Well, that didn't 00:27:00work out. I did not have good teachers in that program. I'm not going to name any names [laughs]. That was a disappointing experience and I quickly started to look for more grass to mow [laughs]. Among the places that there was a lot of grass around Corvallis, the place I landed was at the Children's Farm Home. In a way, a similar experience. I think I've had a charmed life in my job searches, because I stopped by the Children's Farm Home, and they said, "Yeah, actually we are looking for a groundskeeper." So, I took that job and did that for 2 ½ years. Another wonderful experience in that the variety of maintenance 00:28:00challenges there was always broadening my skills set and my ethical regard. At the time, the Children's Farm Home was not as serious of cases as they are now. These were kids that had just run away from home or got drunk one or two many times. Most of them didn't have severe psychological problems or behavioral problems. They'd be totally mainstream now with all those kids. They had gotten in trouble enough that they had entered the system. I started a program to get them gardening and for many of them that was, for a few of them it was transformative. They also found something that really changed their life and I think for all of them it was salutatory in some ways. That was a cool thing to 00:29:00get to do and that was a good experience for me.

Around that time this acre of land was offered to me for sale by a friend who had purchased it and he had decided he didn't want to build the house that he was going to and he said, "You seem like somebody to build a house." I should tell you... I'm going to back up just for a second. When I left the convent, you'll have to decide what to do about this from a visual standpoint. I don't know if we're going to hold it up. When I left the convent back in there, I bought some land. When my mother died she left me a very small inheritance, $6,000. It was very small. It was more than I knew what to do with, so I... land, I'd buy land.


I found a parcel of land, outside of Oregon City, rural Clackamas County, that was for sale for $22,000, 11 acres for $22,000. I put a down payment on it, barely. I built this cabin on it. I built this with, we can decide whether, I don't know if you can hold it up in front of the camera or not [holds up a picture of cabin on laptop computer screen]. That was my Thoreau attempt to live the rural life. It was built with hand tools, all hand tools, there was no power to the site. I did all the work myself. That was my apprenticeship in carpentry. I didn't have any previous experiences. I had helped some friends build small things. I was going to live the rural life removed from society.

As you can see. It's a cute cabin. It was a lovely little space. There's a 00:31:00little pond behind it. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of property. However, this was in rural Clackamas County, which I discovered when I lived there, has one of the highest concentrations of membership in the John Birch Society outside of the Deep South. People literally at that time ran around with, there was a car with ran around with a swastika painted on the side. The biggest thing that happened while I lived there was somebody shot a bear. It was probably the last bear in Clackamas County and it was celebrated as a great achievement. I worked at the crossroads grocery store, feed store, gas pump. I needed some income. It was about 5 miles from my house. I was there at the hub of the community and I could see what kind of community it was. Plus, I had to drive 00:32:00everywhere. I lived on this little paradise, but it was all rabidly private property. Everybody had no trespassing signs. You couldn't walk anywhere. That kind of cured me of rural living, at least the romance of rural living. I sold that property 2 years later, at huge, huge profit. It was my little moment of being a capitalist exploiter, and that became the seed money with which I was able to buy this land.

So, I'm working at Children's Farm Home, my friend Sarvahara, offers me this acre of land. At the same time, I heard about an opening at Benton County Parks for the corrections work crew. Well, the advantage of working on the corrections work crew would be that it would be weekends and then I would be free all week 00:33:00long and then I could build a house. So, I left the Farm Home and took a job as a corrections worker supervisor and then started working on this house. The corrections work crew was interesting work. The people management, psychological challenge of managing people who didn't want to be where they were was good for me at the time. I matured. I got tougher maybe. It was the first corrections work crew in the area. So, it was experimental. I went into the jail every Saturday morning and got people out of jail. That in itself was an experience. 00:34:00It's humbling to go into the jail and hear the metal doors go bang, and you think, man it really is kind of I don't want to go to jail. I don't want to go to jail. But I get people out of jail for the day. We did real work in the parks. We raked leaves, picked up trash, and refinished picnic tables.

For the most part, those people responded to being given meaningful work. For the most part, they were much happier to be outdoors than in jail. However, they were almost uniformly and relentlessly negative people. That was really hard. That was illuminating to me also to see how, I don't know which comes first: whether you go to jail and you get negative or whether you start negative and go to jail. I don't know. They felt totally victims instead of perpetrators. They 00:35:00had bad luck hit them and there was no reason why they had gotten caught. That was trying. I only ended up doing that for 2 years and then handed that program on. But, that had gotten my foot in the door with Benton County Parks and the job opening for the courthouse gardener came up and I was hired for that job, so that was a much nicer job. That also was less than full-time. Although I worked nearly full time in the summertime, it wound down in the fall and was dormant in the wintertime, so I had a lot of time to work on this place. Being a do-it-yourself-er and not having much money, in lieu of not having much money at all, I would go buy some lumber and put up some walls and then go make some 00:36:00money and go buy some more lumber and put up some more walls [laughs], working almost entirely by myself. This part of the house that we're in here, 30' x 24' I built by myself. I framed it, plumbed it, wired it, built the cabinets and everything. Some of it, the better woodwork here has been redone by real carpenters since then, but I did the originals.

CP: Designed it as well, I assume?

CG: I designed it, yeah. I did the design. Because I wanted to. Why wouldn't anybody want to learn how to do that and take that on? It's an elementary human experience, you know? Not as cool as having a family but very cool, nearly as mind-blowing. I just don't get why people don't want to do stuff themselves, why 00:37:00they've got to pay somebody else to do it. So that was 2 ½ years it took me to get this original part of the house habitable, not finished because I was working part-time on it and learning as I went. I would come home from work, pull out the books, and say, soldering copper, how do you solder copper? [laughs]. The next free day I had I would solder some copper pipe together underneath the house. And it's still holding. Knock on wood [knocks].

I was the courthouse gardener for 15 years and in its heyday it was the showpiece of the community in its day. The parks department supported the position better than they do now and the community seemed to... there were more 00:38:00public events there, there were weddings on the courthouse lawn. It was a real public treasure. When I left they demoted the position, cost savings, and it's been going downhill since then. Still a magnificent structure and a nice, open space in the center of town.

CP: Iconic, I would suggest.

