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Poet Ruth Moose

Interviewed by Fred Wasser
(August 6, 2010)

 


Main Street Rag

Ruth Moose’s The Librarian and Other Poems (Main Street Rag, 2009) is a quirky collection inspired, at least in part, by her nine years as a reference librarian. She wrote the “other poems” following the death of her husband, artist Talmadge Moose.

“People deal with grief in their own way,” she told me. “And my way was to write about it. And maybe I wrote the grief poems just for me.”

At her home in Pittsboro, North Carolina, Ruth Moose has arranged her books in unconventional categories: Books by Friends, Books by People I Know, and My Favorite Books. In the little parlor next to her kitchen – where this interview was conducted – books of poetry fill the built-in shelves behind her. In fact, there are books of some kind or another – in stacks or on shelves – in practically every room of her house.

 

Your husband. What kind of art did he do?
He was a realist. He admired the work of Andrew Wyeth a lot, and Norman Rockwell. He loved to draw.

 

“The Country of Grief”
by Ruth Moose
Audio (mp3) 1:27

“The swiftness is the same for all of us.”
Pat Conroy

You think it is only grief
The world forever gray
And nothing bright will stay.
It won’t go away. That old belief.

When the world is forever gray
Photos of the two of you replay.
You weep and weep and cannot sleep.
Dreams take you back, don’t let you stay.

Photos of the two of you again, again replay.
Those scenes in black and cold and gray.
Images buried much too deep not to stay.
The age-old law, that old belief won’t go away.

Those scenes in black and cold and gray.
Conversations replayed make you weep and weep.
The  script can’t change. It’s written in bas-relief.
Those old beliefs steeped in grief move in to stay.

When nothing bright can stay
You weep and weep and cannot sleep.
Dreams take you back, memories play.
Images, black and cold and gray, engrained too deep.

 

How long after your husband died did you write that?
I don’t know, because they were written at various times. While putting together a book you go back and pick up poems. My grandmother was a quilter. It’s sort of like being a quilter. In your mind you begin to see a pattern, and you sort of put in poems that fit.

The librarian in the book has a cat, Percy. Is that really your cat?
It’s based partly on a cat that lives with me. Or lets me live with him. His name is Patrick.

Not Percy.
No. I changed it.

Why did you change his name?
Because you always change the names. [laughs] Even the cats. I think the cat would know.

 

“The Librarian”
by Ruth Moose
Audio (mp3) 1:06

The librarian has a cat.
Of course. What did you expect?
A pit bull? Though her cat, Percy,
Has the personality of a pit bull.
Loves to bare his teeth, always
Takes her best
And favorite chair, refuses to move.
Hisses when she approaches.
Yesterday, she beat him to it,
Sat down to a damp and wet
Hairball, dark, fuzzy and disgusting
Which she promptly flushed,
Then aired the cushion. Meanwhile,
Percy washed his paws with a spiteful
Grin sitting on the flagstone hearth
Before her unlit gas logs. What
Did you expect here? A cozy
Little fire in her cozy little house?
Not her. Not here. She pours
Herself a glass of Jim Beam,
Never sherry. Jim is her guy
At the hell end of a hell day.

 


Ruth Moose

So, who is the librarian?
She is a persona.

It’s not you as a young woman?
No. A friend who lived next door to me for 12 years called me after she read the poems, and she said, “I thought I knew you. I don’t know this person.” What somebody told me – when this book was published – they said sometimes in trauma a persona comes to deal with it. A persona steps in to deal with the situation in sort of a healing way. And I didn’t know that. I just wrote.

I made a list of the character traits that I see in the librarian. I’d be curious about your reaction:  Lonely, Quirky, Fussy, Severe, Sensible, Practical.
Oh. All that, and more.

What would you add to that?
Well, I think she’s not the typical librarian. She’s not a stereotype. She sort of became her own person.

Do you like the librarian?
I do. I like her. She’s an interesting commentator on things, if that makes sense.

She’s very observant.
Very observant in sort of this irreverent way.

You would want to know her?
Oh, yes. I would want to know her. [laughs] I kind of miss her. I wish she’d come back. It was like having somebody behind you that would make these funny comments and witty observations.  And I enjoyed her.

 

“The Librarian Does Not Like Crawly Things”
by Ruth Moose
Audio (mp3) 1:20

The Librarian nightly brings books
And pens to bed, props herself against
A dozen pillows, reads and underlines.
With a ruler. Sometimes she gets ink
On her sheets, but no matter. She is not
Into Hilighters. They seem so sophomoric,
The way they bleed into a page, call
Loud attention to themselves. She
Is a pen and ink person. Also scissors.
When she reads newspapers, she
Clips odd bits, to send to friends, family.
It’s an old habit, long passed down.

One night, as she lay reading,
A small, gray spider, hardly bigger
Than an exclamation point, crawled
Excitedly toward her. Was
He a reader too? Wanting to read
Over her shoulder? No matter.
She smashed him with the spine
Of her book and never lost
Her place, just left a dusky
Smear on her sheet soon
Brushed
Away.

 

When were you a librarian?
I was a reference librarian in the 1980s. And I was a terrible reference librarian [laughs] because I just got interested in the students and their papers and what they were doing. And I would ask them, “Oh, let me help you.” Or, “When you get it started, bring it in, and I’ll be glad to read it.” I’d advise them on all kinds of things. I would much rather have worked with the students and their subjects than digging out facts. I loved when they came in and said, “I’ve got to do a paper for English 101 and I have no idea who to do it on.” And I’d say, “Oh, why don’t you do it on Eudora Welty?”

To a librarian, books are – in a certain sense – holy.
Well, yes – I think so. But books have to be catalogued. They have to be organized. And I think I’ve always resisted that. I just don’t want to think of books as numbers. Librarians, in general, are unsung heroes. Next to junior high and high school teachers. To me they ought to wear crowns with jewels in them. [laughs] This is the last of the librarian poems.

 

“Alone”
by Ruth Moose
Audio (mp3)   :35

One time when
The Librarian was driving
Down Main Street
In the lovely village
In which she lives,
She was stopped
At a traffic light
When a thousand word thought dived
Into her mind.

“Alone,” she suddenly thought.
“I am alone in this big, wide world.
I have nobody. I have nobody
But a damn cat. I am
Alone. Alone. Alone.”

Then the light
Changed
And
She
Drove
On.

 

When I read that poem at a public reading, a woman came up to me and said, “I’ve been at that traffic light.” And maybe that’s why you write poems – to say something that somebody else couldn’t say. Or didn’t say. But when I wrote that I knew it would be the last librarian poem.

* * *


Main Street Rag

The Librarian and Other Poems (Main Street Rag, 2009) is by Ruth Moose. Her other books of poems are Making the Bed (Main Street Rag, 1995) and her newest volume, Tea and Other Assorted Poems (Main Street Rag, 2011).

She has three collections of short stories: The Wreath Ribbon Quilt (St. Andrews Press), Dreaming in Color (August House), and Rules and Secrets (Pure Heart Press).

Ruth Moose’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, Prairie Schooner, Yankee, The Nation, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.

 

 

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