Meet Bellingham writer Elizabeth Vignali. Her new poetry book Object Permanence, published by Finishing Line Press, is ready for it’s November release and quickly receiving high praise. I first heard Elizabeth share her poetry at an open mic here in town about two years ago. She approached the mic with an uncommon grace, and read her work as if singing a lullaby. You notice her work, you remember her voice.
Here is what others are saying about her new book:
“In poems of great tenderness and unflinching honesty, Vignali emerges as a permanent figure among the new American poets.” -Bruce Beasley, author of Theophobia and Lord Brain
“A struggle for self is at the heart of these poems and yet despite a violent upheaval, there is tenderness. Here at the precipice of the domestic resides a poet whose vision of the world challenges its hurts with mercies.”
-Oliver de la Paz, author of Requiem for the Orchard and Post Subject: A Fable
“This haunting collection will have you looking twice at the things around you, the fragility of fixtures that appear more permanent than they are.”
-Kelly Magee, author of Body Language
Elizabeth, congratulations on your first book of poetry. Tell me more about it.
“Object Permanence” is a collection of poems I wrote during a series of major life transitions: my daughters’ births, my mother’s death, and the trials of love and marriage. As such, many of the poems grapple with the very human tendency to try to keep things the same.
I love examining the conflict between strong, powerful women and the societal roles expected of them. I play with that concept in some poems by transporting women from Greek and Roman mythology to present day and making them do mundane household chores, as in “Artemis Mows the Lawn” and “Medea Does the Laundry.” It sounds sort of silly and fun—and it is!—but it also deals very much with America’s expectations of what a woman should be.
What does your writing process look like?
My writing process is all over the place. When forced to examine my habits, I’m able to pinpoint only one constant: beverages.
Yes, I said beverages. There is a sort of ritualistic spiritual preparation that happens while grinding coffee beans and heating the kettle on the stove, or uncorking wine and pouring it in a favorite glass. An anticipation and then a settling in to work. I write under many circumstances: on a napkin at the Redlight, in my notebook at Boulevard Park, on my laptop at the kitchen counter while the kids are running circles around me. The tie that binds is the mug or glass of something at hand to bring a tangible ceremony to the process.
Your poems are so gentle and graceful. What’s your source of inspiration? Where does your muse live?
I was running down the South Bay trail a few months ago when I passed an unkempt, heavily bearded man rooting around at the edge of the trail. He’d propped his old bicycle against a tree, the bags containing very likely all he owned piled next to it. He was collecting something and putting it in a cardboard box.
On my way back, he’d moved down the trail a ways and was still gathering. I had to stop. I had to know. “Are you gathering mushrooms?” I asked. “No,” he said, and lifted his palm. It was filled with gravel. Regular, ordinary gravel. The same gravel I’d been pounding across for miles.
He picked up one of the pieces and held it toward me. “Isn’t it beautiful?” His voice was joyous. Awestruck. He dropped it in my hand.
And the thing is: it was beautiful. This little fragment of rock was swirled grey and white like a little overcast planet, speckled with quartz and glittering in the sunlight.
As I ran, I thought about the way we’d connected. How what he was doing isn’t too different from what I do. I rarely write “big” poems. I’ve given up envying the people who do. I’ve come to understand that I’m drawn to the small. The obvious and overlooked. I like to take something most people don’t notice and turn a macro lens on it: a cellar spider walking across the wall, the way a bartender holds her hands when she pours a dark ‘n stormy, the crumpled red-and-white food wrappers under the Friday Harbor pier.
I like the idea that once in a while someone running past might stop. They might come back and look closer. And maybe that fragment of life that they’d normally pass right by will stick with them a while and make their life a little more beautiful.
Just as your book inspires authors, what authors have inspired you?
I’m drawn to poets who handle heavy material with a light touch. I love poems that are centered in nature and rich with sensory details. I love Ted Kooser and Mary Oliver. I’m obsessed with Mary Szybist. And we’re blessed with so many brilliant poets here in the Pacific Northwest. I absolutely adore Dorianne Laux and Bruce Beasley. And Samuel Greene’s The Grace of Necessity is a work of perfection. I’ve probably read it a hundred times.
What is your background? Where are you from?
I was born in Los Angeles. We moved up to Bellingham when I was ten. My dad’s side of the family are all Californians, but my mom’s family—the Goodings—have been here in Whatcom County since the late 1880s.
What are you up to when you’re not writing?
I’m a licensed optician, who covers all sorts of eye-related activities, but in my case I specialize in glasses: dispensing them, adjusting them, repairing them, etc. I like that I use a different part of my brain when I’m converting prescriptions or calculating pantoscopic tilt than I do when I’m writing; I feel like it stretches me out a little, makes me whole.
I’m also busy with my daughters, of course. They’re seven and nine and the best thing that ever happened to me. We read a lot together—we just finished The Tale of Despereaux, which I recommend whether you’re a child or not—and do plenty of silly things like hold freeze-dance parties in the kitchen or see how many slides we can go down in one day. Our record is 72.
Other random things I enjoy: hiking and camping in our glorious little jeweled corner of the world, pinning laundry on the clothesline with the sun on my back, getting drunk and playing Neil Diamond songs on the piano very badly, running in the rain, reading in the chair swing on the patio, and digging out dandelions from my front yard.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m almost finished with the first draft of a novel. My first love always will be poetry, but it’s no secret that it’s nearly impossible to make a living from it!
While I made the decision from a purely practical standpoint, I’ve actually been having a lot of fun writing it. It’s basically the opposite of writing a poem: I throw whatever the heck I want in there without worrying about it too much. It doesn’t have to be subtle. I get to take side roads and see where they lead. I get to be over the top, I get to be unabashedly romantic. It’s based on a fictional version of Bellingham in 1885, which is also really fun to research.
This spring I was lucky enough to win a contest that got the attention of an editor at Avon, a division of Harper-Collins and the number one seller of romances in the United States, and she’s waiting for me to finish it and send it to her. If that doesn’t light a fire under me, I don’t know what will!