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The City and the Writer: In Fayetteville with Geoffrey Brock

By Nathalie Handal

If each city is like a game of chess, the day when I have learned the rules, I shall finally possess my empire, even if I shall never succeed in knowing all the cities it contains.
                      —Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities


Can you describe the mood of Fayetteville as you feel/see it?

I guess I'd describe the mood as artsy, outdoorsy, and generally laid back. Fayetteville is in many ways a classic American college town: the overall population is about 75,000, with more than 20,000 students. Because education is the town's primary industry, Fayetteville is an oasis of liberal culture in a conservative region. For its size it has an absurd number of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, and now a great new museum (Crystal Bridges) a half hour north of us. It also happens to have extraordinary natural beauty, with great hiking and canoeing.

What is your most heartbreaking memory in this city?

I'm pleased to say I don't yet have any truly heartbreaking memories associated with Fayetteville. (Long may that last.)

What is the most extraordinary detail, one that goes unnoticed by most, of the city?

Hard to pick one, but I might say the little unnamed park next door to my house, which is fairly unremarkable in itself but which offers a lovely view of the Boston Mountains to the south and west, and is good for stargazing at night. 

What writer(s) from here should we read?

Some Fayetteville writers you should read (and listen to) include Miller Williams; his daughter, the singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams; and the cult poet Frank Stanford, whose selected poems, The Light the Dead See, was edited by another fine poet associated with Fayetteville, Leon Stokesbury. I'm also a fan of Ellen Gilchrist and my other brilliant colleagues on the creative writing faculty here. What else? I really enjoyed Arkansas poet CD Wright's latest book, One with Others. And over in Little Rock they've got Trenton Lee Stewart, a writer of terrific children's novels, and Charles Portis, a neglected master.

Is there a place here you return to often?

I have two regular “cafe offices”: The BHK Kafe, which unfortunately just moved but fortunately didn't move far, and the Little Bread Company. I ping-pong back and forth between them.

Is there an iconic literary place we should know?

Dickson Street Books is one of the best used-bookstores I know—it's a semi-organized warren of rooms stacked floor-to-ceiling with all manner of books. The Oxford American once called it the best used-bookstore in the South, and surely that still applies. 

Are there hidden cities within this city that have intrigued or seduced you?

Not a hidden city but a hidden route through the city: we have a lovely bike trial that winds through much of Fayetteville, along lively creeks and around a pretty lake. I try to ride it every week, and I feel sorry for my fellow citizens who never see this feature of Fayetteville that is so central to my own enjoyment of the town. 

Where does passion live here?

In local music and art, in the woods, and on the rivers. 

What is the title of one of your poems about Fayetteville and what inspired it exactly?

None of my poems is exactly “about” Fayetteville, but our Fayetteville home is the setting for “Homeland Security.” And our home's healthy population of brown recluse spiders gives the poem a little unhealthy local color. 

Inspired by Levi, “Outside Fayetteville does an outside exist?”

There is some sprawl, particularly if you drive north on I-540, in which case Fayetteville seems to become part of a continuous quasi-urban expanse that stretches all the way to the Missouri border. But one of the things I love about Fayetteville is that, for the most part, the distinction between inside and outside is fairly sharp. If I walk three quarters of a mile downhill from my house, I'm in the middle of Fayetteville, surrounded by street life and nightlife. If I drive ten minutes to the south, I'm surrounding by cows and horses and rolling green hills—I'm out.


Geoffrey Brock is the author of Weighing Light, the editor of The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, and the translator of books by Cesare Pavese, Umberto Eco, and others. His awards include two NEA fellowships, a Cullman Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Arkansas.

Published Feb 21, 2013   Copyright 2013 Nathalie Handal

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