An Interview with Linda Benninghoff, author of The Spaces Between Things

Reviewed by Ernest Dempsey

Ernest: Linda, your third collection of poems is here and it has the same flair of peaceful coexistence in natural environment and care about life. What exactly inspires you to write about nature?

Linda: I have always loved nature but as a young person I experienced difficulty relating to the other students in my wealthy suburban high school. I remember taking refuge in nature. I have looked over some of my earliest poetry and find a poem I wrote at age 14 addressed to a seagull. The world of nature seemed more compassionate, more all-embracing, and more peaceful than the human world. In my poems in this book it serves as a backdrop and a counterpoint to the tragedies of the human world. When my closest friend dies of cancer I take refuge in nature—particularly birds visiting in winter to get seed when it is hard to find things to eat.

Ernest: The Spaces Between Things sounds like a title that goes deeper into the meaning of ‘distance’. What exactly does it signify?

Linda: There is the distance that occurs in human relations through someone changing—very often the relationship breaks off or becomes attenuated or different when one of the people changes, becomes interested in someone or something else, or when that relationship ceases to have intrinsic value to her or him. Then there is death—one of the great distances. I felt in the book that simple ‘common’ conversation helped bridge this distance of death. In the book, I look at different ways people bridge the distance of death. My friend wanders in the cemetery late at night—she cannot accept death and has gone a little crazy because of it—nevertheless she is trying to bridge that gap.

Ernest: ‘Friendship’ is one of the motifs in The Spaces Between Things. Would you like to share how your real life friends inspired the poems in this collection?

Linda: The first section of the book is inspired by my friend Mary who died of lung cancer. It describes a friendship where—when we were together—we were oblivious to the world around us and the times we lived in. We walked by the sea, which has something eternal about it. There was something eternal about our relationship. We did not expect to get sick or die—we felt we could rescue our friends if they were sick and ‘if they were lost we could find them.’ Mary may have died, but the friendship, in which something of the eternal seeped in, remains.

Ernest: Your poetry is rich with the love of birds. What is it in birds that makes them so appealing to your poetic spirit?

Linda: Actually, other animals appeal to me but I see them more rarely—such as deer. A lot of the poems were written in the winter and I have a birdfeeder and the birds arrive. I see them struggling in the blizzards and wonder how they can stand the cold. Yet they do. I feel the human spirit has some of this same perseverance. My friend Mary lived—keeping her spirit high—for two years after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. This is a long time for someone with that disease.

Ernest: Reading your poems always gives me the feeling that you are hardly carried away in emotion. There is a sort of objective, detached mode of observation which you pen down in form of verse, is it?

Linda: People have commented on my detailed observations, yet an editor described the poems in this book as ‘very emotional.’ I think my friend’s death made my emotions well up and I wrote over 100 poems for her. They kept spilling out of me. So I would disagree with you.

Ernest: To me, the most compelling poem in this book is Hyannisport where you question the change in the degree of a father’s support to his kids when they are grown up. How do you reflect on childhood and its replacement by adulthood?

Linda: I don’t know what to say about the loss of childhood—I think it is important to keep our memory of childhood. But the book looks into the changes in my father, his gradual hardening. One of the poems describes him as working hard to the exclusion of everything else—yet he worked hard and didn’t find what he wanted.

Ernest: Then there is Ballerina that seems to point to our neglect of the beautiful things that we create and then forget about them. Can we call it nostalgia in your mode of expression?

Linda: Yes, this poem is also about my father and the appreciation of beautiful things he may have had when he was young. Several of the poems describe how he let this fall aside in pursuit of more tangible rewards. It was his loss.

Ernest: How important is ‘change’ to you and what are the things which you think should not change in us?

Linda: Speaking of my father, he seemed to lose his appreciation of beautiful things. Great poets have been afraid of losing their gift for poetry. I think some kind of memory of childhood and this appreciation of beautiful things is something we have to foster, to struggle to keep.

Ernest: Ok, let’s talk about your love for animals. Animals mean a lot to you and you have been an animal rights advocate. Would you like to comment on the general attitude of treating animals and laws dealing with slaughtering and hunting animals in the US?

Linda: I’ve been working to stop certain kinds of hunting in New York State, the state I live in, but it has been a completely frustrating activity. Usually the bills prohibiting the hunting of tame animals for trophies are vetoed by the governor—although they pass the senate and house. I wrote letters for years about this but lately gave up. Another project I am interested in is an end to Canada’s Seal Hunt being sponsored by, among other groups, The Humane Society. One of the pledges I made was to boycott Canadian seafood, an easy thing for me since I am a vegetarian. Yet my father won’t boycott it—which is frustrating. I think hunting will someday become very unpopular—it is not popular now, and killing animals for sport will come to an end in the future.

Ernest: You haven’t been publishing prose, though your views and concern with nature appear to provide a lot of margin there. Is poetry the only medium in which you like to express yourself?

Linda: I wrote a short novel and I have written dozens of book reviews and work part-time as a journalist. I find that this writing doesn’t mean the same thing poetry does to me.

Ernest: Any plans for a future publication?

Linda: I plan to write a book based on the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, once again dealing with fathers.

The Spaces Between Things is available online at http://www.erbacce-press.com/#/lindabenninghoff/4527889939

To read a review of The Spaces Between Things, visit http://bookreviewpot.blogspot.com/

About the Reviewer: Ernest Dempsey is the pen name of Karim Khan. Dempsey works as a research associate in geology and is doing his Masters in English Literature. A founding member of the World Audience Inc. (New York), Dempsey is the author of three books: The Biting Age, Islands of Illusion, and The Blue Fairy and Other Stories. He writes articles, professional book reviews, essays, and poetry. He is also an interviewer. Currently Dempsey is working on his fourth book.

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