Folkloric and fabulist poet and author GennaRose Nethercott spent the bulk of 2018 preparing for the release of her debut book-length poem The Lumberjack’s Dove. The book is a fireside fable, a woodland myth, one that begs to be shared out loud, preferably at night with a visible moon. Once The Lumberjack’s Dove was released back in October, Nethercott took to the road with a mattress in her car and has been reading her story across the country ever since. With more than four months left in her cross country trek, I spoke with the multitasking artist about the process of writing a book-length poem, her experiences on the open road, and what she has planned up ahead.
How has the start of 2019 been for you?
I started this year already three months into a national book tour. I’ve been cruising around the country in my cherry red Honda Fit, reading from my new book The Lumberjack’s Dove—animated by shadow puppetry created by the incredible Vermont artist Wooly Mar. So far in 2019 I’ve hiked in the Grand Canyon during a snowstorm, wandered through the International UFO Museum in Roswell, soaked in natural hot springs on a mountaintop, kicked up sand on Venice Beach, howled at a blood moon eclipse, and eaten ice cream from a cone made of fried dough. I also lost a grandmother. I drove through border checkpoints where patrolmen looked into my eyes, asked if I was a US citizen, and brushed me along without hassle due to my whiteness alone. I’ve ghosted through wastelands of bomb test sites deep in the desert. I’ve witnessed the beauty and the ugliness of the American expanse. And we’re only three weeks into January…
What's the rest of the year looking like?
My tour continues until the end of June, so there’s much more voyaging in my future. I’m currently heading up the entire west coast of the US, followed by a long return across the top of the country towards New England. Meanwhile, I have at least four other projects in development that I’m working on simultaneously. And after I return from tour? Given I survive, I’ll hopefully spend a couple months watching zucchini bloat on the vine in some Vermont garden. All the while, of course, writing and writing.
Now that you're on the road touring for your book, is it difficult to find time to write?
One of the loveliest surprises of this tour so far is that I’ve found myself writing much more than is typical for me. I’ve chalked it up to two main factors: 1. I have very limited windows of free time, so I can’t hoodwink myself into doing it later. There is no later. And 2. As a writer, you pour so much energy into a piece, and when it flutters out into the world, you’re rarely there to see it arrive in readers’ minds and hearts. You don’t witness the impact. It’s so different than being a musician or actor or dancer—where there is an energy return from the audience in real-time. Part of being on tour and doing this theatrical adaptation of The Lumberjack’s Dove has allowed me to experience some of that energy return. And I’m like, “Oh, right, this is why I do this! Because there are real, live people on the other end, receiving these words.” That reminder is definitely an invigorating factor. It makes me more excited to write, because every day I get to see what the end goal is. Which is always, ultimately, human connection.
I will say, I’ve always hated the idea that “real writers” have to write every day—I think that’s bullshit designed to make people feel guilty, more than anything else. I’ve always been an immersive project-based writer, so if I have a large-scale piece in the works, I’ll hold my breath, dive under the surface, and not emerge until it’s done. Then I might go months without writing anything. I’m in project mode right now, composing a collection of short stories. They’re all fantasist/fabulist/weirdo spooky stuff. The one I’m working on today is about a seedy roadside attraction called the Eternal Staircase, which descends forever. Another is about a possessed rooster. This is my idea of a good time.
What was the process like writing The Lumberjack's Dove? Was this your first attempt at a book-length poem? Were earlier drafts longer/shorter?
For my graduating thesis project from Hampshire College, I wrote a full-length play in verse, so I had experimented with long-form poetry before. I like having something to plug back into when I sit down to write, rather than start from a blank page each day. And I’m very much a narrative thinker. For Lumberjack, I would aim to write three or four “cubes” per day (the book is told in a string of compact prose-cubes), and just chip away block by block. The goal was that each cube would be an independent thought, as true as I could make it. Now, I’m not a big Hemingway fan, but there’s a famous quote of his where he instructs aspiring writers to simply “write one true sentence.” I like that concept. I went through Lumberjack with the thesis idea that each cube would be, in isolation, one “true” thought, which would coalesce into a larger story. The first drafts were actually significantly longer than the poem is now, and a large part of the editing process was trimming down the fluff. I think I cut about thirty cubes, aided by Louise Gluck’s brutal and exacting guidance.
When did your pen first begin dancing with surrealism and folklore?
I’ve always loved the paranormal and otherworldly. I think most children do, when they’re young— because to them, the world at large is still an unknown, inexplicable space. I just never grew out of that mindset. Personhood is surreal. Human emotion is surreal. Did you know that horses’ legs, from the knee down, are technically not legs at all, but long finger bones? What I write—that’s hardly surrealism. It’s just the way things are.
I found scattered pieces of 50 Beasts to Break Your Heart throughout the internet. Will all 50 be released together at some point or do these function simply as standalone creatures?
Ah yes, my Beasts! I love them. I do plan to release the collection in full at some point. What form that will take is still in flux, but rest assured that I do plan to let the menagerie out of the stable at some point.
I’d love to write a musical. That’s high on the list.
Outside of your own writing, what have you been reading as of late?
I just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Evil carnival!! His prose is so indulgent, the way he luxuriates in frothy language and lyrical, sugary descriptors. I loved it. I’m also reading The Vanishing Hitchhiker, which is an ethnological text from the 80s about American urban legends. And I’m re-reading some of my favorite short stories to try and dissect what makes them work for me, and how I can learn from masters of the form to strengthen my own writing. Kelly Link’s “The Wrong Grave.” Karen Russell’s “Bog Girl.”
Given your time on the road, what albums/musicians have you been enjoying?
What's one literary magazine that was formative in your early poetry acceptances, and what's one literary magazine where you hope to one day be published?
My first published poem appeared in a Dutch journal called Holland Park Press. I won a place-themed contest with a poem called “Departures,” about my hometown, Brattleboro, Vermont. I remember writing a letter to a friend after I learned the poem would be published and saying “I can finally tell people I’m a published poet!” That felt like a turning point. The beginning of something.
My favorite journal has always been Tin House. I was heartbroken to learn they were closing the magazine. I guess I need to pick a new dream mag…
If you can, provide a photo of your workspace (or describe with words). What are some essentials while you create?
I work in bed. I’ve said in previous interviews, but I’ll never understand why anyone would work at a hard desk when they could work in a soft bed. But of course, being on the road, nesting is more of a challenge. These days my office is anything from a friend’s sofa to the back bar at an American Legion. Here’s a photo of my car right now:
For this ongoing author interview series, I'm asking for everyone to present a writing prompt. It can be one that you craft out of thin air, it can be one you created a while ago, or it can be one you adore from an outside source that was passed down to you.
I teach a fairytale adaptations workshop, and always have a fun time with this one:
Write down the name of a fairytale or folktale you know well. Now write down an object or character who is voiceless in that story (i.e. Rapunzel’s tower, or Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother). Retell the tale from this figure’s perspective. How does the story change? How does it stay the same?
Do you have any advice for poets and/or visual artists working on their craft?
If you start something—finish it. Even if you don’t end up using the final product for anything, it will push you that much further towards something you will keep and love. Write through it.