Beth Gylys joins the Double Ds!
Gylys has two award-winning collections of poems: Bodies that Hum won the Gerald Cable First Book Award and was published by Silverfish Review Press; Spot in the Dark won the Journal Award and was published by Ohio State University Press. She has two chapbooks; Balloon Heart, which won the Quentin R. Howard Award, and Matchbook. Her poems have appeared in the Paris Review, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, Antioch Review, Columbia Review, Limp Wrist and other journals.
Why the villanelle?
I don’t remember specifically why I tried to write my first and very bad villanelle. After that, I think I just wanted to write one good one. It felt like a challenge. I was in grad school and had been playing around a bit with form because Andrew Hudgins (my then teacher) had assigned a sonnet and because he was so gifted formally–I wanted to learn more about how to write in form. I think after I’d written a couple of villanelles, I showed one to my friend Dina Ben-Lev, and she said, you should write a whole bunch of villanelles about sex. So I just started writing one after another. I wrote something like thirty in about a month and a half.
The other side of this is that I was in the throes of all kinds of emotional upheaval: I was moving rapidly toward divorce, I’d fallen deeply in love with a married man….The villanelle had the kind of obsessive repetitive quality that allowed me to work through some of that emotional mire. I was trying (obsessively, repetitively) to come to terms with who I was and what I was about, and the villanelles suited that intensity.
Cat or dog? Why?
I should disclose from the outset, that i have two cats. At one point in 2008, I had five cats living in my house. I love dogs. I adore dogs. I had an Irish setter growing up, and she was MY dog. She slept with me, taking up the lion share of my double bed. After we adopted her, when I went away for the first time on a week-long trip, I came back, and she trembled like I had beaten her, looked down at the floor until I cried and hugged her.
I loved that dog. But the answer is probably cat. I can play hard to get. I am not an easy person to get close to because I am so fiercely independent (like a cat). I love the beauty and grace and dexterity of cats, their curiosity, their weirdness. Sophie and Sammy, the two cats who currently live with me, simply came to me. My fifteen year old cat Cleo died about a year before Sophie (who is a gorgeous and very sweet part Siamese) took up residence in my crawl space and gave birth to her three kittens. This would have been about a year and a half ago. My other cat Alexis was (at 16) dying of kidney failure. So I had a dying cat inside and four flea bitten half feral other ones living underneath my house. I (of course, being the softie I am) ended up feeding Sophie and her kittens (and two or three other feral neighborhood cats) and finally taking the four of them (mama and three boy kitties) into my house. It was a wild time, but I was thankfully able to find a home for two of the kittens. Sammy is still part feral, though he’s lived inside with me since about 12 weeks old. He’s freaked when strangers come over, and he’ll hide under the comforter asleep or just crouched for hours and hours and hours. I had housesitters in December, and he hid for days in the bottom of my closet. A poet appreciates that kind of intensity. Dogs are great. Dogs are sweet and slavish and fantastically devoted, but I love the unpredictability of cats, their quirkiness, their insouciance. The best poems take us to unexpected places. The best poems don’t give anything away. Sometimes they purr and purr and then slash you in the face with a sharp claw. Yes, cat. No question.