Joseph Wood

recorded in Tuscaloosa, AL

 

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Joseph Wood

Hi, my name is Joseph Patrick Wood, I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, by way of Tucson, by way of Boston, by way of Plainfield, Vermont, and by way of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where I was born. I never in a million years thought of myself as living in the Deep South. If you would have asked me as a child, what, even, the South was, of course I would have given the obvious, Northern, Yankee answer, which would have been horrendous and I won’t repeat. But we wound up here because my wife was finishing her PhD and went on the grad program in rhetoric and composition and she went on the academic market and there were two schools that offered her a job. One was in Saginaw, Michigan and one was here, and this was the better place. And I’ve actually come to really adore the South. It’s very intricate. The culture is very implicit. Manners and order matter. And it’s one of the most indirect places I’ve ever lived, but there’s something really awesome about that. I think it creates this real tension between what is stated and what’s meant. So as a Northerner, for me, coming from Philadelphia, which is probably the most direct you can live in, it’s really an interesting challenge. And having a child now who’s almost four and watching her grow up, and having to teach her values and ways of being in her interpersonal or social skills, I myself am sort of relearning and having to learn my own sense of mannerisms and my own sense of speech and my own sense of directness and indirectness, so my child’s, you know, not a freak. But yeah, that’s how I came to Tuscaloosa. And it’s home. I never thought I’d say as an adult this place is home, but it’s home.


The Knox Writers’ House

What’s it like to be a writer in Tuscaloosa.


Wood

I think that’s a kind of a loaded question. How do you define a community of writers? For whatever the reason, there’s always a “These are the academic writers and these are the nonacademic writers,” and Tuscaloosa is a college town in that the town is primarily based around the University. There are some other industries, Goodyear and Mercedes Benz up the road. But, any kind of artistic life, it’s very easy to think it exists in the University, or that the arts that are going on outside the University are “quaint” and, especially in the South, people writing about kudzu. But I think that actually, the more I’ve gotten into community arts and things of that nature, there is a thriving subculture, and people doing really interesting things. And they might be academically trained and might have just chosen to not partake in academia. Or you might have people who have never partaken of academia in terms of the visual arts or the musical arts or the written arts. And they’re there if you’re looking. I think one of the things I didn’t really have an appreciation of until coming here, and at the same time getting very interested in chapbook culture in poetry, is the way that community is often very ad hoc and contingent and that it can take place in a moment and writers can come together, both academic and nonacademic, and that’s a community. So for me, once I rethought about what was community, I never treat it as a static entity. I’d rather think of it as a very fluid entity, where, at it’s best, it’s a very democratic enterprise. Not to say there isn’t a kind of aristocracy, like this notion of “Who’s a writer?” in a natural poll of talent, but I think that at the end of the day, there’s enough talent to go around, and enough voices to go around that community happens on its own. It’s not necessarily an intended thing, or a static thing.

Listen, Leo by Jon Anderson