Had the immense good fortune this summer to have two striking conversations–one with Sarah Aronson for MTPR’s The Write Question and one with Ben Bartu for Adroit. Both Sarah and Ben are fabulous poets and sharp interviewers. Such a joy to talk with both of them, and here’s a little snippet of each conversation:
BB: What acts of reclamation are occurring in Fall Back Down When I Die?
JW: There’s a kind of reclamation Verl’s character and a couple other characters in the book are enacting, trying to reclaim something that was never there. And so that, again, is unsustainable. It leads to violence, leads to a way of seeing the world as something that we can abuse, use, and ignore others’ claims on. But we can reclaim some things. We can reclaim stories. A lot of characters in this book are so silent about their stories. And it’s in the act of sharing them that they find their way to being who they can be. Wendell does it by the end, Maddy does it by the end. Gillian is enacting that, as well as Glenn. They’re trying to tell their stories, trying to tell their part in this wider story that they’ve suddenly been wrapped up in. I believe telling our stories can be an act of reclamation. Admitting what we’ve done to one another, especially here in the West, alongside this history of genocide. Admitting that and finding a way we might work together going forward, might move into a future where we might be hopeful again. And so in the book I see these characters enacting all kinds of reclamations. Some characters reclaim a way of being we might call a better kind of masculinity, and that’s something I’m thinking about a lot in my own writing: how we might be men and also own the stories that have come before us. We have to find a way to discard what is old and broken, what leads to broken lives and broken families, and hold on to those things that keep us whole and keep us together.
Sarah Aronson: How has the American Dream failed the West?
Joe Wilkins: I think the American dream is part and parcel of our notion of the American west. The trouble is we thought this was the place it would come to fruition. We thought manifest destiny would spread this patchwork blanket of small farms across the entire nation and it didn’t work. It never worked. It still hasn’t worked, and in a lot of ways, especially the High Plains West, the Mountain West, we’re still paying that price economically, ecologically, and physically for this sort of wrong-headed notion. We need to find a better way to be in this place and I think there are people doing that, and I’m pleased about it, but we need to keep working.