Author Terese Svoboda, the winner of a recent Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction, will be in Omaha this Wednesday, July 10, from noon to 1:00 p.m. to join “Wednesday Words: The Braided River Series” at KANEKO in the KANEKO-UNO Library. Here she discusses how she decided what to read at the event this week.
Sitting on a picnic table pulled right to the water’s edge of Lake McConaughy, watching the para-sailors go by and the storm clouds evaporate, I wondered what to read at KANEKO. Along with excerpts from Tin God, my fourth novel, narrated by a Midwestern female god about a conquistador and two farmboys with a drug problem, I decided on “The Talking Tea-Kettle,” a poem about magic and Nebraska. The poem began as a video project commissioned by the wonderful novelist and then—Prairie Schooner web editor Timothy Schaffert.Timothy gave me no parameters; he knew of my weird work, the ten or so videos collected at the Tribeca Film Institute's project, ReFrame.
I was then consulting producer on the video The Quilted Conscience, which happens to appear on NETV this month, so I tried re-cutting and re-contextualizing the outtakes of the film—a documentary about Sudanese girls quilting with women in Grand Island—but the video had already found its own form. At the same time, a friend of mine was curating a show of magic at the American Museum of the Moving Image and had shared a lot of clips with me. Surely Nebraska had magicians, I thought, and I Googled away, discovering David P. Abbott (no relation to Grace and Edith Abbott, pioneers of child welfare who inspired the Quilted Conscience film), who hosted many magic notables, including Houdini, at his House of Magic in Omaha's Field Club neighborhood. (I've just discovered the Omaha World-Herald had a great piece on him this past June.)
In the poem I’ve linked Abbott’s trick, “The Talking Tea-Kettle,” with his bête noire—mediums—and my mother's death, an African decapitation, and the computer world. After I finished editing the piece, I contacted a number of magicians for permission to use their stills and one of them related a funny story about Christ and the Tea-Kettle, which I added as voiceover to the end. Finally, I converted the script into a poem and it won a prize in Narrative magazine.