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  • An Interview with Janice Gould on Her Book Seed
  • Ruth Salvaggio

Janice Gould, of the Koyoonk'auwi tribe in California, is the author of five books of poetry, recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Astraea Foundation, and poet laureate for the Pikes Peak region from 2014 to 2016. Also a photographer and musician, she earned her BA and MA degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and her PhD from the University of New Mexico. She was associate professor emerita of women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. She died on June 28, 2019, barely two weeks after this interview was completed.

Ruth Salvaggio, professor emerita of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is the author of several books on poetry and feminist studies, including The Sounds of Feminist Theory and Hearing Sappho in New Orleans. Her teaching has centered on poetry by women from across the globe and from diverse cultures within the modern Atlantic world.

ruth salvaggio:

Your book Seed opens with a citation from Cherokee writer Marylou Awiakta: "Look at everything three times. Once with the right eye. Once with the left eye. And once from the corners of the eyes to see the spirit [essence] of what you're looking at." How did your poems in Seed grow from such spirit-infused vision?

janice gould:

Our beings consist of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. I consider poetry to arise in the spirit, finding expression through the beating of our hearts, the rhythm of our breath, the strivings and satisfactions of the intellect, the experience of memory bathed in emotion. The smell of soil and growing things, the feel of sun and wind on my [End Page x] skin is potent and pleasing. The sound of water pushing through the garden hose, the music of the wind chime enters my perception, gently and persistently. Writing poetry requires a certain repose. I'm engaged and making choices about language and sound. I can look from the left eye and the right eye and from the corners of the eyes, and when that happens, I'm looking inward, even if I'm seeing the world apart from me.


Is the "smell of soil and growing things" a special site for spirit-infused vision and repose?


We live in a 1950s neighborhood. The climate is dry. Water is tunneled east from the mountains. The soil is poor and has to be enriched for lawns and gardens to grow. There is nothing particularly lovely about my yard, so it is odd that some of my poems come from this "garden." However, when days warm up I'm usually outside weeding and watering. I nurture the roses as best I can. I am not a natural gardener; I don't have a "green thumb." But it gives me great pleasure to be outside among the weeds or flowers. After I finish, I sit outside and drink a cup of coffee and look around at my work. It is not an Edenic spot, but there is satisfaction; my mind is relaxed.

These things seem to feed those mysterious energies that enliven and nurture us inwardly. The spirit resides in the integuments of the body, but it can soar beyond us too. Similarly, there is spirit in the cells of plants that take their nourishment and growth from the sun, a transformation that goes on as stems reach upward toward the light and roots reach downward into the fertility of earth.


Can you elaborate on these "mysterious energies"?


I didn't know, when I started Seed, that I would be faced with a terminal illness as fall changed to winter last year. Now I am "reminded" that I have pancreatic cancer every time I go for chemotherapy, or don't go because my platelets or white blood cells are low, or as my body struggles to find a balance between eating and having no appetite for food, when my hair thins, my muscles shrink, and my weight drops, leaving me shaky and wobbly on my feet. Maybe psychically I "knew" something was manifesting...


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