In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Julie Bruck’s book Monkey Ranch.
H. L. Hix: “The Change” ends (and ends the book’s first section) with a question in italics: “What does it mean to love / the life we’ve been given?” The book is filled with animals—from “normal” dogs and cats to horses—but also, in several poems, the monkeys that give the book its title. In this book, are these animals guides to answering that question?
Julie Bruck: While the poems in Monkey Ranch certainly teem with animals, my knee-jerk reaction is simply that the critters are animals, rather than handy literary devices. On the other hand, as my leg quiets, I know I’m being disingenuous.
The bestiary-nature of Monkey Ranch didn’t come about by design, but became obvious as the poems accrued. Some of it had to do with raising a child over the ten years in which the poems were written, and from observing the ways (at zoos, in children’s books, or simply while being with children) in which both small people and animals share a wide-eyed vulnerability to human caprice and cruelty. That’s certainly a focus in this book, especially in a poem like “The Mandrill’s Gaze.”
“What does it mean to love / the life we’ve been given?” is a line I stole from the most excellent Suzanne Buffam, and it sounds another note that runs through Monkey Ranch—which is the question of what is sufficient / what will suffice? How do we press ahead amidst danger and uncertainty and, well, with the most awful certainty of all? Creatures like the mouse in “The Change” do not concern themselves with such matters. The mouse, the moose, even the opportunistic mushrooms that spring up after a wildfire in another poem—they’re all out feeding, mating, increasing. The mouse has found a warm kitchen in which to forage, while the poem’s speaker is tearing her middle-aged hair out over why she isn’t more like Mary Oliver; why she isn’t feeling reverence for the small intruder she’d “rather drown.”
We human animals are so often stuck in the traffic between our animal natures and our human complexities, and that’s what many of these poems try to dramatize. Animals can’t solve that conundrum for us, but there’s something wildly comforting in observing them. We all need some undiluted canine joy (or is it trust?), simply to head into the oncoming wind, lips curled, showing our gums.
Julie Bruck is the author of three books of poetry, Monkey Ranch (which won the 2012 Governor General’s Award for poetry), The End of Travel and The Woman Downstairs. A former Montrealer, Julie has lived in San Francisco since 1997. You can find more information about her here.