(Her poetry collection Marrow was published by the University Press of Kentucky in March 2022. A review of the collection by Rebecca Moore appears here.)
I started writing Marrow because I was curious. As I’ve noted in most interviews, Peoples Temple loomed heavy in my imagination because of the imagery of it – specifically of the people whom I believe are de-centered in the historical record and even in the way that historical record usually names Peoples Temple and its participants: Jonestown.
So, who were the people of Peoples Temple? What were their fears and aspirations? Where did they locate joy in their lives and what were their vices? Who and how did they love? I wrote to these questions as a series of human stories, stories linked by the subjects’ common denominator – Peoples Temple – but linked even more broadly to the “people” part. Where the conception of Marrow was unintentional – at first I didn’t realize I was writing a book – the gestation and birthing weren’t. On the one hand, I believed I could contextualize Peoples Temple as a research project; on the other hand, I wanted to re-center its people in a practice of invention and imagination. But could the two really be collapsed into a single project?
The public conversations that I have had about and since Marrow’s publication underscore the curiosity of reading audiences and the tendency of folks, still to this day, to look away. As Marrow enters what I’m viewing as a sort of half-life, that concerns me even if the paradox isn’t altogether surprising. Especially in the age of Covid, it’s clear that the spectacle of the human suffering such as that caused by the virus is tempered only by the privilege of being in the physical, financial, or proximal position to look away or to disembody suffering humans and divest them of their individual experiences into a collective. This is much like the way Peoples Temple is collapsed into Jonestown is collapsed into the event of Jonestown’s suffering and ultimate end as a practice of disembodiment and distraction.
I still get a little anxious during these conversations that Marrow is too ambitious and even a bit arrogant of a pursuit, that it is as guilty of the same disembodiment and distraction I lament. But also I suspect that the half-life Marrow has yet to lead couldn’t happen in a more appropriate time and place.