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Goodrich's work, life flow into a new volume of poems

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Poet Charles Goodrich, director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word at Oregon State University, discusses his most recent book of poetry. (Jesse Skoubo | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

For Charles Goodrich, it’s easy to see the connections between the streams of his life, from his 25 years as a professional gardener to his career as a writer — which now includes a new volume of poetry — and his current work running a nonprofit organization at Oregon State University.

“I feel like gardening has been great training for running a small nonprofit,” Goodrich said in a recent interview with the Gazette-Times to discuss the new book, “A Scripture of Crows.” Both activities, he said, involve “managing complex systems.”

And it all flows back to his first love, writing: “I’ve always been a writer.”

But poetry, with its insistence on precise and patient language, does seem to be a good match for gardening, work which also requires patience and a measure of precision.

And there’s obviously a connection between his writing and his work running OSU’s Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature and the Written Word, which aims to combine the urgency of the environmental sciences, the rigor of philosophy and the power of the written word to find new ways to understand the natural world.

So gardening in specific — and nature in general — have informed and inspired Goodrich’s work. On some level, he fact, he still identifies himself as a gardener.

Writing and gardening “co-existed side by side for many years,” he said.

His gardening work includes stints taking care of the grounds of the Children’s Farm Home in the early 1980s and working for 15 years on the grounds of the Benton County Courthouse.

So it’s no surprise that gardening inspires some of his poems.

But that’s not the only source of ideas. A specific idea for a poem, he said, “may come in any number of ways.” Sometimes, “the juxtaposition between an observation and a bit of language” starts a poem rolling.

There is a constant, he said — and here again, there’s an obvious correlation to gardening: “None of it can you push,” he said.

“I’m more likely to assemble a poem from an individual image, insight or phrase and then gradually accrete more images, more ideas, more sounds,” he said, jokingly calling it the “coral-reef approach to writing.”

Even the mundane duties of housework can prompt a poem. For example, the new volume contains a poem titled “When the Pipes Freeze on Christmas Eve I Crawl Under the House with My Wife’s Hair Dryer and a Trouble Light.” You’d think the title would say it all, but you’d be wrong; the poem packs plenty of unexpected turns into its 127 words. (This story, by contrast, is four times as long and not nearly as good.)

Rewriting is another constant. Some poems have required up to 50 different drafts — and, he said, it’s not unusual for him to keep working on a piece even after it’s published.

Next up for Goodrich: A novel, his first. He said it’s inspired by young families who are returning to farming, often on smaller plots of land to grow specialty organic crops — a trend he finds encouraging.

“It’s fun,” he said of the work on the novel. “It’s a good challenge.”


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