CG: Absolutely, don't you think? It's on the public letterheads and everything like that, all the publicity for the town. It's the county courthouse since...

CP: How was it as a place of work for you?

CG: The courthouse itself or the public, the county parks department are both, I suppose. I loved it. I loved that... I'm an introvert and I don't really like to have too much public engagement but working outdoors and talking to people one 00:39:00at a time when they come by and ask me about stuff, that was ideal, and so I could be an advocate for organic gardening and for, well, you know... so that was a good experience for me. It dovetailed very well with my writing, which was really my primary interest at that time and it gave me the experience which formed the subject matter for my first earliest successful poems, which were gardening poems and encounters with wild animals, mostly insects. That was a good, and the community of Benton County Parks, there were 5, 6 of us guys. Not all guys, there were a couple of women that came and went, and the rangers that 00:40:00went out and took care of all the county parks. We were wonderful, great friends, with each other, still are good friends and so that was my family, my community in that day. Those were great times. In 1991, I met my wife, my to-be wife, Kapa, and she also worked for Benton County. She was a young engineer, worked for the road department. We courted for a while and decided to get married, add on to the house. She was a good carpenter. So, we built the addition on the house and we still do all the carpentry and maintenance and landscaping here ourselves. My son was born in 1993 here, a home birth, in the 00:41:00neighborhood and this is I'm deeply, deeply rooted in the house and the neighborhood.

CP: So, writing is happening during this time period. You alluded to that and it sounds like it was your primary interest, primary focus during a long stretch of time. Can you tell me about how that evolved? Because there's no publications happening during this period of time, but it's clearly something that is motivating you and driving you.

CG: Yeah, filling journals. Writing really bad poems, mostly. I think a lot of my early work was more philosophical, struggling with philosophical questions, really bad journal entry kind of poems and it was when I started writing about 00:42:00really detailed personal experiences that I wrote the poems that I became happy enough with to send out. I had taken a couple of workshops when I lived in Portland. I took a couple poetry workshops and I had friends and I had worked my poetry pretty seriously but I probably had pretty high expectations for myself. I didn't want to publish just to publish. I wanted to publish things that I thought in some way embodied my values and my vision and the spirit of Thoreau and the poets that I admired. I guess I've always wanted, and I guess I still want, I want to write and publish things that somebody like Gary Snyder would 00:43:00look at and say, well, that's a good poem. Other than that, I don't really care, I just want to write things that are valued by people I respect. That's always been my goal. It took me a long time to do that. I was okay with that because I worked as a gardener. I feel very fortunate to have worked as a gardener to support my poetry habit. That was always my intention. I always thought after college I wanted to be a writer, a philosopher writer, and so I was clear that I didn't want to expect my writing to make an income. That seemed high folly to me [laughs]. Very rare for writers, particularly poets, to make any money at their writing. Most of them do it as teaching. I did consider that, you know, but I would have never been particularly called to teaching and I like to be outside 00:44:00too much, so I could easily see forks in my path that might have led to my having a career as a teacher and as it happened the bud went off in the other way and that shoot entered in a more manual labor career, which was excellent for me. It kept my writing free from the expectations of making money or even earning any accolades. My other work covered all my needs and my writing could just be for myself and for that audience of people who I hoped would get something out of it.

CP: Was the discipline during this time motivated by the hope or the belief that you would eventually get to that point that you would write a poem that Gary Snyder would appreciate? Is that what's motivating you and driving you at this 00:45:00point? Or are you still wrestling with big questions about life and existence? Or maybe both?

CG: No, I would say at that point I had settled most of my questions. It might have been a foolish path but it was my path and I was going to do it. I was going to work as a gardener and I had built my house. I had built the house, my main motivation really at the time was to escape the debt, escape debt. I did not want to be caught by the economy. I think capitalism is the death of the planet, and I think we need to find other economies, but I wasn't going to be a martyr to it, either. I wanted to figure out what you needed not just to survive but to prosper and to cap it right there and I wouldn't respect myself if I 00:46:00chased anymore material wealth. Well, what do you need? You need food, shelter, clothing. The biggest thing you need is community, and you absolutely have to have a community to sustain yourself spiritually. By happenstance I fell into the work and I fell into a community. I bought this acre because it was a poor part of town and there's where you could afford to life and that is why and it turns out that a lot of young families were doing the same. We landed in South Corvallis, people of modest means who were willing to do sweat equity to secure their homes and livelihoods and build a community.

It's been a great place. I think I know almost everybody on the block and count 00:47:00many of them as very close friends. We have lots of potlucks. We look out for each other. We do chores for each other, and call each other when we need anything and enjoy each other's company, do stuff together. I did not really know that that was what I needed most of anything in the world until I discovered it, and now I would be loath to do without it. So, South Corvallis has really answered that call.

You mentioned earlier that your community has battled some irresponsible development proposals in your neighborhood. That's community building sometimes. I don't know if it has been for you. It has been for us. We're a poor part of town because the most heavily polluting industry is in the town, and we have banded together on numerous occasions to fight their proposals to expand, to 00:48:00fight their pollution that they have caused and sometimes spikes up. We have to go to a lot of public meetings and it's not much fun. But, A, it is community building and trial by fire and, B, it has some effect. Not all the effect that you would want it to have but that industry now is a much more responsible business and we get some credit for that.

We also had a big development, the Rivergreen development, just south of us here that's I don't know how, many, many, many, many houses. That was annexed and the original proposal was to turn Crystal Lake Drive into the arterial that would bring all that traffic right down there. We didn't want that. But, who are we? There are 20 houses on Crystal Lake Drive. How much power do we have? Well, it turns out that South Corvallis has a huge bottleneck problem that the state is 00:49:00always concerned about because there's only one bridge across Mary's River and bringing traffic down Crystal Lake Drive does not answer that because it all comes back out at Highway 99, whereas there are other streets that go directly out to 99. So, they had aimed their arterial through the Rivergreen to line up with Crystal Lake Drive, and we said why don't you just put it over here a little bit and that will direct the traffic straight out to 99. They said, oh, okay that's no sweat. The city said, oh, yeah, right there's no reason to not do it that way. So, we prevailed on that through immense amounts of effort. Many, many, many hours of public meetings. I didn't want to do that. Nobody wants to do that. But, I learned a lot. I learned among other things that you can engage with civic process and have some impact, feel proud of it and create friends and 00:50:00understand how things work.

