The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Jeannine Hall Gailey.
BT: It’s 9 p.m., are you…
a.) just putting the finishing touches on a poem?
b.) just beginning a poem?
c.) reading a poem?
d.) not even thinking about poetry?
JEANNINE: It's 9 PM, and I'm...probably reading or doing something business-y, like editing or grading. I don't usually start writing until 10 PM.
BT: As an undergraduate, I didn’t care too much for the poet Sylvia Plath; now, I can’t get enough of her work. Is there a poet that you didn’t like too much before, but enjoy now?
JEANNINE: I feel like I'm continually discovering new writers that I love, and learning more about former writers, like Wallace Stevens, like I liked, but wasn't sure why I liked. When I first read Marianne Moore, I wasn't crazy about her work, but the more I learned about her style and her life, the more I got into her work. I ended up writing a grad school paper on her poem "Marriage." Now I'm a huge fan, and she's inspired me in my research and experimentation with found poetry and syllabic verse.
BT: I love your poem The Taste of Rust in August— especially this line: "Our chain-link fence is rusty. I like to taste it –/that metallic clean I imagine to be the flavor/of lightning." How beautiful and so well-written! Did that line come to you all at once or little by little?
JEANNINE: Thanks so much! Gosh, it's been a while since I've written it, but I think that poem happened all at once. I would say my poems are fifty percent poems that happen all at once, and fifty percent poems I nibble on and fuss with for eight years.
BT: A starving artist appears on your doorstep: hungry for inspiration, thirsty for poetry— what do you feed him/her?
JEANNINE: Hmm, I'd probably throw the starving artist a variety: contemporary and ancient, experimental and traditional, all the writers that inspired me when I was first writing. How about Basho, Sappho, a little Louise Gluck or Margaret Atwood, a little E.E. Cummings, maybe T.S. Eliot's "Love Song..." In a practical application of this question, I've been having my students read a bunch of very different contemporary writers like Ilya Kaminsky, Tyehimba Jess, Matthea Harvey, Denise Duhamel, Oliver de la Paz, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil.
BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?
JEANNINE: Here are a few: Kelli Russell Agodon, Lana Ayers*, Eduardo Corral.
Jeannine Hall Gailey is the author of Becoming the Villainess, published by Steel Toe Books. Poems from that book were featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily; two were included in 2007’s The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review and currently teaches at the MFA program at National University. Her new book, She Returns to the Floating World, will be published by Kitsune Books in 2011.
*Since Jeannine Hall Gailey suggested three poets, I picked one out of the three to interview next.