Getting to Know Margot Douaihy and her new book Scranton lace
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?
I wrote my first poem in the fourth grade. We studied haiku and tanka, and, like decrypting a code, I was captivated by the puzzle of the poetry mind. I’ve been reading and crafting ever since. I received my BA from the University of Pittsburgh, and now I’m pursuing a PhD with Lancaster University. Writing poetry offers me the space for deep reflection and meditation as well as problem solving.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I write at my standing desk. Writing while standing imbues my body and mind with a specific alertness. My favorite time to write is in the early mornings with every electronic device switched off. I also thrive in creative isolation. I’ve been fortunate to do writing retreats in rural Montana, Martha’s Vineyard, on Pennsylvania farmland, and the windswept mountains of Andalucia.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Poem origins are present everywhere and in everything. From the Scranton Lace Works factory to a rusty road sign to complicated birdsong or the absurdity of a reality show, if something arrests me, turns my focus toward it, I have the seed for a poem.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
TI love poetry that both grounds me and induces vertigo. The poetry of work influences me as well as poetry with a social conscious, such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s canon. Shihab Nye speaks to both the longing and need for human connection, needs that only art can attempt to address. The brilliant wordplay, musicality, and aesthetic rigor of Sylvia Plath inspire me. Jan Beatty’s passionate poetry and insistence on depth challenge me to take risks. Donna Tartt’s breathtakingly beautiful, layered books captivate me. Anne Carson’s imaginative experimentations push me in new directions. I love the intelligent questioning of Claudia Rankine. The smart humor and spiritual explorations of Joy Ladin remind me to investigate the space between words. I am also obsessed with narrative structure, specifically nesting stories within stories, i.e., frame narratives, such as those found in Frankenstein and The Princess Bride.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was it a project book? etc.
Growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Lace Factory was a source of great pride. “Scranton” meant quality. In advertisements and around the world, the label Scranton Lace was the definition of finery. Lace was also useful. It had multiple purposes. Many family members and community members worked at The Lace through its 100 years of operation. The facility was grand. It had its own infirmary, lecture theatre, and bowling alley. The Lace Factory jobs were relatively well compensated, and for many years the city was grateful for those jobs. Some employees received silver Scranton Lace rings in recognition for loyal service. Textile work was also hard work, of course, like all manual labor. Tiring, fatiguing, repetitive. When the factory closed, it was as if time stopped there. KEEP OUT sings were erected, but if you crept up close and looked through the windows, as I often did, it was as if life was eerily on pause.
I have always been inspired by The Lace and fascinated by it. I’ve also been afraid of it. It’s dangerous, with broken windows, debris, graffiti, balloons and needles, broken bottles, scraps of old lace, and ghosts. The Lace began to take shape in my mind as framework for understanding my own internalized homophobia—a structure I had erected in my youth as self-protection. I felt like an outsider as a young queer in an “All American” town. I no longer need this protection mechanism, now, but, like The Lace itself, it is difficult to dismantle.
As I started writing verse about the Lace, new characters came to life and merged with my own lyric memories. It was like decoding a mystery. Is the real story hiding in the lace or is the more compelling story inside the hands and machinery that made it? There is a whole world inside of one Scranton Lace pattern.
Within the book, lace is a prism. I explore it from every possible angle. The poem “The Book of Lace,” for example, evolves from sacerdotal language to straightforward speech to surreal lyricism. Then the verse spins into frenzy, like a fever dream, The American Dream. This book is an incantation, and it is always with a queer lens.
Bri Hermanson, my partner and collaborator, created twenty-two illustrations for the book that incorporate vintage lace manufactured at the factory. She dipped the lace into ink and used it to make relief prints. We wore Scranton Lace, tore it, hung it, and looked through it. We posed for her illustrations, and in that process, she drew us into the artwork. The materiality of Bri’s scratchboard illustrations offer a complement and contrast to the soft lace.
But the Scranton Lace Factory is not only a symbol or product. It a real place and it will remain “real” even after it is gone. Like a city or a house or even the human form, Scranton Lace is a place where competing narratives co-exist. I cannot imagine a time it won’t inspire me. Isn’t every KEEP OUT sign an invitation?
Read The Great Lace Heist Below
The Great Lace Heist
From the Desk of Sergeant O’Malley, Scranton Precinct #31
Ponder, if you will, how The Lace Factory
could vanish in plain sight. Ten years now
I’ve lain awake on the eyelid of dusk,
pounded by the clock, wicked tick against tock,
waiting for some insight into The Great Lace Heist.
Per chance it was magic! cried my dear Wife,
or the factory sank! The coal mine inhaled it!
But is not magic a quick trick, succor from gravity?
We possess no such pluck in Scranton—
rot of carbon, stained cavity. No. The pathetic
“illusionist” & his farcical “magic show”
cast a net of smirks. Even miners blind on grog
& hacking black lungs can suss weak stagecraft—
joke of smoke & mirrors, like his zaftig assistant
was actually being sawed in two. Fools. No.
Perhaps angry wind hurled The Lace Factory
into the sea, restless almost as me.
Or a parliament of grand owls snatched it
thinking The Lace a mythic beetle, not knowing
what godly threads danced inside. Oh, mind.
Every possibility, bizarre to mundane,
riddles my brain. Night after night
I sweat myself awake, waiting for some hint,
something I missed, retracing each minute
of that cursed Day, racing to catch up
with what’s done & gone.
Memory makes no sense,
one fact contradicts another.
All I know is that the unknown
stays one step ahead.
If I were only fast enough
to keep up with the past.