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Transom:
Much of your poetry draws inspiration from the peculiar mix of natural and industrial beauty that is Pennsylvania. Do you perceive your speakers as emerging "from the land," as it were, or as careful (sometimes ecstatic) cartographers of a new landscape?

In other words, does authority in your poetry come from familiarity or from distance?

Lawless:
It was a big relief to me when I reread these lines from James Tate’s poem “Initiation” and discovered (stole) the title of my book: “How strange, / I thought I was new here.” Tate’s uncanny reckoning, I thought, crystallized so many of my griefs and fascinations about both Pennsylvania and poetry.  Back in 2003 I moved to Factoryville, PA (roughly eight miles from my childhood home in Clarks Summit) to live with my family for the summer before going to grad school in Chicago the following fall.  Factoryville was new to me, but not new at all.  It had all the familiar scars and gothic features that I had known for so long, but everything looked more tedious and beautiful to me during this time; I don’t know why—possibly because I was moving there from Pittsburgh, and was easily spooked by my new and thorough solitude. 

After a false start as a pizza delivery boy, I took a job working graveyard shifts in a CD factory, a scarce vestige of industrial work, so much of which is gone now from Northeastern PA, or manifests only in ghostly wrecks of buildings, old culm piles grown over with scraggy trees, guided mine tours and the like.  I would drive home on Route 6 & 11 at 6:30 in the morning.  The hills were clotted with mist from the creek.  There were dead deer flung in haphazard contortions of martyrdom along the shoulder of the road.  The apoplectic pickup trucks that rushed around me on the highway reminded me again and again that this place was not mine.  But it was essential to me still.  I loved it almost as much as I feared it.

My speakers are outsiders.  They don’t belong where they love, if you’ll forgive that grammatical jumble.  But they have a lifetime of observations on which to draw in order to articulate their estrangement. They are above all ambivalent.  They are cartographers of their confusion.  They are trying to be reborn but they are no good at it; and for that reason, every potential moment of rebirth lapses into (painful) memories of past lives.   They are ecstatic about the prospect of leaving and returning but never about being where they are.  I’d like to go home, be closer to my family, be new there again, but I can’t.  I can live there in my imagination, but not in fact.