The Ring-Toss Lady Breaks a Five

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We talked with “The Ring-Toss Lady Breaks a Five” poet Mark Kraushaar.

Ring-Toss BonusInterview with poet Mark Kraushaar

by Avra Wing

There are so many tensions here—the potential action that is preordained for failure, our expectations and our disappointments, the contentment and regret in all our choices. What, for you, is the central tension in the poem?

My intention was that the reader enter the scene while it’s in progress. In other MarkKwords, the narrator has presumably asked for change as the poem opens and then, kind of out of the blue, the ring-toss lady begins this thoughtful but disappointed and pretty cynical account of carnival life and, after a minute, life in general. So I think this, the reader’s having to wait a little to see what she’s referring to, may help to set up some of the tension. I think part of the tension is that one can see how she may have arrived at this point of view partly because she’s here and a part of this sugary, charming-but-creaky, seedy background in the first place, but also because it’s pretty clear her life circumstances have been so difficult.

The ride names seem to have a greater resonance. Did you choose them with an eye toward a greater meaning?

I don’t think there was a ride name that wouldn’t have worked. I just loved them, in fact, I went to two fairs and loved the whole teetery business, the rides, the ride names, the noise, the families, teens, kids, the junky prizes and, maybe mostly, the carnival workers themselves. I went first to the Wisconsin State Fair, which was huge of course; but then, just as interesting, a much smaller version in the little town I was living in then. But the ride names—except for the little kid’s events—always reflected the jumpy feel of the whole dicey business. I don’t think I’ll ever skip a fair again.

The title seems almost like a misdirection play. It reduces the woman’s humanity to her job, her actions to the mundane and disinterested…and then we get the poem. What was your intention in choosing the title?

I think mostly I wanted to introduce this scene without giving anything away. The narrator, after all, only intended to get change and that’s all the title reveals.

Do you think the woman does, in fact, “intuit the world”?

Sure, I think she does though probably no more than anyone else. We all intuit the world but through our own eyes of course, and she seemed a pretty good illustration of this.

How would you describe your poetic voice?

I don’t know that I can answer that very well. I know that I’m very much in favor of Marianne Moore’s recommendation that poetry be written in a language “dogs and cats can understand.” I aspire to being plain and clear as well as interesting and emotionally resonant. But I guess that doesn’t really say it. I know that it’s an altogether intuitive matter and that a poem “feels” right when it’s done (though generally needs some serious marinade time before I’m totally convinced). But that still doesn’t answer it.

Would it be fair to say that your work reflects a view of the world summarized in the title of your collection The Uncertainty Principle?

Yes, I think that’s fair. And I think the book’s epigraph, taken from the screenplay by Horton Foote for the great movie Tomorrow based on the Faulkner short story, also reflects it: “…and it seemed to me as if I’d never known before that this world isn’t run the way it ought to be run.” I remember first hearing this, how moved I was by it. This carnival worker, the ring-toss lady, has had a pretty hardscrabble life; and in watching her speak of it and reflect on it, I wanted a little of that sense of seeing this kind of hardship as though for the first time, seeing how completely and unaccountably unfair life can tend to be.

Avra WingAvra Wing is the author of the YA novel, After Isaac. Her first novel, Angie, I Says, was  made into the film Angie. Avra won the 2011 Pecan Grove Press Poetry Chapbook  Competition, and her poems have appeared in numerous journals. She is a workshop  leader for the NY Writers Coalition.