Interview With Poecology and Literary Locator
Interview With Kristi Moos
1. How did you come up with the idea for the magazine? What was the inspiration for the Literary Locator?
The idea for Poecology developed in 2010. I was finishing my MFA and volunteering in habitat restoration on the San Francisco peninsula. Poetry and ecology were big parts of my life, but they were separate parts. I was standing on the corner of Westridge and Southgate Avenues in Daly City when I accidentally said “poecology” instead of poetry. What a happy accident! Later that week, it occurred to me that Poecology could be a project to combine my loves for poetry and ecology. And so I started a publication to support environmental writers and others who are interested in the linkages between literature and the environment.
The idea for Literary Locator came two years later. I had published two issues of Poecology and wanted to explore new ways of representing place-based writing online. Poet and mentor Stacy Doris introduced me to DeepOakland.org, a multimedia online publication produced at Mills College. It’s a beautiful website that brings together writing, art, and photography about Oakland, California. The homepage is an interactive map of Oakland neighborhoods. I love that it’s one voice in a city-wide movement to use community-based art to celebrate and uplift the city. So DeepOakland.org was a direct inspiration for the Literary Locator.
From the start, I wanted Poecology and the Literary Locator to be global in scope. The challenge we face as an international online publication is how to capture the intimacy and depth of regional publications. We have roots in the San Francisco Bay Area and California, so naturally our reach is deepest there. But what about other places? Perhaps the Locator will one day be a collection of local and regional online publishers. That’s an interesting possibility.
2. How did you begin to gather materials for the Literary Locator?
We started by plotting stories and poems from the first three issues of Poecology. Then we began linking content from Poets.org, which has a directory of U.S. place-based poems listed by state.
Soon after, we launched wonderful partnerships with Flyway and several other online journals to link their content to the Literary Locator map. Now, we’re preparing to open submissions on January 1, 2014, making it possible for anyone to enter their online published pieces into the map. Think of how many place-based stories and poems there are—historically and now!
We launched the Literary Locator in September 2013, and it is a lifelong project. Our staff members have jobs and school to keep us busy, so it’s a labor of love that we work on slowly. We keep pushing forward because we feel that the Literary Locator is a vital project that has potential to make a difference in how we connect to place.
3. Is it possible to seek out work based on place? If so, how do you go about this process? Does the process differ for different countries and rural areas?
Lucky for us, place-based work is everywhere! Some of my favorite examples are Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Any piece of literature with a specific time and place can be part of the conversation about that place’s history, struggles, and its potential.
I get excited when I run across place-based writing in journals, newspapers, and at readings. And writers are sending in wonderfully innovative work to Poecology. There’s an awareness of the flexibility of how we define place-based literature, and it’s a delight to see how people are developing new responses to the world.
I would like to outreach to under-represented places and find more place-based writing. For the Literary Locator, I’m interested in marginalized narratives that aren’t published online or otherwise. But how do we go about finding them? It’s a challenge I haven’t figured out. I would like to travel the world to speak with people who are writing or simply talking about the places they call home. There are so many rich stories and histories about places! And much of it goes unpublished, or sadly, unwritten. It’s important for people who value place-based arts to stay in touch with real people and places. But often the demands of daily life prevent us from that. What we can do is gather the stories around us and bring them to light. We can all be gatherers. That’s why Poecology and the Literary Locator are here–to display that gathering in an online home.
4. What do you hope the reader will find with Poecology and the Literary Locator?
Our relationship to places will always be reflected through our creative output. Writing is one mode of that output—there’s also visual art, architecture, urban design, community events, and other forms. Through Poecology and the Literary Locator, I hope readers can explore places through creative writing. Because if we can build a spatial record of our storytelling, then we can see how we respond intellectually and emotionally to physical places. And if we read closely, we can find answers to questions like: what are our narratives of place? What do we memorialize, what do we praise, and what do we want to change? Also we can start to talk about what it means if our narratives have shifted, and how we want them and need them to shift.
5. What do you look for in a publishable piece of writing?
That’s a great question. I look for writing that is clear in its own voice and aims. I look for writing that trusts its own intuition and moves into its own territory with the reader as guest. As a reader, I want to be touched, surprised, or challenged. The right kind of confusion is important. I want to be confronted with a generative confusion that forces me to question: what is this poem or story asking me to understand and reconsider? What new or reinforced meaning comes out of this piece that asks me, as reader and human, to re-examine the world and my place in it?
Because of Poecology’s ecological focus, as an editor I look for writing that has something personal to say about relationships. Particularly, I seek out work that considers relationships between humans, land, animals, water, and natural systems. There’s a lot there! At the core of it, there are tensions between the human and nonhuman that we need to address. I am always on the lookout for writing that explores these tensions in new and experimental ways, and does so bravely and earnestly.
6. How do you see the Literary Locator being used in the next several years?
In the next several years, I see the Literary Locator becoming an open-access repository of place-based writing. What I like about the Literary Locator is that it resists and embraces change. For example, a story about a motel in Ohio will remain on the map even after the motel is gone. So the stories of humans and nonhumans in time and space can be preserved.
And I hope it will be used by people who are simply trying to know a place better. We may begin to see places not solely as a function of the physical environment, but as a complex network of thoughts and stories people are talking and writing about late at night with the depth of their emotion and experience. I also see it being used by educators who want to add new layers to the teaching of literature, history, environmental studies, geography, cultural studies, and other fields.
7. What are your long term goals for the project and how do you see it evolving?
In the long term, I hope these projects along with other place-based publications will serve a greater purpose to improve localities. We have to continue looking locally and critically to save places, species, and natural systems. For example, organic farming and the Locavore movement are agricultural responses to this need. But we must develop better cultural responses to our places. We have to understand what our responses and narratives have been in order to understand what better responses and relationships can be.
I think writing can help accomplish this in tandem with culture and agriculture. But we need a new term to understand the important role of writing in this process. I want to call it something new: scribculture—the culture of our writing. What, how, and why are we writing?
Wendell Berry, celebrated writer, farmer, and author of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture has long drawn a link between writing, farming, and the culture of our everyday lives. Wendell Berry spoke with Bill Moyers in a 2013 televised interview about this very thing. His work is a call to action for us to save our landscapes and their species—one page and one piece of land at a time. It’s part of a chorus to use narrative to make a difference.
8. What is the next exciting thing happening at Poecology?
It’s an exciting process to build the Literary Locator because we’re on the frontier of digitally mapping literature. That alone will keep us busy for a long time! Both Poecology and the Literary Locator are growing by leaps and bounds, and we are looking for more staff and resources. A few ways we hope to grow are to improve the map’s interface and publish more content. Becoming a nonprofit organization is also a possibility. And, as a way of fulfilling our mission to inspire and enhance the understanding of place and the environment through literary arts, we dream of launching in-person workshops and programs that get people outside and writing. There are many exciting prospects and we welcome all to join in!
Kristi Moos’ work appears in Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, Orion, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment, Crab Orchard Review, New American Writing, Flyway, and others. Winner of the Harold Taylor Prize from the Academy of American Poets, Kristi is completing a book of ecopoetry set in California’s Central Valley. She is editor-in-chief of Poecology and directs the Literary Locator. She received an MFA from San Francisco State University and works in environmental education in the San Francisco Bay Area.