When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
My first encounter with poetry was reading poems written by children in the 6th grade. I transcribed my favorites into a booklet that was bound using a hole-puncher and colored yarn. I painted a water-color paisley design on the cover. The experience was sensual and pleasurable. I wrote a few poems in high school, but my classroom experience with poetry made me turn and run. My English teacher had us analyze the imagery of the Romantic poets, a clinical dissection with a blunt instrument that destroyed both romance and poetry. I avoided poetry for years, opting to read and write fiction. It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that poetry opened up for me again. A friend at work was writing poems, and she shared some of them with me during our lunch break. Suddenly poetry became something living, breathing, palpable. I decided to sign up for an adult education workshop, began writing poems, and haven’t turned back.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Working full time, it’s hard to carve out the time I’d like for writing. I set aside time on Fridays for my "date with the muse," when my schedule is freer, or on other days when I can find a few hours. I can write anywhere, on anything available—at the computer or on paper, lined or unlined; with fancy pen or basic Bic; inside at my desk or outside under a tree when the weather permits. Once I begin writing I’m absorbed fully and can shut out everything else. I usually begin by free-writing to see what’s on tap. Often I'm surprised by what I find. That's part of the satisfaction, the surprise of not knowing what will be there. If I'm lucky, there's a part of my mind that opens and delivers the goods. Sometimes there's nothing to work with, and I try to be okay with that.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
My poems come from images, observations, fragments of memory or feeling. Sometimes I wake up with an image—for example, the cracked bathroom sink came to me last night as something to write about. I’m not sure what it means, but I find if I trust the process I’m likely to find something there to work with.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
It’s hard to say which writers have influenced me the most. Sharon Olds first showed me it was possible to be brave and write intimately. Louise Gluck's The Wild Iris, with its strange and haunting poems that give language to flowers, opened a door for me, though I don't know that I can describe that door. Mark Doty, who I got to hear recently, enthralls with his gorgeous poems that turn human experience into a musical outpouring. Like all poets, I find it thrilling to discover new writers and new ways of using language.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Samsara, from the Sanskrit, refers to the ever-turning wheel of life, the journey of birth, life, death, and rebirth that repeats itself. In putting the manuscript together, themes of cycles and circularity emerged. Some explore generational patterns, while others take up cycles of nature and chains of societal violence. Bicycle wheels spin circles into fields; love is reborn at the circus; “nomadic atoms” become the dusty shtetl of ancestors. The cover photo, taken by my husband of a Hawaiian fern just before it unfurls, captures something of these themes.
Jennifer reading "Laundry in April," from Samsara:
Laundry in April
We hang wool socks
from a clothesline in back of the shed.
Wring them with raindrops,
wring them some more.
Smooth grudges from collars. Touch every button.
Those swallows turning overhead?
We stop and listen. Make up a song
of handkerchiefs billowing.
Throw in some lines
about bluebells and a syllable for snow
melting slowly on our tongues.
Moth-bitten cardigan, crocheted
scarf with missing fringe? So be it.
The wind fills our pockets.
We fold undershirts
with lavender and forgiveness.