On Oct. 24, Lewis & Clark alumna Rosalie Moffett ’08 gave a reading from her newest book “Nervous System,” published this year, in the Frank Manor House. Moffett took poetry classes with Associate Professor of English Mary Szybist and Associate Professor with Term of the Humanities Jerry Harp. Today, she works as an assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana.
“Nervous System” was one of five selected from 1,500 manuscripts as winners of the 2018 National Poetry Series competition. Moffett has won multiple other awards for her poetry. Her first book, “June in Eden,” won the 2016 The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize. Additionally, she has won the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and multiple other scholarships.
Moffett’s newest book largely centers around her mother, who has an unknown medical condition that affects her brain. Her poems grapple with her own anxieties about potentially inheriting this condition and the guilt and pain she feels in helplessly watching her mother’s experience.
The concept behind the book was initially inspired by an experiment she witnessed in her mother’s lab. In this experiment, a wolf spider mother’s egg sac was taken from her, and her eggs were removed and replaced by lead shot, which added a great deal of weight. Then, the spider, “so / intent on reclaiming / what’s hers,” broke her legs trying to lift the egg sack once more.
Initially, it seems that her mother’s brain condition and the motif of spiders are unrelated. Yet, as Moffett’s poetry reveals, spiders, motherhood and the human brain are incredibly connected. One way she ties these concepts into her poetry is through exploring dream analysis. She writes, “To dream you are bitten by a spider / reveals a conflict / with your mother.”
Another way in which Moffett connects the three themes is through describing the three meninges, or protective layers of the brain: the dura mater, arachnoid mater and pia mater. These names translate to the hard mother, spider mother and tender mother. During the reading, Moffett spoke to her fascination with this connection.
“The convergence has always been there, to think of things that protect us as mothers,” Moffett said.
The structure of the book as a whole resembles a spider web in its interconnectedness. Each individual poem, while they are divided by empty spaces, lacks a separate title of its own. This fluid structure differs from most deliberately fragmented poetry books, as it initially appears to be one long poem.
However, during the reading, Moffett read the poems in a disconnected order, which appeared to contradict the idea that her work should be read in a linear manner as a singular poem. She expanded on exactly how she wishes her readers to interact with her book given its non-traditional structure.
“The form of the poem is a testament to our ability to put pieces together; to come to a line break, to white space, and cross that white space and put all of those things together,” Moffett said. “The fact that there are all of the sections together is also working in a similar way, like we can put all of the sections together to make a narrative. So, to be conscious of the pieces, but also be putting them together is how I would want it to be read.”
Furthermore, in connecting all of the poems Moffett, much like a spider herself, weaves particular, distinct images such as apricots, dogs and waterways throughout her book. She explained that, while writing this book, the images served as a sort of guide for her to re-enter into the world in which she crafted.
“Someone said once, when we enter a poem, we look for a world and a consciousness,” Moffett said. “The kind of diorama of the world that I put together for the book — so I could enter it and get back into that mode and get back into that little world and keep writing in it — had all of these things in it that were apricots and spiders and dogs. That was a way for me to come each day to writing and find that voice and find that world and inhabit it again.”
Overall, in her book “Nervous System,” Moffett flawlessly unites seemingly disparate images into one cohesive, intriguing universe. The book exemplifies interconnectedness and demonstrates the beauty that can be found in its recognition. For Moffett, the smallest things that largely go unnoticed, such as a spider lurking in her bathroom, unlock multitudes.
So, a remarkable factory
spends its life by the bathroom mirror
where my face appears.
How easy it is to miss this
world we’ve been allowed into.