2015 TIFERET INTERVIEW with MELISSA STUDDARD: Part One
Tiferet Journal is at the nexus of literature and spirituality. It publishes high-quality poetry, prose and art that further meaningful dialogue about what it is to be human and conscious in today’s often divisive world. The entire interview is in Tiferet Journal, Summer 2015 http://tiferetjournal.com/
MS: Redemption the manuscript has been on quite a journey. It was written in 1975, lost for decades, rediscovered in 2011, and published in 2014. In what ways is this journey relevant or parallel to Redemption’s plot? What do you hope will be the next stage of this book’s journey?
IP: In 1975 I was writing way over my head and lacked the maturity to understand the deep nuances emerging from my pen. The book was writing me and it is fitting that it was not published until 2014, as the time lapse allowed me to grow into the insights and revelations writ large. I was a total mess in 1975 – with a failing marriage in the Hebrides and trying to keep my career intact as a young professor at Carleton University in Canada. I was not doing a good job with either. The surprise for me in 2011 was how could I have written such a powerful book while in a desperate state of mind? The themes of mental illness and alcoholism are writ large in this deep and turbulent Hero’s Journey to emancipation. Redemption is an allegory for the depression and life difficulties I once experienced, though I did not realize it at that time.
MS: Speaking of the Hero’s journey, can you say a bit about the connection between Redemption and Trailing Sky Six Feathers and why the Hero’s journey works so well to convey your ideas?
IP: I consider Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as an underlying template for all great books and weave its threads through my writing. Redemption is the first book in a trilogy that has Trailing Sky Six Feathers as the second book. They are companions – but the reader may not cotton on to that until they read the final chapter of Trailing Sky Six Feathers. Chapter Nine is titled “The Circle Closes” with a return to memories of the insane sea journeys I undertook in the Hebrides. That chapter is quite an “AHAH” moment. The final book in the trilogy (under construction) takes characters from both books, placing them in the future on a new planet. From the 18th century, Rising Moon (daughter of Trailing Sky) is hurled by shamanic means to the new planet. From the 21st century Tom and Sian Hagen with their daughter Catriona get there from a failing spaceship. Life on the new planet permits a beginning anew for our species – A Hero’s Journey to reconstruct a society based on ecology, sharing and caring.
But there are calamities to endure – a brutal abduction and rape, a militant jihadist cell hi-jacking a spaceship in order to take over the new planet, the desperate loss of pioneers in an exploding spaceship. I do not shy away from the reason for finding a new planet and place in the mouth of Dr. Tom Hagen a speech to the UN that I would like to give from the future. It is about the willful ignorance displayed by corporate and government cabals invested in the carbon/oil complex, while eco militias murder in the streets and social disorder is a norm. The first chapter of the final book is a lyrical and dangerous meeting on the new planet between Catriona and Rising Moon. Instead of killing one another they become blood sisters. The second chapter is quite dark about the perilous destruction of the spaceship and safe departure of some of the travellers. Chapter three is a love story and Chapter Four provides vision. Chapters Five and Six are dark yet permit the human spirit to prevail. The battle with jihadists in Chapter Six is not for the squeamish. Chapter Seven returns to love and nature while the final chapter Eight muses philosophically about human survival anywhere. The end game is a philosophy to endure and not repeat the mistakes of the prior civilization on Planet Earth.
MS: Redemption is a wonderful and fitting title for the novel because of the many facets of redemption that occur. Will you discuss the ways in which this concept manifests in the novel, both big and small?
IP: This novel is set in The Hebrides, islands off the northwest coast of Scotland, with startling cycles of maturing and downfall of the main character – Callum Mor – a gifted child, master mariner, derelict drunk, who eventually gains wisdom from a hard life’s journey. He enters the dark zone of alcoholism and withdraws from society with only his animals keeping him this side of sanity. Laced with grim humor, the novel has nature’s harsh rhapsody as the background for tragic human failings: violence, power, murder, rape and madness. Each phase is laden with an underlying opportunity for redemption. The failings are ultimately topped by the triumph of the human spirit. Callum Mor’s bleak solitude is broken when a family with a small girl seeking refuge from a storm come to his house. Slowly, he edges away from his self-destruction. He saves the girl’s life in a blizzard. The glimmer of awakening dawns in him, and this sets the stage for the final drama that illuminates the resilience of the human spirit. From the rhapsody of an idyllic childhood through traumatic tragedies to the derelict zone of alcoholism and then to a state of awakening – I depict the stations of a personal Calvary that ultimately leads to “Redemption.”
Of her debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, Robert Pinsky writes, “This poet’s ardent, winning ebullience echoes that of God…” and Cate Marvin says her work “would have no doubt pleased Neruda’s taste for the alchemic impurity of poetry.” Melissa Studdard is an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews, hosts Tiferet Talk radio, and judges the monthly Goodreads ¡Poetry! Group contest. She is also the author of the novel, Six Weeks to Yehidah, and a collection of interviews, The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award and the International Book Award. Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Pleiades, Poets & Writers, Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, and Connecticut Review. Learn more at www.melissastuddard.com