The same as building a house. You learn how plumbing works, a little bit about how electricity works [laughs], at least how to put the wires together and if you engage in the process, the public process, then you start to learn how democracy and how civil society works and that's a good thing. And you're not likely to engage in that unless you get rooted in community. That's something I got from Gary Snyder. Wendell Berry is a huge mentor in that regard with finding your place and digging in and I am grateful for their advice on those things and I have found that to be the case.

CP: Back to your own writing-you're writing things that you're happier with. Is 00:51:00that a sense... am I correct in that assessment?

CG: Yeah. Those poems were coming...

CP: During the Benton County Courthouse era?

CG: Yeah they were emerging from my experience of it. I would go home at night, I would have something happen today. They were really bubbling up out of my direct experience. I don't really care for philosophic poems. I don't care for surrealist leaps or anything like that. I can respect talent when I see it, but I wanted to write things that really came out of my experience. That can also be a recipe for humdrum reportage too, if it's just your experience. Through some of my experiences gardening at the courthouse I started writing some poems which 00:52:00I really felt were true to my experience but also were different and new and particularly the first poems about insects, which were often about individual insects and they came out of my revelation that these are living creatures. They're my enemies, the pests that I deal with but they're amazing. They're beautiful. They can do things, you know? They have talents and things like that. I can see that and I can feel the moral tension there between... I had to find some way to deal with them, but I also had enormous interest and respect for them. That became the issue I wanted to write about. There were entries into the 00:53:00philosophical questions of our relationship to nature: who are we if we are animals among other animals, we are truly Darwinian creatures, how are we going to relate to the rest of nature? Liberal-minded people think they can manage that with bears and deer and other charismatic animals, but how do you do that with insects? So, I felt like that was an opening that was worth exploring and I had some tools that would help me do that. Those were the first poems that I was really happy with. I self-published this chapbook, Insects of South Corvallis. I think there's 10 or a dozen poems in there, insect poems, and I went to Kinko's 00:54:00and designed it and put it together myself. Sold them for a buck. A friend of mine sent a copy to Garrison Keillor, and he ended up reading 7 of those on The Writer's Almanac. I all of a sudden had a national audience and was getting some appreciation for those. That was big for me.

CP: Was it as simple as that? Where you went from anonymity to Garrison Keillor? Was there any step in between that?

CG: Not really, not much [laughs]. Although I have to say at the time, 1999 or even earlier, [looks at copyright page of publication], yeah 1998. That didn't lead to any particular national, you know, it didn't really have that much of a 00:55:00repercussion. I didn't have a website. No one knew how to find me. The book was self-published. No one could buy it. If I had had a published book from a recognizable publisher who had a distributer, I would've sold-which happened later, because he continued to read my poems afterward. Whenever he would read one, I would excitedly go to Amazon and see what happened, and there would always be a huge spike in sales when he would read one. But, my big flush of success happened before I really had any way of capitalizing on it [laughs]. So, I was proud. At that point, it was mostly self-affirmation for me. By God, somebody, not Gary Snyder but Garrison Keillor, somebody saw those and they said that's pretty good. That was really all I was looking for. I was very satisfied 00:56:00at that point.

CP: I think maybe a year or two or three before then, though, you were a Fishtrap fellow. Is that correct?

CG: That's correct. That was 1996. That was a big affirmation among my regional community of writers. I had submitted some of those insect poems and I think it might have been just that summer. I don't remember the dates. I knew about Fishtrap but I'd never been there. I knew, I had met William Stafford and I knew some of the other writers who had been instrumental in starting Fishtrap, so that was... and I think, actually no, probably I had hiked in the Wallowas before and so I loved the area. That was huge. That was huge. That was the first time... and I had been to a couple writers' conferences. I had been to Centrum Conference at Ft. Warden and Port Townsend. I was a participant with the 00:57:00registered participant a couple times, but to hang out in a community of 100 writers who were all committed to it. And, Fishtrap unlike some of the more famous ones, like Bread Loaf and names are escaping me but in places where the famous writers go, Fishtrap is very collegial and very supporting environment. So, I didn't feel like anybody was trying to get up a leg up on anybody. That was a wonderful experience. I ended up teaching there a couple summers and doing a month-long residency in a little cabin out in the boonies for them, the Outback Residency. I still have a wonderful relationship with Fishtrap and people at Fishtrap.

CP: Were these moments of validation or affirmation what prompted you to go back 00:58:00to school?

CG: No. Not at all [laughs]. No, what prompted me to go back to school was knee surgery. My hard, manual labor was taking a toll on my body and I couldn't see that I was going to make it to retirement working as a gardener. So, what am I going to do? Well, if I got an MFA I could enter the grammar mines, I could teaching Writing 121 for the rest of my life [laughs], because I didn't have any illusions at the age of 50 I was going to get a tenure-track job anywhere. But I could make money teaching, and I was competent at it, so that's why I went back to school to get a terminal degree that would qualify me to teach writing. I also didn't want to move anywhere, so I had to find a way to make a living here, 00:59:00so I figured LBCC, I could drive to Lane if I had to and drive up to Chemeketa if I had to. That was the plan. I knew everybody that taught the MFA program. They were friends of mine. I was a reasonably accomplished writer at that point so my resume was good enough to get in and that was, two things it was, a wonderful experience. All those people: Tracy Daugherty, Marjorie Sandor, Chris Anderson, all the people who taught in those programs and still teaching are incredibly skilled and dedicated teachers. That's not true in every MFA program. Moreover, they decided at the beginning, realized that one thing that was really 01:00:00important to do is create a community among the people in their program.

So, like Fishtrap, it was not as much of a sense of competitiveness, that I'm going to get a job and you're not going to get a job. I'm going to beat you. That was not a prevalent ethic there. It was really like we're all here to support one another. I valued that immensely. They're of course wonderful teachers and I learned a great deal. That said, at the age of 50 going back to school, that was the hardest thing I pretty much had ever done, really. I had a family. I had a young son. I had a job. I still worked as a gardener for part of that year and then I taught to pay off my teaching assistantship. I was still, I 01:01:00still thought, this was probably a cultural thing that had changed in the meantime, but I still thought that when reading was assigned you had to do it all. And I did it all [laughs]. It took me a while to realize that not everybody was doing as much reading as I was. The amount of work assigned was enormous and I was trying to do it all. It was hard. It was really hard for me. Also, the old guy on the block, I wanted to show the students that I could keep up. So, it was harder for me at that age.

