Interview with Rebecca Pyle

Pushing Boundaries: An Interview with Prize-Winner Rebecca Pyle by Caden Holbrook

CH:  “Honey, Himalayan Salt” pushes boundaries with perspective, timeline, and structure. What exactly does innovation in writing look like and mean to you?

RP:  Modern art, with its sometimes shocking juxtapositions; or, being swept along a river of chance.

CH The juxtaposition in “Honey, Himalayan Salt” between a casualty of war losing a limb and the  challenges and courage that accompany love isn’t a comparison that’s immediately apparent. What inspired you to make this comparison?

RP:  The maddeningness of fate. How heavily it’s in anything to do with love or war. You are there, in situations you must interpret, respond to, though what landed you there is the intersection of time and geography.

Fate’s curse or gift? In “Honey, Himalayan Salt”, in the first part, a surgeon is removing a man’s leg, to save his life, on the battlefield.

In the second part, two overly-shy students could become fully in love: fate has gifted them with each other’s presence. But they’re afraid, wary.

The Jefferson Starship lyrics running through background and foreground of this piece is its songwriter’s crow of victory, but I think he is also trying to anchor love; he fears loss. The (no longer living) songwriter Marty Balin is insisting his love cannot be surpassed; that he and she as a couple could become otherworldly, could exist even without oxygen or warmth (“we could exist on a star”). 

CH:  You have an impressive range of work, from visual art to poetry to prose. Do you approach each medium with a desire to innovate? And does the process of innovating look the same across mediums? 

RP:  Thank you. The truth is sometimes innovation is the last thing you seek; often you just want the sturdy, subtle, mumbling undercurrent—of understatement. 

Innovative ideas and methods can come from pressures, your own frustrations: not being able to be in tune with what you want to be in tune with. So you find what brings you closest to your idea (in paintings surprising colors, subjects, or materials—in a poem, suddenly-changing line lengths, as Stanley Plumly does—whatever puts you most fully into the created world you’re insisting on). Your recklessness: to try to reach a goal.

Time’s a factor, too. A creative usually knows how thick or fine the grains of sand are in their hourglass, while they work on their idea. How much time they have to give, before they’re exhausted by their project. Yesterday I was listening for a minute or two to an interview with John Newman (a pop songwriter/singer from Scotland). Asked how much time he spent writing a particular song, he replied ‘three hours’—in a voice which suggested those three hours were too long.

CH:  “Honey, Himalayan Salt” has an epic scope, ranging back to great-great-grandfathers in the American Civil War and reaching forward even into the future. How do you go about condensing such a wide span of time into just six or seven pages? Did you find the scope difficult to work with? 

RP:  To me, the time span, that condensation, are not surprising. For me, there’s not enough comparison of past with present. (Science fiction provides all the present-to-future connections we could want or need.) Every day I wonder what people of long ago would think, seeing airplanes, brightly-lit cities, magnetic-resonance images, recordings of moon-visits; if I was one of them would I want to be in a fast car on a highway? Would I find photographs and films horrible or wonderful? (I might feel angry that time and fate had excluded me; at the same time I might be awe-filled, too, sure the films and photographs were evidence of some watchful sort of god/spirit, the magic of mirrors and reflections, continued ad infinitum.)

Is love a battleground? I’m certainly no expert about love, but it might be true that love can be much like war. War and Love, instead of War and Peace. Something to win, be brave about, sacrifice for. Surely those hesitant, afraid of love, can learn from a vanished almost-dying soldier’s courage.

And, eventually, love armors you, no doubt—rewards you with that.

To read Pyle's award-winning experimental piece, click here.  

CADEN HOLBROOK is a prose editor of Miracle Monocle.