Tag Archives: familial

At the Landing / an interview with poet Jessica Goodfellow

At the Landing

by Jessica Goodfellow

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First published by FIVE:2:ONE Magazine 2018.

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Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout, Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She was a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Awl, The Southern Review, Motionpoems, and Best New Poets, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2018.

Jessica says of her style, “My educational background is in analytical fields, and I think that shows in my poems—they tend toward the abstract, festooned with logic games and scientific and mathematical vocabulary. I’d like very much to write something with less of an obvious anchor, with more trust in the unconscious tether to the conscious mind. I try to do that—I think it’s important to try to write outside of your comfort zone—but so far, I haven’t succeeded.”

Bekah and Jessica’s work—including the visual poem above—both recently appeared in #thesideshow at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine. We wanted to know more about Jessica and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~ Tell us a little about “At the Landing.” What was the source material for this piece? What made you choose the stamps?

A~I call each erasure by the title of the short story it came from. I chose Eudora Welty’s short story collection, The Wide Net (Harcourt Brace, 1971), as my source material from the many books on my bookshelf because it has such an evocative vocabulary and also because there was a lot of space between the lines, making it easy to work with on a practical level. I have a box full of international stamps that I’ve been saving for some future project yet unconceived, and one of the erasures I worked on reminded me of a stamp I knew I had. After that I just tried putting them on different erasures, looking for stamps that were thematically relevant. I thought it was pretty unique, but I’ve since seen that Mary Ruefle has used this technique before.

Q~What appeals to you about erasure/visual poetry?

A~This is my first foray into erasure poetry. At the time I erased this piece, my mother-in-law was staying with us for end-of-life care, and I found that though I had vast swaths of free time while she slept, the need to be on-call at all times meant I couldn’t get into the writing space in my head. So, I decided to try erasure instead, and that worked really well for me, possibly because the act of erasing mimicked the experience I was having as I watched my mother-in-law dying, disappearing slowly.

Q~So sorry for your loss. Your new book, Whiteout, is also about loss. I am fascinated to hear more about the book and your experience as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. How did that come about?

A~My most recent book is about my uncle who was a mountain climber. He died on Denali in what was, at the time, the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. I applied to be a writer-in-resident in the park in order to finish that book. I stayed in a one-room cabin out by the Toklat River, with only my sister. We were in the park (Denali National Park and Preserve) for 10 days. Being there gave me an understanding of why my uncle was compelled to do such a dangerous thing as climb Denali. Wandering around the vast park, feeling completely alone in the wild, going places we knew he had been, was profoundly moving. We were there 49 years and one week after he was lost—watching the sun wheel around the sky instead of set in the evening, I knew he had seen that, too. For the park I wrote a series of poems as an artistic donation. They say better than I am doing now what my experience was. Here is one:

The Wandered

My sister’s drawn to clean-edged kettle ponds,
learning how to tell which pools were formed in basins
left behind by glaciers, and which weren’t.

I’m captivated by erratics, empty-house-sized
boulders stranded in a strange land by ice
that melted out from underneath them.

Erratic comes from the Latin errare,
meaning to wander, to stray, to err. We are
not wrong, my sister and I, to feel kindred—

kin and dread—with what remains after
a mammoth force, no longer visible,
has carved out such a tattered landscape.

You can read the others here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/getinvolved/air-goodfellow.htm  Only “Nine Views of Denali” is in my book, because I wanted the park to have some original work not from the book. “The Wandered” is the one I most regret not putting in the book. Kettle ponds are formed by retreating glaciers carving out grooves in the landscape, and leaving meltwater. Erratics are giant boulders that were carried along by glaciers and deposited in a location where they seem out of place–they don’t match the surroundings because they didn’t come from there–many of them may have come from a mountain. Denali National Park and Preserve is dotted with both kettle ponds and glaciers.

Q~ Is there any online resource you would recommend for anyone thinking about a project book, like Whiteout?

A~The Cloudy House is a website of interviews with poets who’ve written project books, curated by poets Cynthia Marie Hoffman and Nick Lantz. If you are interested in project books, or want to know what one is; if you are curious about how having a project affects the writing process and later the marketing; if you wonder what kind of topics end up as project books, and whether a poet starts out with a project in mind or notices one is arising later—topics such as these—the interviews here are useful and fun to read.

Q~Your poetry has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share? 

