Benjamin Vogt is a poet, essayist, gardener and longtime Friend of Rant. His work has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and has appeared in American Life in Poetry, the ISLE journal, Orion magazine, The Sun and on the website Verse Daily.
Read the last Garden Rant on 'The New American Landscape.'
Vogt’s Sleep, Creep, Leap is a memoir of three years in his 2,000-foot native prairie garden located in Lincoln, Neb. Like his other writing, it’s beautifully and thoughtfully crafted, and I’m pleased to see him apply his literary talents to gardening. I talked with Vogt about his new book:
I have this sense that you've been blogging about gardening for a long time—I remember you as one of the earliest consistent garden bloggers I was reading. So how long has it been, and what keeps you engaged in blogging?
I started in the summer of 2007 just after I got married and we moved into our house. The blog was mainly a way for me to keep a record of the garden and to write at least a few times a week. There are a ton of garden bloggers now, and I can’t even keep up with the ones I enjoy. But now that I have connected with others, well, that keeps me blogging—the community, the sharing of knowledge, the good stories, the complaining.
You've always struck me as someone who's a writer first. You're a poet and a memoirist, you've won literary awards, your degrees are in creative writing, and you’ve taught at the university. So how does gardening and the natural world become a subject for you? Is it a kind of framework other, broader issues you want to write about?
Yeah, I’m a writer first. But I do write about the environment. This book is about my garden most directly, and another unpublished memoir is about gardening with my mother in Minnesota and learning about her family and myself along the way, with asides on the history of landscape design.
A memoir I’m working on now deals with my family’s pioneer history in Oklahoma and the ecological issues of the Great Plains. I think working in the garden teaches me about how nature works in a more practical way than just writing about it—plus researching plants is a lot like researching a dissertation—twisted fun. Somewhere between the garden and the words I exist, which is a wonderful place to be.
Your new book is a memoir about your garden. I know from my experience that anytime you're writing about something that's true, you have all these creative challenges to deal with—other people in your life become characters, you have to find a plot and a narrative arc and so on. What was it like for you to take the actual events of your life and your garden and make a compelling story from them?
First we have to assume there is a compelling story. This is not a traditional memoir in the sense that it has a specific storyline or narrative arc with full character development. There are links along the way between the 40 or so essays, but I wanted this book to work more like a poetry collection—anyone can pick up where they want to and dive right in, but if you read it straight through you can get the garden as a story over three years. Some of the essays were blog posts first, but most were just snapshots of moments dug into and cultivated a little more, pun intended.
Has writing the book changed how you think about your garden?
Strangely enough, I now feel more distanced from it. Like it was a writing project itself, and I’m now looking forward to the next big thing—which I hope is an acreage I can convert to prairie. Pipe dreams.
Amy Stewart, a primary blogger at Garden Rant, is the award-winning author of five books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, all from Algonquin Books, including two New York Times bestsellers, Wicked Plants and Flower Confidential. Her new book is Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army and other Diabolical Insects. She lives in northern California, where she and her husband own an antiquarian bookstore and tend an unruly flock of hens in their backyard.