I mentioned that the teachers and the students had done a great job in creating a sense of community, but I already had a community that I was already under-appreciative of. I didn't spend enough time with people I already was close with, so I didn't participate in that community nearly as much as the younger students did. That was my loss, because they're all really now lifelong 01:02:00friends and I already had what they hoped to have in some sense in that I had that community. But, nevertheless, it would've been wonderful to have been able to participate in that more. All the social things together I did not do together. I came home to my family.

I got my MFA. There were no classes in creative non-fiction at the time. There was poetry and fiction. I was working on essays, the essays that became part of The Practice of Home, which I already had published a few of. So, I took my essays to the fiction workshop and that was my place to be. That was good for me, because I learned a lot of fiction techniques. Somewhere down the road we 01:03:00might end up in this interview where I'll tell you about the novel that I'm working on now, so that has come around full circle. I think it was good for the fiction writers too to learn how a non-fiction writer and a poet would approach the same issues that they were facing in fiction. That accomplished what I wanted. I got my MFA. I taught writing at LBCC for a while and then we'll enter the Spring Creek Project phase of my career, unless you want to back up and cover any other pieces.

CP: I'd like to know more about Practice of Home. Perhaps it preceded the MFA project, but it was your master's thesis, was it not? Or, at least a version of it?

CG: Yes, it was. Pretty much intact. That had grown out of our experience of a 01:04:00home birth, our son's home birth, here. It had some of the same qualities that I described in my poetry emerging from my experience but seemed to have broader reverberations to ethical questions and interesting metaphorical dimensions to it. A home birth, the initial essay in the collection, brings together the idea of a birth of a home, building a house, and a child born in that house. I was a hands-on dad. I loved being a father and spent a lot of time with my son. Always have. Always did. Those were precious experiences, and interesting. And morally 01:05:00fraught occasions as you well know. You know? You have to answer the big questions about life when you're shepherding a young child through life. So, those became the essays that collected in The Practice of Home and my son grows up over the course of that and he's a marker of time throughout it. We go out on adventures in nature and consider moral questions.

CP: Okay, Spring Creek. So, we have finished our MFA in 2002 and it looks like the first date I have for Spring Creek is 2003. So, there's probably a bit of transition here, but give me some background of how this all came together.

CG: I think while I was in the MFA program, but certainly immediately following, I was in a writing workshop with Kathleen Dean Moore, Steve Rodosevic, and Gail Wells, who you probably know as OSU people were in that. Also, Chris Anderson 01:06:00was in that group, writing essays all of us. All of us got books out of those years together. So, I knew Kathy and admired her work. At some point in there, I'm not sure the dates, although I probably have it in here, Kathy along with her friend and co-founder of the Spring Creek Project, Franz Dolp, had founded the Spring Creek Project. Franz had a little cabin in the coast range that he wanted to make available to writers for residencies and Kathy as a big thinker had seduced him into a bigger picture, that, yes, we'll definitely use the cabin, thank you, but let's do some stuff on campus. Let's generate some interest at the intersection of the sciences and the humanities in creative 01:07:00arts. One of the first things they did, and it was just Kathy working pro bono with little bits of funding-she would say let's do this, and Franz would write a check and Kathy had her salary from the university so she wasn't getting anything. I don't think there was any budget for the Spring Creek Project at that time. One of the things that Kathy did, the Spring Creek Project did, was put out a call that if writers that are working at this intersection want to apply for small grants, there are small grants available. I thought well that's cool because I wanted to do some education on the Willamette River that was a hot topic at the time. Stan Gregory had called attention with a lot of issues with the Willamette, and there was a lot of programs on the science of the river but there was not much on the literature of the river.

So, I proposed that I edit an anthology which became Let Us Drink to the River. 01:08:00There it is. I put out a call for poems. I got 50 submissions from really all over the country. People had lived here and bonded with the Willamette and then moved away. I chose about 20 of them. I applied to the Spring Creek Project for a grant to pay for this and then to have a reading series. And I got that. That was my first engagement with Spring Creek Project. That was very helpful to me, but I think also Kathy was impressed that somebody took the initiative to do that, to go get a little bit of money and then do a series of events, readings that were at the library and pretty well-attended. Gave these away. Copies are still out there being used by high school writing classes as a model of how to write and edit things about nature. That was one of my early encounters with 01:09:00Spring Creek Project. I also was a founding director of the Willamette Literary Guild along with my friend Anita Sullivan who lives in Eugene now, and I'm sure there were other people involved, forgive me I don't remember who else was involved, with the goal of sponsoring literary events in town, and Kathy was one of the very first readers we invited. This pre-dated my acquaintance with her in the writing group. It led to my joining that writers' group. That was probably '95 or '96 at that point. Anita had heard about this philosopher at OSU who was writing wonderful essays about nature and we looked a couple up and said wow those are really good. She read at the arts center and blew our socks off. She 01:10:00was terrific. That was the first reading she had given, so that was another connection I had with Kathy and I'm an early admirer of her work. Immediately following my graduation with the MFA program, I was teaching writing 121 classes at LBCC and I volunteered to help run some events with Spring Creek. So, I worked with Kathy and we agreed that that was cool and there was a possibility of doing more. She approached Franz and said how about we actually fund a position for the Spring Creek Project. At that time, it was a quarter-time. I began organizing events on the model that I had done with these literary events for the Willamette for Spring Creek.


Kathy and I loved working together, always were and still are great brainstormers together. I'm incredibly practical. I know how to put those things together. It turns out, gardening is great training for running a small non-profit. It's systems management, temporal sequencing of events, and attention to detail. That really grew and it grew on its success. It turns out that running events at the intersection of science and the humanities and creative arts, there was a huge appetite for that, great hunger for that. In a university town where the sciences are strong and the humanities are strong but they never talk to each other, people never talk to each other across that divide, it turns out that everybody knew that was a mistake and so everything we did was well-received. And Kathy was, and still is, incredibly innovative about 01:12:00finding ways. It's not enough just to put those people in the same room-to find ways to get people to share their expertise in meaningful collaborations is difficult. She was great at it. The many events we sponsored I think it really made some inroads. I think that it's changed the culture of the community and Oregon State I don't think it's so unusual now to see events at that cross-section. It's still way, way, way too underrepresented and a real shame to have those different ways of knowing so deeply silo-ed. The ethical concerns that the humanities can bring are hidden in the sciences and not foregrounded as they should be. The rigor that the sciences bring is underappreciated in the 01:13:00humanities. It needs much, still everything to be done. But Spring Creek has done some wonderful work at that intersection.

