This week, Megan M. Garr, author of the recently released Terrane, offers us the story of the book’s origins.
* * *
Terrane began with a single word, which is not itself anywhere in the poem. Heide.
heide – heiden
heath – heathen
A semantic judgment based on a people’s relationship to the land.
Or, more precisely, on how they choose to use that land.
Terrane was drafted in the summer of 2012 in Iceland. Between trips as far into the landscape as I could dare, in a rented SUV, were long writing days overlooking the Langjökull icecap.
I had saved for a year for this, what I called my self-funded residency, having gotten to the point that to write, I needed to leave Amsterdam entirely, be out of calling distance (if only virtually) from my work, my overpriced expatriate market apartment, my duties at Versal, which ran through every hour.
In high school, my best friend Jennie and I fantasized about moving to Greenland. For us – until we discovered that there was a US air force base there – Greenland was untouched land, an escape, somewhere where we could start again.
Every day, from 1993-1997, I wore a pouch around my neck. In that pouch were tokens my friends gave me, souvenirs of my adolescence: a 20-sided die, a river stone, found pennies, a screw from the bleachers, a ring, a laminated map of Greenland…
…and many other little objects, now tucked in a shoebox at my childhood home in Nashville.
At the bouldering gym in Reykjavik, I met a geologist who told me, “If you get lost in Greenland, you’re going to die. If you get lost in Iceland, just stand up. Someone will see you.”
I found out later that this “stand up” business is just an old Icelandic joke. After centuries of sheep grazing and logging for fuel, there are not many trees in Iceland.
When I came upon a Spanish family in their SUV, sinking in the Þórsmörk river, all I had to do was dial 112 on my mobile and flag down help further down the valley.
I can confirm a sense of safety here, among the danger.
I was among the stranded of the 2010 Eyafjallajökull eruption. Eyafjallajökull: the ice cap of the mountains of the islands. A stratovolcano of lavas ranging from basalt to andesite.
There’s a story behind Terrane that I’m not ready to tell. Not in prose, at least, where everything gets named for exactly what it is.
But here in 2012, here in Iceland, driving within sight of Eyafjallajökull as often as I could, here I tried to tell it, here the telling began.
Long days behind the artificial landscapes of my laptop, trying to write poems.
Long drives on roads like these, fording rivers.
Inhabiting open country.
As far as possible.