So Tall It Ends in Heaven by Jayme Ringleb | Tin House Books; Tuesday, Sep. 20

Book launch and reading, in conversation with Ina Cariño | Tuesday, Sep. 20, 7 p.m. | Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh

The Raleigh poet Jayme Ringleb’s new collection, So Tall It Ends in Heaven, begins with the conditional: “Maybe you want a good man / to keep—a man, it happens, with a troublesome neighbor / a neighbor with a dog. A good dog.” The conditional winds its way through the 28 poems in Ringleb’s impressive debut, as its queer Southern speaker investigates loss and devotion with haunting inquisitorial spirit. Ringleb, an assistant professor at Meredith College, has an assurance and emotional fluency that makes these poems propulsive page-turners, with piercing, beautiful lines nestled throughout (“We sleep / in a snarl, like lovers found in snow”), like just-smoothed shards of sea glass.

The collection which has received praise from Carl Phillips, Natalie Shapero, and Kaveh Akbar, among others, launches on September 20 at Quail Ridge Books. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

INDY WEEK: Can you tell us a little bit about the project and how you found your way into this first book?

JAYME RINGLEB: Whenever I describe the book, I tend to describe it in terms of a narrative about a queer Southern speaker who, after the end of a marriage, goes on this kind of journey to mend a relationship with his father. His father is international and overseas, and they have been alienated because his father rejected him when he came out.

And the speaker is on a path, this journey, to heal their relationship to love and to devotion—I wanted the trajectory of the book to be less about the speaker’s relationship to other people and more to his own healing. That was an initiating point for the book as a whole. I wanted to investigate the complications of queer healing; what it means for queer people to heal, or to be consoled, and what that means, particularly within the parameters of the narratives that many of us face when it comes to alienation from our birth families.

In the description of the book, there’s a mention of subverting the elegy form. Is that something that was on your mind while writing it?

Yeah. And a lot of what I hoped to do was borrow [from], in addition to subvert, those traditions. Even as a kid, reading the canon, who is in a love poem, or who is elegized, was always a question for me.

One thing that stuck out to me was that throughout the poems, Greek myths and Bible stories are referenced simultaneously—almost like they’re part of the same narrative universe.

For this speaker, I wanted to use those different registers and blend them also with the speaker’s own kind of mythologies, alongside his own made-up nonsense—like at a certain point, there’s just like, a goat with feathers. The idea is to be able to use a narrative that the speaker understands to be literally true to his life as a means of processing whatever psychological pressure he’s going through, his relationship to Christian religions or to Greek and Roman mythology—these are lenses for him that can be collapsed into his way of understanding grief and trauma or the abandonment or loss of love in some way. These are all the different kinds of stories that he’s inherited, and he can remake them, as well.

“Collapse” is a good word for it.

Yeah, and I mean a lot of this, too, is me writing this character—he’s kind of mythological to me. There’s an idea of that kind of collapsing in there, too.

What was that decision like, choosing to have just one speaker for all the poems—what kind of creative distance did it give you?

It gave me the permission to look at them from different angles by inserting narrative details or, you know, different mythologies or impossibilities that could inform how I was looking at my own stuff. It was a weird experience for me, in the sense that, on the one hand, it created distance, and on the other hand, it created anxiety. Like, if my speaker gets healing, do I? It was a strange experience and I’m still kind of figuring that out.

This might be a bit spoiler-y, but the book doesn’t end with narrative resolution. It’s more about the speaker being able to see himself as possible and the possibility of his love as a thing that exists.

Who are some of the poets you’re reading right now?

Oh my goodness. I’m really excited by some of the queer writers that have been published recently. Luther Hughes, Natalie Diaz, Paul Tran. I’m really, really obsessed with Jos Charles’s feeld and have been revisiting it a lot. I love Paige Lewis. That’s just to name a few.

How is teaching at Meredith?

I’m at the very start of my second semester, so I’m new. I’m teaching queer lit this term, which is the first queer lit course ever taught at Meredith. I also teach creative writing and composition. It’s going really well. I really like the community and engagement of the students—it gives me a lot to think about. 

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