CP: Was this a quarter-time position for you when you were hired and remained so for a while or did it change into a full-time position at one point?

CG: It was never a full-time position.

CP: Okay.

CG: It grew incrementally. I think for a couple years, I think it went up to half-time within a few years. I continued to teach.

CP: You're supplementing your income through secondary jobs, then?

CG: Yeah, right. As you gather, I've always lived lean. I'm fine with a part-time salary. It was nice when it got up to half time and I got benefits. That is the reason why I eventually ended up being able to retire, which is not something I ever thought I would be able to do. I always thought I would work 01:14:00until I died and I still work, I like to work. But it's nice to not have to go to the office.

CP: There's a couple of activities I wanted to ask about specifically, Working and Writing in the Woods. You mentioned the cabin. This is the Shotpouch Creek Cabin, is that correct?

CG: Yes.

CP: Can you tell me about that as a place? It sounds like it's been well-utilized by the program over the years.

CG: Yeah, have you ever been there?

CP: I have not.

CG: You should go. You should go. That's not an idle invitation. There's a way to go. One of the programs that we do, you just missed it for this spring. It's called the Trillium Project. That is a revolving residency for pretty much anybody who wants to go, to go out and spend 1-3 nights at the cabin, usually two people. There are two bedrooms there. So, usually 2 people at a time. If people don't mind sleeping on the floor, there can be more people.

The idea is just to let people go out there and engage with the very beautiful 01:15:00landscape and a gorgeous little cabin and do whatever creative work they want to. So, please avail yourself of that sometime. People love spending time there. It's a very pretty cabin that Franz had built. It's a kit on some kind of damaged land that he resolved to heal. He said he was growing an old-growth forest, long-range mindset, which is what we all need to have if we're going to keep the planet, biological systems, intact. There are several longer-range residencies which are awarded by application. It's a remote cabin and Kathy in 01:16:00particular and all of us were concerned that some people might not feel safe at the cabin, so rather than offer it to individuals, we thought well, how about we'll offer it to pairs of individuals and we'll ask them to produce collaborative projects? That's unique, as near as I know. I suppose some residencies would be open to that, but this is the only one that's by design. People can actually be doing... we had a playwright and a librettist who were writing an opera. We had people who were doing painting and writing that plays off of each other, lots of really innovative, collaborative things, which have gone on to be published or otherwise presented to the world and really again often a transformative experience because people haven't had that time. Two 01:17:00weeks together with one person working on a collaborative project, that's bonding stuff. I know a couple of them came not married and ended up married and that kind of thing has happened, too. That's kind of the most ambitious thing that happens at the cabin.

There are also events that happen year-round, there are the work parties. Working and Writing in the Woods happens at least twice a year. That is a combination of manual labor and usually a writing workshop, but we've had a few other kinds of workshops there. So, people go out and maintain the expansive trail system up through the woods and people go out and maintain the trail, cut down blackberries, work in a little herb garden or help clean in the morning for 3 hours and then have lunch together and then have a workshop in the afternoon, in a free... we invite talented writers, teachers from all over the state to 01:18:00come. They get a couple nights in the cabin as compensation and as a small stipend. They love coming there. Very low expectations really. Kind of the emphasis is on fun. We get people who are not professional writers, just occasional writers, sometimes even non-writers who are just saying, okay, I'll give that a try. It's terrific. It always fills up instantly and always a full house at the cabin. That'd be another time that you could come to the cabin, sign up for that. You would love it. Bring your daughter.

CP: A very different type of project, I gather-Long-Term Ecological Reflections in the western Cascade Range. This is the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest?

CG: Yeah. Have you been to the Andrews Forest?

CP: No.

CG: Again, well, add that to your bucket list. The Andrews Forest, you're probably aware of what goes on in Andrews. Andrews is a storied national 01:19:00treasure of a research forest. Part of the long-term, what do we call it, research sites around the country, which I think there are 26 and representative biomes that have National Science Foundation-funded research sites that are particularly aimed at conducting research that is with long threshold data gathering, as you know most science grants are 1-3 years and there are questions that aren't going to get answered in 1-3 years, especially with biological systems. So, the Andrews I think was founded in the '40s and has data sets that already go on more than 60 years and everyone in the ecological community, go, "Oh, the Andrews Forest." Wow. Beyond that, not so many people. It's on the 01:20:00national forest. It's publicly owned. Anybody can go there, but even people in Eugene and up in McKenzie River go to Andrews Forest? I don't know about it. Because of our interest in having things happen at the intersection of art and science we decided to see if we could get creative writers to spend some time at the Andrews and actually engage with the science-learn about what's going on there and write something about ecological science or about the Andrews. Not journalism, by any means. Creative writing. They would have their own methods that they bring to it, parallel methods to the science, but that would engage with the forest. It wasn't like, here's free time, you're on your own to do whatever you want to. We don't police anybody if they come and want to write something completely different. That's fine. But the expectation is that they 01:21:00will engage with the forest. We can arrange for them to go out on a field crew if they want to. Some of them have gone out with the spotted owl crew, with the vegetation crew, trapping small mammals. I think those people have had the, they would say themselves, they have the greatest experiences, because it's rare experiences for people, writers in particular, to get to have. So, we asked them to contribute some writings. We collected all those. We collect them both in raw data, if they want to give us their notes and everything like that. We took a scientific, archival approach that, which is different than most humanities programs. Those are not public, but they're collected and then whenever they get them done, finished work that they hopefully will publish somewhere else. Which they have done with great reliability. Fred Swanson, have you ever met Fred Swanson?


CP: I have.

