"All bodies are radiant but not all radiance is visible: stars radiate visible light; planets and donkeys and couches radiate infrared waves. (If your couch is emitting visible light GET UP IMMEDIATELY!)" -- Amy Leach
Everything is visibly illuminated under Amy Leach's virtuosic pen. Whether she's writing about beavers, migratory birds, mesquite trees, or the moon, to read her words is to see things in a new light. To see in things a new light. And to find your mind being woken up, your conventions jostled, and your ribs being tickled multiple times along the way. Arguably no other writer in the world waltzes so delightfully between scientific fact, poetic digression, philosophical conjecture, and a flair for the comedic.
Her debut essay collection, Things That Are, shines a spotlight on everything from the passionate yearning of pea tendrils, and the particularity of panda bear palates, to the perturbability of caterpillars, the oracular nature of mushrooms, and the dynamic between planets and their moons. Described as "a descendent of Lewis Carroll and Emily Dickinson," Amy defines her genre simply: Words. And what she conjures up with denizens of the dictionary is incantatory, full of incandescent observations, and almost always intoxicated with an unsentimental admiration for Things. That. Are.
To read Amy Leach is to find yourself frequently wondering, "Is that a real word?" And then you encounter in the singular glossary of Things that Are (alongside her definition of "vasty") this unequivocal response: "Do not let anyone tell you these words are not words; all words are words." But "even more than words, I think I love music," confesses Amy, who plays bluegrass and the piano, "If a word doesn't sound right, I don't care if it means the right thing, it's not the right word. I can sort of get swept away with soundy things."
In the realm of prestigious recognitions, Amy's soundy words have done their own share of sweeping, carrying away the Nautilus Book Award, a Whiting Writer's Award, and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award. Her much-awaited second book -- published nine years, two children and a move from Chicago to Montana, after her first -- is titled The Everybody Ensemble: Donkeys, Essays and Other Pandemoniums. It is at once a book of praise, a sharply intelligent critique, and a musically attuned, scientifically informed philosophy of life and living. Inasmuch as it does anything else, this "effervescent tonic of a book" makes a winsome case for everybodyism.
Where universalism maintains only that "all humans will be saved, whatever their sect or non-sect," Amy's everybodyism espouses a more playful and radical redemption for "not just all the human rascals but also all the buffalo rascals and reptile rascals and paddlefish and turkeys and centipedes and wombats and warty pigs." While Leach's admiration for Earth and its inhabitants is seemingly inexhaustible, it is not unaware. Her essays surface, often in lyrically satirical ways, the inconsiderate and often unconsidered impact we humans -- with our conquests, our categories, our need for control and our appetite for consumption -- have on this finite and fallible world.
The trajectory of this essayist's writing is not predictable like an orbit, but incalculable like a dream. It seems to follow an inner impetus, bent only on discovering what happens when the writer's thought breaks free of habit, and encounters itself and this shape-shifting world. "There are not just cliches of phrases and words," Amy maintains, "but cliches of thought too, and that is something worth fighting." Part of this fight on the page involves "an exorcism of personal and cultural programming." To root out, so as not to simply reproduce conventional thinking. "I feel like writing crystallizes all of somebody's strengths and faults. You get to know yourself.... What I love about writing is that I can think the way I want to think because I can see all my thoughts there on the page. I can see my thinking; I can see where I've gotten into easy thinking, and I can take it out."
If you are looking for a message in her work, you might find one, but not because Amy intended it. "I don't really write for a message, I write for myself. If someone else finds a message in it, then hooray!" What she is much more interested in is much more disruptive. "A lot of the things that I'm celebrating, like babies. music and donkeys, are really beautiful confusers of certainty."
A graduate of the University of Iowa's MFA program, Amy currently resides in Bozeman, Montana, where she is a creative writing and nonfiction instructor at Montana State University. Rumor has it (and if it doesn't it should) that in this role she primarily instructs her lucky students on the art and science of liberating their pens from instruction. "I grew up in a church that taught you all the rules. How to go to heaven, here's what to follow -- and it's all dogmatic," says Amy, adding with a laugh and a paraphrased rendition of Hafez, "But how you really get to heaven is, you get on a drunk mule, and you recite poetry."
Embedded at the heart of Amy's work is also a full-throated celebration of antidogma. A lifting up of all the unwieldy and ultimately undefinable being-ness at large in our world -- a being-ness that, despite the 21st century's best attempts, continues to evade propaganda, platitudes, practical purposes, and the profit motive.
So, come miss the boat with us! Join us in conversation with this astonishing and enlivening writer, one who celebrates all things "speckled and plain, perfect and imperfect, indigo-feathered, green-skinned, orange-toed, squashed of face, cracked of shell, miniature of heart, young as ducklings, old as hills...indigenous to Earth."
The mule I sit on while I recite
Starts off in one direction
But then gets drunk,
And lost in
-- Daniel Ladinsky rendering Hafez
Playing the piano with a drummer!
When I was seven, Mrs. Gilleroth moved to my small town and brought lots of violins and I was seized with a violent desire to play the violin and my parents leased a tiny violin for me and paid for thousands of lessons!
My son's violin teacher made him a practice chart and when he had a hundred checks she took us out to ice cream, and while we were at the ice cream shop she saw four more of her violin students and bought them all ice cream too. Now there is someone who serves the cause of music.
To finish learning Bach's Two-Part Inventions. I was going gangbusters but then got lazy and stalled out.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.