Sydney Kay (SK) interviews Arielle Greenberg (AG) about her book, Come Along With Me to the Pasture Now, a dynamic poetry collection exploring motherhood, belonging, race, place, and more. Come Along With Me to the Pasture Now is available for purchase in our bookstore.
SK : The handwritten notes throughout the book feel so organic, as if they were scribbled on a napkin somewhere and provide a very diary-equse feel. How did you decide to incorporate them throughout this book? Did they come before or after the poems?
AG: I love that they feel organic and spontaneous to you, because they were actually quite a labor! Once the poems were written and the manuscript was assembled, Fox [Henry Frazier] and I decided that there should be some way to explain to readers that the poems are in several different sections, and that those sections were determined by chronology and geography: the poems in the book take place over an actual period of time, a time in which I moved back and forth between Chicago and Maine as I was trying to make some big decisions about my life. In many ways, it’s a book about the banal logistics that inform even very spiritual decisions: concerns about jobs, salaries, housing, parenting, etc. In that way, the book is like a record of my life at the time–though not, I’d say, a diary.
Anyway, I wanted to include some simple but informative facts about what years were being discussed, about where I was living, about how big a city I had been living in and how a small a place I was moving to, etc. My first thought was just to include these in set type, but Fox suggested that I hand-write them, because it would be feel more intimate. This sounds easy but it wasn’t! I made many failed attempts to write legibly; I used different kinds of pens; I snail-mailed sheets of paper with my handwriting on it to Fox; I tried to scan images for the book’s designer. And I questioned my own handwriting, which is a very personal thing! For a very long time, the handwritten pages were at a slant, because my handwriting naturally slants on unlined paper, and I thought that looked weird, especially because some slanted and some didn’t. All of which is to say, we really worked hard to pull off those “spontaneous” bits of handwriting!
SK: I love how candid this book feels- it is both raw and vulnerable. The free flowing/prose-ish form of the poems play into that feeling. How did you decide to structure the poems? How did you decide to include the letter to Robyn Gabel, the news article about Chicago homicides, etc.?
AG: These poems were written at a time when I was thinking constantly about how to shut out the static and follow a path that feels true and honest. I had just had a stillborn baby at home, and experiencing that death and birth gave me a kind of clarity, which I used to question a lot of my long-held assumptions. (I was also in a very “raw and vulnerable” state after that experience: I was porous and present.)
As I started to write the poems, I was going to have another baby, I was working full-time, I was living in a city, and I was trying to figure out what to do next in my life. I was seeking prophecy, in a way. This led to reading works like Anne Waldman’s Outrider, Sonia Sanchez, Bernadette Mayer, C.S. Giscombe, Jean Valentine, Sarah Vap, a lot of other poets–mostly women, BIPOC and queer poets–who were writing from and through the subject position of an outsider or a visionary or an eccentric or someone who is otherwise choosing to forego a default paradigm. I wanted to write in jagged, sprawling lines that didn’t follow neat symmetries, in lyric lines that veered into prose, in forms that felt counter-traditional. I was–and am–interested in documentary poetics that bring in the “real world” in the form of materials like news reports and data.
SK: This work is so dense with so many topics: belonging, place, motherhood, career, sex, race, community, etc. What are your main lived experiences that influenced this work?
AG: Some of these I talked about above, but my first child had been born a few years earlier, and the experience of having that birth at home in a state that prosecuted and persecuted direct-entry midwives–women who uphold vital wisdom and skills–had further politicized me as I became a mother for the first time. I mean, I had always been politically aware, but this issue quite literally hit home for me in a fresh way. And then having children changed my priorities and values, as it often does: I wanted to do more about food politics, about the climate crisis, about the economics of work and unpaid labor, etc. And I wanted to live a slightly slower, more mindful life.
I had been living and working in Chicago, a city with such a long and complex history around race relations, segregation, integration, etc. I was fortunate to be teaching at a school, Columbia College Chicago, where I had many BIPOC students and colleagues and friends, and the city I lived in was very racially diverse, so I was thinking about race all the time, and doing a lot of listening and learning. I also had many LGBTQIA+ students and colleagues and friends, and I was listening and learning from them, too.
That life in Chicago contrasted sharply, in many ways, from the temporary life I had when we moved to a small town in Maine for a year. Midcoast Maine is very white. It is also a much lower cost of living than Chicago. And Illinois had made homebirth practically illegal and the network of midwives and homebirthers had to operate covertly, outside the system; it was illegal in Illinois to buy raw milk from local farmers, and I was part of an underground milk club, which is crazy. There wasn’t a single food co-operative in Evanston, a city of 75,000 people, whereas in Maine every small town seems to have one, even the village of 1100 that’s only 20 minutes from my own town of 6700 people, which has our own co-op. So I was finding that many simple, daily life choices I wanted to make were prohibited in this big Midwestern metropolis I lived in; I was also finding that although I loved how diverse Chicago was, we couldn’t afford the life we wanted there–even a very small house in our neighborhood, for example, was out of our reach. And our family was getting bigger, so that was hard.
Even more importantly, among my community in Illinois, I often felt less financially privileged and like more of a weirdo than many of my friends and neighbors: most of the other young mothers I met didn’t feel the economic pressure to work outside the home, for example, and it was hard to find other folks who cloth-diapered their kids. And I knew this perspective or position was messed up, because I’m actually very bourgeois and middle-class and privileged and hardly a hardcore environmentalist or activist. I decided that I wanted to live in a place where I was surrounded by people who pushed me to be more of a weirdo, and in a place where the financial reality wasn’t so far out of whack. Above all, I wanted–and want–to live a life where I am continually challenged to question my own attitudes and behaviors and to have my mind changed, not a life where I’m congratulated as brave or dismissed as crazy for what should be (in my opinion) baseline, moderate views or actions.
SK: What are you working on right now that you’re most excited about?
AG: I’m very excited to be working on a nonfiction book about alternative sexualities, i.e., kink and BDSM. I edited a series of essays about kink and the writing life for The Rumpus, and because of that series, I was approached by an editor at Beacon Press and asked if I wanted to write a book on the subject. The idea is that it will be an in-depth, sustained “think piece” about kink–but also fun and useful! It’s been an enormous gift to be “on deadline” for a book project during the final year of the Trump administration and then the pandemic, when I might not otherwise have had the motivation to write anything at all. I also feel thrilled and honored to be on the Beacon list with writers and thinkers like James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Sonia Sanchez, Kate Bornstein and other radicals, activists and geniuses. I mean, that’s freaking amazing. And, you know, I get to research all kinds of wild erotic delights, which is fascinating and wonderful. Plus, it’s a kind of book I haven’t written before, which is the kind I most enjoy writing.
Arielle Greenberg’s poetry collections are Come Along with Me to the Pasture Now, I Live in the Country & Other Dirty Poems, Slice, My Kafka Century and Given. She’s also the writer of the creative nonfiction book Locally Made Panties and co-author, with Rachel Zucker, of Home/Birth: A Poemic. She has co-edited three anthologies, including Gurlesque, based on a theory of feminist poetics she developed and forthcoming in an edition co-edited with Becca Klaver. Arielle’s poems and essays have been featured in Best American Poetry and The Racial Imaginary, among other anthologies. She wrote a column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review and edited a series of essays called (K)ink: Writing While Deviant for The Rumpus. A former tenured professor at Columbia College Chicago, she lives in Maine where she works for a small branding agency and teaches at various institutions and in the community.
Sydney Kay is a senior writing major at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. She is Agape’s Spring 2021 communications intern.