Sherman Oaks Resident Eloise Klein Healy Talks About Her New Poetry Book, 'A Wild Surmise'

The book, set to be released by Red Hen Press next spring, includes QR codes that direct the reader to audio files of Healy reading her work.

Eloise Klein Healy is a Sherman Oaks resident, a poet and a former teacher at both Antioch University and the Woman's Building in downtown Los Angeles. Her seventh book, A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems & Recordings, is coming out in the spring of 2013 from Red Hen Press, an independent publisher in Southern California.

The book has a unique feature: Thirty-five of the 100-plus poems in the book have been recorded by Healy in a professional recording studio in Los Angeles. The poems are linked to audio files of Healy reading by QR codes printed alongside the text.

As Mediabistro's Galleycat points out, Healy and Red Hen Press may be part of a new trend; Simon & Schuster announced last summer that, starting this fall, they will be adding QR codes to all their poetry books, too.

Healy is currently among the shortlist to become the new poet laureate of Los Angeles. Patch caught up with the Sherman Oaks resident to ask her about A Wild Surmise, the Woman's Building, and life in the neighborhood.

How did you first get the idea of recording your poetry and using QR codes to access those recordings?

My theory is that the best ideas are the simple ones. It's an available technology, and people use it to access websites for commercial purposes. Why couldn't I use it for audio files? I recorded 35 poems in a studio in Venice called the Hen House Studios. I went down and recorded most of them in one day, and went back and fixed some of the tracks later. I used to have a radio program called Womens' Words on KPSK, so I'm used to it. I always did it live—it was the days before digital—and anyway I could never cut the the tape very well! I interviewed writers, publishers, editors and performance artists.

What themes do you explore in your poetry?

This one is a 'new and selected poems,' so it covers my previous six books. That's a wide-ranging thing, it's a kind of overview of everything I've done.

I tend to be very interested in place. For example, 'Artemis in Echo Park' deals with the location of Echo Park and the history of the city, and I try to say that Artemis is not a real goddess alive today, but what if there were a human being like Artemis in Echo Park, who was interested in solitude and wild animals? I also focus on trying to explain Sappho to myself: What happened with her, and how do you deal with a poet whose work only survives in fragments? At the same time as writing that book [about Sappho] my mother died. So my poetry mother and my real mother were both fragmenting.

I tend to be a person who is an 'urban nature writer,' invested in that fact that the city is filled with wild animals and we interact with them in a way that doesn’t happen in cities where there aren’t corridors of mountains in the middle of everything. This is a city that is characterized by a very different relationship with nature.

Can you talk a little about your involvement as a teacher and member of the board of directors of the Woman's Building in Los Angeles ?

The Woman's Building was in downtown Los Angeles, over by MacArthur Park. The building was founded by three women: Judy Chicago, Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven. They would teach women how to be artists—not only how to make art but how to be a functioning professional in the world. There was an old boys network, so they created an old girls network.

The Woman's Building was the only free-standing feminist cultural institution in the world until it closed in 1991. I heard story after story about women who would leave their job Friday afternoon and drive to L.A. to the Woman's Building and stay there.

I went to a conference there with a friend of mine, and there were 300 women writers at the conference, and I had never known women writers before. I thought 'I could do this,' so off I went. I felt like I had a handmade community. Before I'd been trying to figure out how to do it, it was like I was bobbing around like a bottle in the sea. I learned how to hang sheet rock, to make rooms. We reconstructed an old warehouse in downtown L.A. and made an art gallery and studios. We had a letter-press printer, there was video, performance art—you can't talk about the history of performance art without talking about the Woman's Building. It was inspirational and always hanging on by a shoestring because of money.

Now you call Sherman Oaks home. How long have you lived here?

I've been in Sherman Oaks for 24 years. I moved in with my partner; I met her 26 years ago. She’s been in Sherman Oaks since the beginning of time! We walk around a lot, because we have a dog. So we know everybody; we particularly like to walk by the river where the Village Gardeners do that nice tidying up and planting [near the L.A. river between between Coldwater Canyon and Fulton Avenue].

In the spring I organized a poetry reading there. There's a little ampitheatre near Valleyheart and Longridge, and there are a lot of people that live right by the river here. I call it an ampitheatre; it's actually about three or four rows in a half circle.

Basically Sherman Oaks is kind of a hub; if you want to go certain places you’re able to get out to all of them.


A Wild Surmise: New & Selected Poems & Recordings by Eloise Klein Healy, Red Hen Press, Spring 2013. To listen to the poems, click here.


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