CG: Fred would be a great person for your oral history project. Truly, actually, you should definitely get Fred because Fred is the story keeper for the Andrews, especially the society of scientists that have gone through the Andrews and he is a wonderful, wonderful storyteller. Fred was our connection with the Andrews. He has always been the guardian spirit of Andrews. Whenever writers come he goes down and takes them out on a tour of the Andrews and orients them to the place, so that's another really special thing. When people have asked about starting a writers residency program at a research site, of which there are now quite a few that have been modeled on ours and there are quite a few around the country, and they ask how they go about it, I always say you find a friend because you can 01:23:00have a facility, a little bit of money is usually not that bad to come by. You have a charismatic landscape, which really, might be enough. But if you have a friend, somebody who will take a newbie and open this landscape to them so they don't have to start completely tabula rasa, that's the best. That started in 2003. We still debate about exactly when we started.

In 2015, or '16 we collected some of those best works, Fred and I, and our intern at the time, Nathaniel Brodie, went through a really voluminous amount of material and selected the best and also some of the representative materials, 01:24:00even if it might not be the best of writing in an objective sense, it was somehow unique to the program and to that experience, both in poetry and prose, and then wrote some small sections on the science. Mostly Fred work some groundworks experiences that tried to get at a reader that's never been to Andrews a sense of the science that happens there. That was published by the University of Washington Press and a beautiful hardback came out and paperback. Nothing like it. It is really a unique book. That was very gratifying to be able to see that fruition come out of that program.

CP: I want to ask you about a couple people, the first one is Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky.


CG: Kathy met Paul at Telluride Film Festival where she was speaking and he was performing. Do you know his work?

CP: A little bit, yeah.

CG: He had just done a program called The Book of Ice. He had gone on a National Science Foundation, I think, field trip to Antarctica and composed music about ice. So, he had used a crystalline structure of ice to think about structure of music. He's a DJ. He samples stuff. He pulls from other people's music and combines it with his own compositions and it's all digital music so he's doing 01:26:00this from a laptop basically. He talks. He's a terrific contextualizer of information and he's mesmerizing to hear speak. Kathy went and talked to him afterwards and she said you might be interested in Andrews Forest. If you like to go in Antarctica, maybe you should try something with a forest. He said, sure. But he's a freelance musician and a cultural phenomenon and he said yeah I'd love to come but I have to get paid, of course. I can't leave my gig. So, we proposed a grant for the Oregon Cultural Foundation, I think they still offered a grant program called Creative Heights, which grants are $10-$100,000 for 01:27:00unique programs and to their credit, really interesting program, high-risk programs. You're going to do stuff that hasn't been done before. It might not. We're not going to fault you for that. We want to see your ambition, and we'd like an ambitious program to engage with different audiences. So, Carly Lettero, who now directs the Spring Creek Project, wrote that grant and the program was for Paul to spend some time at the Andrews Forest, so do a residency at Andrews, and compose some work that came out of that. Specifically evoked by his time in the forest and then take it on tour to rural Oregon places. This was a killer 01:28:00project for us. It was really a difficult thing to pull off.

Paul's a genius. He has a million things going on at a time. He was inspired by the program. I think he still remains a fan of it and an advocate for it. But he had a lot of things going so he was a little bit hard to keep on task and then taking, we took Paul to a Fishtrap, to Wallowa County, and here's a black DJ from the east coast doing digital multimedia stuff. What? [laughs]. The forestry center in Portland, at the Performing Arts Center in Newport, at the High Desert Museum in Bend. Lots of logistics. Lots of logistics and difficult to develop 01:29:00audiences when you're out of your own. We'd do something in Corvallis and people, oh, Spring Creek's doing it. It sounds weird but I'm going to go. But if you do that in Bend or in Newport, it's really hard to get people to buy in.

We did get decent audiences at all those places but it was very arduous. Terrific enterprise all in all, but we earned our grant [laughs]. All that money went to Paul and to the venues. Also, we firmed up relationships with the High Desert Museum, Fishtrap, the Forestry Center. So, it was good in many, many, 01:30:00many ways. Paul composed the forest symphony. It was performed at OSU with the OSU Wind Ensemble. I think the audience was like [affect with wide agape], okay, back to Debussy please. I don't know what that was. It was weird. It was kind of weird.

CP: The other person is, I've gathered, a kindred spirit. That would be Clemens Stark?

CG: Clem is my best friend. We have walked somewhat similar paths, chose manual labor as a career to support our writing habits. I'll tell you how Clem and I met. Soon after I moved to Corvallis, I went to a movie at Westminster Center. Wayne Stover, whowas a Maytag repairman in town, was, ran a film series, a 01:31:00foreign film series, at Westminster called Reel to Reel. This would be 1980, early '80s. There'd be two dozen people there, you know. But that was high culture at the time. You know? There was no Darkside. There was no avant garde theater. There weren't even that many people interested in Ingmar Bergman, but I had been going. In a previous week, they had showed Bergman's Seventh Seal. In the intervening week, I had read a poem by David Duncan (I don't think that's his first name) called "The Seventh Seal," which is a poem, an interesting, 01:32:00intricate poem about Bergman's movie. I printed it out and took it because I knew Wayne Stover would be interested in seeing that. I had my copy ready to hand it to him, but there was this bald guy who was talking movies to Wayne Stover and he wouldn't get out of my way. Finally, I shoved my way in, and said, you got to see this poem. And the bald guy says, "You're the only one here that knows anything about American poetry. We need to talk." That was Clem. We went next door to the Beanery and had a cup and then proceeded to have a rich friendship, still spend a lot of time together. He's a masterful poet and a mentor to me in a lot of ways. I don't know if you've ever heard Clem read, but he's one of the best readers of his own poetry and I took seriously my 01:33:00obligation to be a good presenter of my poetry for the benefit of audiences, and I learned that from Clem.

CP: During the Spring Creek years how was your writing progressing and some milestones along the way? It looks like to me Insects of South Corvallis was republished early on in that time period, is that correct?

CG: Well, it was an expanded version. The little chapbook had 10 poems and the full collection had 50 poems, I think, in it. So, all the poems I had written. More insect poems. Love poems. Poems about family, adventures in nature, some political poems. So, yeah, that was published in I don't know.

CP: 2003, I think.