A~Your poetry should surprise you, but it won’t much of the time. That’s okay. Just keep sitting with it until it does. It takes a long, long time to write the words that are the right words. A short poem can take months. Don’t give up, and don’t get impatient and publish something before it is truly surprising to you. Read everything aloud—the part that you want to rush through is the part that you need to keep working on. 

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

 A~Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety is a quirky journal featuring smart, unusual poetry. Even the format of the journal is quirky (see their website for examples http://www.forkliftohio.com/ ), and with a print copy comes random pieces of ephemera, such as an envelope of seeds for planting or an old key fob from a hotel. Fresh writing, a little bit askew—there is nothing like it. This journal knows what it likes and doesn’t apologize for its slightly off-kilter aesthetic. From their guidelines (known as their logistics page) come these two pieces of info (plucked from among many others): 1) “[we] Fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion;” and 2) “[we] Include, besides poetry, such diversions as recipes, agricultural wisdom, home economics lessons, and other bits of nonsense.” How are you not going to love this journal? 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now, I’m rereading Natasha Sajé’s Vivarium. I love this book—it’s the right amount of cerebral for me. The poems are built around the alphabet and as with all good constraints, the alphabet fetishization inspires a certain meandering that is unexpected and mesmerizing. I’m also reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s dark and disturbing novel, The Sympathizer, for my book club.

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene?

A~I live in Kobe, Japan, and there isn’t much of a poetry scene in English here (I don’t write poetry in Japanese). A couple of times a year there is a reading series event, but it’s any kind of writing in English, and more often than not it isn’t poetry. But, I attend and have been invited to read several times. I also belong to a group of poets around Japan writing in English who do a linked poem project. We each write a single stanza with given parameters and constraints, and pass it to the next poet who uses our stanza for inspiration, and that’s a lot of fun. It tends to be seasonal, in the Japanese tradition. There’s also the annual Japan Writers Conference that I attend about half the time. Mostly though, I’m on my own as a poet here.

Q~How has living abroad changed you as a writer?

A~I get asked this question often, and I have to say that I don’t particularly write about Japanese themes. Local imagery and the occasional Japanese word or phrase will show up in my poems, but I don’t specifically seek to dwell in the experience of living here—I leave that to other writers, while I tend to be interior in my work, and so only the part of Japan that penetrates my interior identity appears in my work. However, living here means a certain amount of isolation—from the poetry scene back home, from native speakers who comprehend my words without effort, from society at large here in this place where my foreignness is the most important aspect of me to nearly everyone I interact with—and that gives me more time and space to write than I imagine I would otherwise have. Also, my sense of being an outsider is heightened and continual, which I think is good for any kind of art even while it may not always be good for the private life of the individual artist.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work? 

A~I’ve linked to most of my online publications on my website. My erasures aren’t listed there, but here are journals where you can see more erasures: Star 82 Review, Thrush Poetry, Calamus, and decomP. On Facebook, I’m Jessica Goodfellow Ueno, and my Twitter handle is @jessdragonfly.

Whiteout Front Cover

 

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When Trying to Return Home / an interview with poet Jennifer Maritza McCauley

When Trying to Return Home

by Jennifer Maritza McCauley

In the morning, I leave a panaderia on SW 137th
and a Miami browngirl sees my face
and says de dónde eres Miami or Not?
And I say Not, because I live in this blue city now
but she means where are your  parents from
and I tell her I have a Daddy who is Lou-born
and coal-dark and looks like me and I have a Mami
who is from Puerto Rico and looks like the trigena
in front of us who is buying piraquas for her yellow children.

The browngirl says eres Latina at least, and I say at least
in English. I look down at my skin, which is black, but
smells blue by the shores of Biscayne. She thinks my skin could
speak Spanish, a los menos. I want to tell the browngirl I was not born
by ocean rims or white-scuffed waves. I was not born
beside browngirls who speak Miami’s itchy Spanish. I was born
where my culture rarely bloomed—amongst Northern steel-dust and
dead skies, where my two-colored parents stuck out at any
Pittsburgh party. I want to tell her, I would love to be the type of girl
that says soy de Somewhere and everyone says, “Girl, I see”
or “you’re una de las nuestras
or “you belong.”

I want to tell her, you are right, in this blue city, I look like everybody
and everybody looks like me, and this is the thing I’ve always wanted:
to be in a crowd where nobody remembers my skin. I’ve wanted
this when I was a child, amongst grey buildings and steel-dust
where they called me unloved and weird-colored but here, mija,
I smell like blue and people who look like Mami can say funny
things like at least, at least.

