“Scranton Lace”: 5 Minutes with Margot Douaihy and Bri Hermanson

Your poetry collection, Scranton Lace, is very specific in its invocation of place. Why write about the Scranton Lace factory?

Margot: Scranton Lace is the confluence of my aesthetic interests in obsession, narrative verse, and interarts collaboration. It begins with a landmark, the Scranton Lace Works. Like most factories of that ilk, it was built for a specific purpose: to make lace and fine textiles. When the factory closed in 2002, after more than 100 years of operation, it was as if time stopped. “Keep Out” signs were erected. But if you crept up close or snuck inside, as I did, life in The Lace was eerily on pause. It was empty, but it was neither living nor dead. In its state of abandonment, the factory began to take shape as metaphorical framework in which I could explore my internalized homophobia—a structure I had erected in my youth as self-protection but no longer need. As I drafted verse about The Lace, starting with her architecture—rooms, looms, and spaces in-between—characters came to life and merged with my own memories. My goal with this book is to create an intimate yet expansive space for queer re-imagining. Leitmotif in the project are origin stories—the myths we own and the myths that own us. While the work is an examination of patterns, the process of creating Scranton Lace also felt like a necessary unraveling.

How did the difference between the Scranton Lace factory of the past and the Scranton Lace factory of the present show up in your poems?

Margot: The past and present spark and overlap in exciting ways. In my poems, Scranton is a known and unknown place. As news broke recently about the demolition of The Lace and the redevelopment of the complex into a live/work/art village, I’ve been wondering if there is such a thing as reinvention. Will it still be The Lace or will it be something else entirely? My challenge as the artist is capturing these competing tensions in poetic moments that also writhe and pulse with immediacy. I want these poems to drip with longing—the exquisite torture of grasping what is just out of reach.

How do both visual art and language conspire to evoke this sense of place in your work? How do your (Margot’s) words interact with your (Bri’s) illustrations? 

Bri: I use Margot’s verse and ideas as points of departure to craft images that deepen and expand the narrative. They may not always be literal depictions, but my goal is to add intrigue and texture to the in-between spaces. The illustrations offer visuals for the reader to engage with while also keeping the writing open to individual interpretations. These images also incorporate relief prints of lace that was originally created in the factory, physically rooting part of the artwork in Scranton and breathing new, reimagined life into the lace. In the case of the rosette poem, the illustration becomes part of the form itself; it weaves onto the text and shapes the way you can experience the words.

Margot: Place in my poetry is evoked by mood, lineation, dialogue, and atmosphere. It is the grit under fingernails. The smell of rust in the rain. The roll of fog at dawn. It can and should be an evocation as well as an invitation. Vernacularity and detail help immerse readers in a specific environment. Place should also hold space for discovery. Bri’s artwork is an important element of place and the overall narrative experience. Her scratchboard illustrations are created through a process that is like drawing in reverse. She scrapes the ink away, line by line. The materiality of her images complements and contrasts the intricate softness of textiles.

What are your thoughts about the planned redevelopment of the factory site, including the demolition of some factory buildings? 

Margot: The timing is interesting. The environmental remediation and demolition of The Lace (a complex of more than thirty buildings) began six months after this book was published. The book came to life as the factory prepared to die.

I will admit that I was crestfallen to learn that The Lace would be razed and redeveloped into housing, art, and retail space. It is selfish of me to mourn The Lace—like the death of a character. The craven part of me wants the factory to stay as it is in my memories and in the book, a trance of negative/positive space. Like a haunted house in reverse, I brought my ghosts to the Lace.

A new chapter for Scranton Lace is definitely something to celebrate, though. The Laceworks Village is a project that is “turning the abandoned blighted area into a new urban village.” While I am cautioned by the use of the term gentrification in their marketing materials, I hope this initiative will contribute to the economic development of Scranton. (Learn more here.)

The dismantling of the Lace factory has made me reflect on my practice. While the redevelopment might inform the way readers interpret the art, I hope the emotional life of the poems gives the book an element of timelessness. Ultimately, I strive to create art that contributes to an evolving conversation.