CG: 2003, with the insects on the cover pretty book. I'm still very proud of 01:34:00that book. That earns you an audience. You get to go out and do readings and meet other writers. That was very, very gratifying. I'm slow. I don't write very. I write a lot. I write every morning. That's my practice. I get up and write as much in the morning as I have available to me. But I have fairly high standards. I don't finish things. I don't let things out into the world until they're finished. Insect stuff, Corvallis, my first collection of poetry. I felt like I wanted to do something different my second collection of poems was Going to Seed: Dispatches from the Garden. This had an interesting genesis. I thought after essays in Practice of Home, I would write a book of essays of gardening, 01:35:00particularly about the practice of gardening and seeing the world from the viewpoint of a gardener, if you do it long enough and you look at everything as you would from the point of view of gardening. I tried some essays. They're on my computer still. They were boring. They were pedantic. I had my message. I couldn't get out of my own way. Many of them had started with an anecdote, like my poems, of the moment that I got something. Those anecdotes were interesting, still, I thought. They were often funny, and they were real. I literally took one of those essays and just chopped it down to 3 paragraphs. And that was pretty good, I thought. I wondered poems, if I could do that with a bunch of 01:36:00these. That's the genesis of that. Then I got in a rhythm and I began composing them from scratch, not just curbing down bad essays and aimed for 52 of them. I wrote about 100 and then chose what I thought were the best 52. I had had some of them published. So, I had some affirmation about that, too. That was a painting by Yuji Hiratsuka on the cover. Yuji generously allowed me to use one of his prints, OSU faculty. This one in particular is connected mostly with 01:37:00gardeners. Not surprisingly. Poets like it too, but they're mostly anecdotal. And gardeners in particularly see their life reflected in that.

In particular, I think I wanted to bring out the moral dilemmas of gardening, the violence in particular of gardening, which doesn't get much air play I think. Every stab of the spade, you know, kills multitudes and mostly we don't want to think about that and don't feel like that. But if you do stop and think about it, what are we doing, and it reminds us how deeply implicated we are in the ecosystem. Absolutely non-separate from the world. That's the overall theme of that collection of poems. I was excited about that. I got to read it in some gardening groups. That's one of my favorite audiences and it was successful. It 01:38:00actually sold very well. It was successful enough that I thought I would write a sequel and I haven't made any progress on that at all. I think I'm done with those poems, so [laughs]. Scripture of Crows is the collection I pulled together of all the poems I had been writing, lined poems I had been writing in the interim, and in particular the first section are poems set in Wallowa County from that residency I did at Fishtrap in rural Wallowa County. There's more family poems than in the past-my mother, my father, there's elegies. There are elegies. There's an elegy for Franz Dolp in there and some other elegies and some kind of angry environmental poems in there.


CP: And now a novel in the works?

CG: Yeah. I told you my father was a novelist. I don't know if it feels like I'm circling around. The genesis of that, I guess I'm a little impatient with repeating myself, so I like trying new forms. But the main thing that happened is that I mentioned that I spent a lot of time with my son and I loved all that time, and here he was going off to college. I was a little concerned with empty nest syndrome and also saw it as an opportunity that I would have some free time and I actually wanted to be conscience of what I was going to do for that. I thought, well, maybe I can do some really ambitious writing project, bigger than anything I've ever done.


I come back and want to write about my gardening experience, that I failed so miserably in the essays but maybe I have a novel in me. So, it's set in the neighborhood, you won't be surprised maybe. I'm recycling my experiences as a gardener. It's set on this land that is now Crystal Lake sports fields, which was a farm until the '90s. I'm imagining two, and the other thing I wanted to do was I wanted to write from the point of view of younger farmers, because if you go to the farmer's market or if you do a CSA box of vegetables every week, you know that there's a lot of great young farmers, and some of them not so young, 01:41:00in the area, and that organic farming, small-scale organic farming, is our area. It's one of the national hubs for doing that and I know a lot of those people, and I admire them. It's incredibly difficult, very flat enterprise, under-supported. Nevertheless, one of the more hopeful things. I think if we could do more of that that would answer a lot of our ecological and social ills.

I thought if I could write a story that would foreground those experiences and give those people a shout out that would be cool. I would enjoy that. It's not enough to have a nice idea with intentions. So, I had to learn how to write a novel. So, I'm 8 years into it. I'm teaching myself to write novels as I go. 01:42:00Reading lots and lots and lots of novels. I'm in a writer's group, and once a month I take a chapter to my buds and get feedback. I wanted to be well-plotted. There has to be a gripping storyline. So, the developers want the land, an old American story, the developers want the land and these economically challenged young farmers want to hold onto it. How are they going to do that? The title of it is Art Farm, and their cousin, who is a landscape artist comes into play and an art installation that ends up being instrumental in saving the land. I'm nearly done with a draft, just writing the climax and two of the final chapters 01:43:00and then I'll have years of revision ahead. It's fine. I love it. Also, totally exasperating. I have great days and awful days. That's cool. Keeps me on my toes.

CP: That dovetails nicely with my next question, which is about revision and specifically about poem. You have an idea for something, you get it down on paper, and you agonize over it for probably a long time. If you can take us in a little bit of what that process is like for you to work through from start to finish?

CG: It's highly intuitive. I have a hard time saying anything in general about the process. Every poem is totally different, very occasionally a poem comes more or less intact. I often get ideas for poems while out walking or gardening, 01:44:00less often at my desk. They really come out of my experience, and I like the generative quality of kinetic motion, the mind is free, images are coming in, sound, smells, the mind is freely playing over the many resources that it has and outside influences are coming in too. That's how I generate and also how I revise. Yesterday morning working on the novel, I was totally frustrated about a scene. I knew I had to put these two characters together and I just couldn't figure it out. I went for a long walk. I had my notebook in my pocket, and I got it! I jot down little pieces, just entry points, and then I come home and type 01:45:00and that's great.