Instead, I smile at the browngirl and she does not smile back.
Instead she says, in Spanish: If you are Latina, you should be so,
speak Spanish to me. And I say, in English: Yes, I could
but I am afraid, and she laughs in no language and judges me.

I want to tell her the history of my family-gods. They are rainforest-hot,
cropland-warm, dark with every-colored skin. They have mouths
that sound like all kinds of countries. I want to tell her these gods
live wild and holy in me, in white and blue cities where my skin
is remembered or forgotten, in cities where I am always one thing, or
from anywhere.

I want to tell the browngirl this while she turns and walks off.
I want to tell her that when she came to me, thinking I was hers
in that moment we were together,

at least.

First appeared in Aspasiology 2016.

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Jennifer Maritza McCauley teaches at the University of Missouri, where she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing. She is also Contest Editor at The Missouri Review and poetry editor at Origins Literary Journal. She has received fellowships from the NEA, CantoMundo, and Kimbilio. Her work appears in PleiadesColumbia Journal, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. Her collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF is available from Stalking Horse Press.

Jennifer says her style “depends on the subject matter, the genre I’m writing, or the speaker.” She says, “I enjoy free-verse and experimental poetry and I’m drawn to prose poem/lyric essay hybrids. With fiction or non-fiction, I like my narrative voice to fit the environment I’ve created. I generally have an interest in the pop and snap of language, and the intense focus on an image. I love playing around with linguistic mash-ups. My real-life voice code-switches often, and that impulse is reflected in my writing, I’m sure.”

Bekah and Jennifer connected after a review of Jennifer’s new collection, SCAR ON/SCAR OFF, appeared in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. We wanted to know more about this fellow Missouri poet and her writing, so here is our interview with Jennifer.

Q~Tell us a little about “WhenTrying to Return Home.” How is it representative of your work?

A~I’m interested in narrative poetry, how a poem moves, and how color holds literal and metaphorical meaning. In this poem, I wanted to tell multiple stories that explore the intersections of Afro-Latinidad, and issues of belonging, race, and cultural displacement.

Q~Did this poem come easily or was it hard to write? Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~It took some time! I wasn’t sure if I was ready to write about my own cultural disconnections yet. I was reading poetry that forced me out of my comfort zone, namely Nancy Morejon, and Cherrie Moraga, who are fearless. A few months later, I was asked to write a poem for Aspasiology in tribute to the wonderful poet Raquel Salas Rivera. I was inspired by Rivera’s poem  “suprasegmentacionalidades,” which has this terrific line “you are so much more than your translation. My jumping off point was thinking about how we are “more than our translation.” “When Trying to Return Home” (slowly) emerged soon after.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Scattershot! Some pieces come out fast, others take years. I like writing late at night, and during writing sessions I warm up by reading something completely unrelated to my creative leanings. I’m a day-reader, and a night writer, unless I have a deadline. During the day, I’ll usually read work that is related to my research, composition exams, or creative writing. When I have a writing session, and I’m especially stuck, I like to read a short bit of something, but preferably unrelated to my project, sonically or subject-wise. I like my brain clear of direct influences. It might be a weird process, but the tension between me trying to figure out some problem on the page myself versus reading something unrelated to the project, helps me find my voice purely and gets the creative juices flowing. And most literature channels the human experience, so regardless I find access points and inspiration.

Before I started writing my historical novel, for example, which is set in the South during the Reconstruction Era, I spent much of my time reading as much Southern and period lit as I could, while doing on-site research and poring over history texts. During the actual writing sessions, when I hit a wall, I’d read Ezra Pound, Percival Everett or Pynchon. Completely unlike how I write and generally unrelated to the book. Before I write fiction, I often read poetry and vice versa. Many of the poems in SCAR ON/SCAR OFF I wrote at various times over the past few years, but before the actual writing sessions, I remember reading Lao Tzu passages,Octavia Butler interviews and Stanisław Lem, to name a few. I encourage my students to read outside of their interests, and I like doing the same. This isn’t a set rule for me during the writing process, but I find the trick helpful.

Q~In the review of your book in the Post Dispatch, they said you illustrate “with lyrical resonance how deeply intertwined family and social history can be.” Can you talk a little bit about the importance of this to you?

