Poet Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, author of “Ghost Gear,” visited Elizabethtown College on Friday, April 6, as part of his book tour. “Poetry is really a true collaboration with the world,” he said.
McFadyen-Ketchum derived some of his poems from stories his father would tell him. “He’s not cool, my dad, so he would get really into [storytelling],” he said. A large part of his book is about surviving in a rural environment like the one in which McFadyen-Ketchum’s father was raised. His father was the son of a military father and moved often; most of his childhood centered around life in rural areas. The poem “Ghost Gear,” for which the collection was named, originated with a story told to him by his father. “Oral tales actually work really well in verse,” McFadyen-Ketchum said.
The term “ghost gear” refers to fishing gear that fishermen discard into the sea. This action was illegalized because it was problematic for underwater life. During McFadyen-Ketchum’s father’s time, though, it was still legal and commonly used in fishing. McFadyen-Ketchum stated that he used it as the title poem because he believed it was the best poem of the collection and acts as a metaphor for what his poetry aims to accomplish. “It’s the stuff that gets stuck, and you can’t let go of, the stuff that memory catches,” McFadyen-Ketchum said. The poem also switches from past to present tense to indicate that his memories still affect his life. McFadyen-Ketchum added that during his writing workshops in graduate school it was the first poem that people commented on something other than the font. It was the first poem the people actually liked. “I really don’t know how I got here, but [the poem] kind of became my guiding light,” he said.
McFadyen-Ketchum wrote the poems in a unique style. The poems have a narrative objective, but they also contain a lyrical element. McFadyen-Ketchum referred to his poems as lyric narratives. “What I really tried to do is tell a story while singing,” he said. The first poem in his book is title “Singing,” and typifies his writing style throughout the collection. When McFadyen-Ketchum’s poems were picked up for publication, he was told the first word associated with them was “classical.” McFadyen-Ketchum said, “I feel I have this classical line that’s dedicated to music and rhythm.” His poetry is also unique because the collection originally had no form poems. Feeling as though he needed at least one form poem, McFadyen-Ketchum wrote what he referred to as a “cheater sonnet” because it has fourteen lines and a turn earlier than the common sonnet style.
The collection also contains poems about surviving in an urban environment based on the rough neighborhood McFadyen-Ketchum grew up in. “I like the sort of dichotomy of civilization and non-civilization,” he said. McFadyen-Ketchum lived in a rough neighborhood in Nashville, Tenn. “I think sometimes we look back on the life we’ve had and wish we hadn’t lived it,” he said. However, McFadyen-Ketchum added that growing up in that rough environment led him to write poetry, which prevents him from being disappointed with his childhood. At 13 years old, McFadyen-Ketchum began working at a local produce store. The owner taught him to sweep underneath all the stands rather than sweep what was visible. McFadyen-Ketchum swept a piece of corn out from under a stand, and his first thought was wondering what it would be like to be the piece of corn. The thought initiated him to write a seven line poem. At 13 he hated poetry, but from that time on, McFadyen-Ketchum called himself a poet.