That also is how it works with poems. With longer poems, I had to do everything from playing with sounds, rhyme, assonance, I like the way; I'm sensitive to how poems look on the page. So, I like line breaks that create an uneven right-hand margin. I'm trying to create spoken language rhythms and the sound, so I am prone to poeticisms, they're a little too formal and nobody ever talks that way. That's something I can always rely on Clem to call me out on: "Charles, nobody talks that way!" Okay, okay [laughs]. I have on occasions when I was writing the 01:46:00prose poems in Going to Seed, which was another interesting challenge. I wanted them to be poems. I wanted them to have all the music of the language, the richness of metaphor and ideas, but they looked just like prose, but those are different kind of challenges. And you forsake the main tool of poetry, which is the line break. The main thing you can create interesting juxtapositions, you can add double entendre just by breaking a line. You can create rhythms. So, how am I going to do that without that tool? Well, some of them were successful. A few of them in here were line poems that I just decided to write as prose and 01:47:00see how they work. They were, "okay, that works," and I needed more for a book, so I got to do it that way. I think, two, it was my approach both ways, as prose poems and as line poems. I think in both cases they're better as line poems because they do utilize that great tool of lineation. I go over and over and over, I have many poems that have taken me years. I have poems that I have worked on for years and they got worse, and worse, and worse, and worse and now they're dead.

CP: I have a concluding question for you, and that's about Corvallis. We've talked about South Corvallis. We've talked about your neighborhood. It feels like the neighborhood has been fairly reasonable, been stable, maintained its identity pretty well. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But I'd be interested in your point of view on the city as a whole as somebody who's been here for a long time and observed it from the point of view that probably not many people have.


CG: Yeah, I love Corvallis. I love my neighborhood. Every place that I'm aware of that has cultural amenities and landscape amenities and is under threat of people who want to be there. Like we all do. I don't know that there is really any easy, I don't know if there's any easy answer. I think that the depopulation of rural America, rural, rural-you know other countries have it much worse than we do, that they've just driven everybody off the land. I think that was a fundamental mistake that we participated in and kind of masterminded: get big or get out was a mistake for ecological reasons and for social reasons. If all those little towns in the Midwest were still there and viable, if all the fence 01:49:00rows were still on the farms where the rabbits could live and the hawks could feed on the rabbits and the ecosystem were a little more intact, I think that would be a better system. I think if in Southeast Asia if they can keep the rice farm... it's hard work, you know? Therefore, could we make it a little less hard? Could we pay them better? Could we give them health insurance? Would that help people stay on the farm? I think it might. Could we make sure their schools are good so their kids are not all that... so I think if we, if we... I'm a decentralist, I think that otherwise that the nice places are going to get overrun and become less nice and so I have friends, acquaintances that I met, artists who moved to Portland who thought it was a groovy place from Detroit. They moved out from the Midwest and they didn't really like the groovy-ness of Portland and they went back to Detroit and bought a really nice house for 01:50:00$20,000 and are now a part of the art revitalization in Detroit. They're very happy. Their family's there so they reconnected with that. So, going against the grain is a good thing, but I don't think I would move back to any of my towns in Ohio. I don't want to be judgmental about it. I would like to support anything that creates systemic changes that would reverse the flow, and now the flow is to decentralization and income inequity and gigantism and anything we can do to reverse that flow, small farms, support our local organic farmers, make sure our school is well-funded. I think those are good things. So, Corvallis still a beautiful, wonderful town.


I wish OSU would not grow more. I wish if Monmouth would like more students I'd rather see Monmouth grow a little bit more. If we need, if there is still more, let's start another university. Lebanon would love to have a university. Instead of everybody commuting from Lebanon, let's start a campus on it. I think decentralization would go a long way to helping out. That said, Corvallis is still a very congenial sized town. Crystal Lake Cemetery is down the road. I walk through it almost every day. I take my walk around the river and around here and I long ago decided that I would like to be buried in Crystal Lake Cemetery. Recently I got serious about that and I go, you know, but I don't want to be embalmed and I don't want to have a casket. I wonder if they allow natural burial. They don't. but by God, before I'm dead they will because I am working 01:52:00on that [laughs]. I met a month ago with the director of the Benton County Parks and Actuary whom manage the cemetery and they were very congenial. I'm a former employee of their department and know stories and we yapped it up and had a good time. They said, well, okay we'll look into that. It doesn't seem insurmountable. But it's a bureaucratic thing and they don't really want to have to deal with that. So, yesterday I made an appointment with one of the county commissioners, Xan Augerot, who's a friend of mine who lives in South town, residents, a small farmer, and went in and told her, this is what we're doing.

We'd like to see natural burials, because we'll call her up. We'll have a chat. You can do that in a small town when you know people and know how things work. I think that that will get done. I sent an email around to a few people in the 01:53:00neighborhood to see if anybody's interested in a natural burial, which means no concrete liner and not being embalmed, nothing big deal, I get huge response. Everybody just thought, wow, that totally makes sense. I don't know if you could do that in Portland. It's a scale thing. I still think Corvallis is a nice scale and if you have an even closer neighborhood. If you want to have a group garage sale it's easy to do in South Corvallis, so I love tight-knit communities and that's hard to do in big urban areas but still quite possible in Corvallis.

CP: Do you have something that you marked as you'd like to read as final word for this interview?

CG: Sure, I have a couple. You suggested maybe poems with campus connections?


CP: Sure. Yeah. That'd be a nice way to conclude this, I think.

CG: I'll read one poem about a tree on campus, and you tell me if you know which tree it is.

CP: Well, if it's not the Trysting Tree I'll probably have a hard time [laughs].

CG: [Laughs] you might be able to guess this one. This poem's called "Shine."

Shine / After a month of rain, we're all / a little depressed, light-deprived / and mush-brained.

Except for that snaggle-toothed / old conifer that stands alone / beside Fairbanks Hall.

It's in fine fettle, flexing / its muscles in the wind, green hair / jelled with rain.

A squall from the west / is like having old friends knock at your door, / fiddle, banjo, and hooch in hand.

Lucky the creature for whom rain / is moonshine. There'll be a hot time /in the 01:55:00downpour tonight.

And you do know that tree, don't you?

CP: Yes, yes I do.

CG: It's a very charismatic tree. It has a personality, which is the point of that. I accord that to insects and to scrub jays and I accord it to trees too. It's a totally unique tree. You can feel its presence from a long way away. It's scarred-somebody ran a wire around it a long time ago and it looks like it's been hung. It's a tremendous personality. That was my effort to give it its due.

CP: Thank you, Charles. This has been great.

CG: Thanks for coming!

CP: I appreciate it.

CG: It's been fun. I welcome the opportunity to think about what I want to share.


CP: Good, I'm glad.