A~A through-line in my work, and especially in SCAR ON/SCAR OFF is how history, political landscapes, and familial ties influence who we become. I also like using poetry and lyric essays to explore subjects that are intensely personal to me. In this book, I wanted to examine how our ancestors, cultural communities and our connections to them reveal why we have scars, and how we heal them. It was important to me to pick apart my relationship to the collective, the personal, and the familial.

Q~Why did you choose the title, SCAR ON / SCAR OFF?

A~The title is a reference to the Rosa Parks quote: “Have you ever been hurt and the place tries to heal a bit, and you just pull the scar off of it over and over again.” The “you” and the “place” in that quote haunted me. Who the “you” and what the “place” of hurt could be, reflexively, generally and specifically. In Parks’ life, in the lives of my family, friends and communities, and in my life. I thought about why scars show up on our bodies, and when. We can ignore them, but still know they’re there. We can willfully pick at them or let them heal. The process of acknowledging, feeling bound to, or ignoring our pasts is its own kind of strength because we are taking back our agency. And, the scars that haunt our bodies might not be our own.

I was working on an essay about not liking my name and being distantly related to Rosa Parks and when I found that quote, I was inspired. My late friend, Monica A. Hand, wrote brilliantly about how the women we look up to linger forever in our lives in her poem “dear nina.” Her quote “The women I am from are wild; beautiful/This is what I know/When Lucille died, I tell my grand daughter/We are like Lucille trouble in the waters can’t kill us…” addresses scar-sharing and love, and the regenerative, healing power of connecting with our families, heroes, and children. The Parks and Hand quotes are epigraphs in the book. So, the title references ideas I wanted dig into in this collection.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Pablo Neruda, because my mother used to read his poetry to me as a kid, in Spanish and English. Toni Morrison, because her novels are like a tight hug; her prose is poetic.

Q~You’ve had a lot of experience editing literary journals including being a contest editor for the prestigious Missouri Review. What insights can you offer from this perspective?

A~I’ve been fortunate to work for journals with editors who give their staff, writers, and collaborators a great deal of creative space. In the editorial roles I’ve inhabited (The Missouri Review, Origins Literary Journal, Gulf Stream Magazine, The Florida Book Review, Sliver of Stone, and Fjords Review), there has been a genuine interest in developing the journal with the times, while maintaining a cohesive vision.

Working at The Missouri Review has been special. As Contest Editor, I coordinate our two annual contests, and, in the past, I’ve read general submissions and conducted audio interviews. Our editor Speer Morgan has a deep love for literature and enjoys talking to people about their day-to-day lives just as much as he loves reading. The whole staff is excited about what we publish and the submissions we read; it’s a fun, productive place to work.

Every journal has a different process for acceptance, and a unique vision for each issue. The Missouri Review has been around since 1978, and we get about 12,000 submissions per year. Submissions go through several rounds of review with interns and senior staff before they are published, and each contest has its own review procedures. There are many pieces that are almost accepted, but don’t make it for whatever reason. We don’t have room for everything we love, but writers who don’t get into TMR or place in the contest, often get into the journal later. We enjoy publishing unpublished, up-and-coming, and established writers. At the core Speer wants the essay, story, or poem to have an “about-ness” to it, that it can be analyzed from different angles and has something interesting to say about the human condition. At Origins, which is edited by the marvelous Dini Karasik, we like stories, poems, and essays that directly explore how identity and upbringing inform a literary work. I’m happy I worked for every literary journal I have, and I always encourage writers to read submissions for a magazine, literary agency or publishing house, even temporarily. You learn a lot about your own writing from the experience. And submit, submit, submit!

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What are some literary gems you feel deserve more attention? Why will we love them?

The Missouri Review is currently looking for submissions for our 11th annual audio contest, judged by Avery Trufelman. (Deadline, March 15). Origins Literary Journal is looking for submissions in all genres. Some of my other favorite journals are Pleiades, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, LunaLuna, Glass Poetry, Kenyon Review, PANK, Vinyl, Kweli, Chicago Quarterly Review,  The Journal, Sliver of Stone, Fjords Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, and TriQuarterly. My amazing friend Ashley M. Jones, is looking for submissions from Southern writers at Southern Humanities Review. These journals take an interest in writers from all backgrounds and styles, and the work they publish is consistently engaging.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~My book is available on Stalking Horse Press’s website, on Amazon.com. Links to my work are on my website. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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