Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Poet Jennifer Jean: A Poet with ‘Oceanic’ tastes
Interview by Doug Holder
Poet Jennifer Jean was born near the water in Venice Beach, California. Her mother often took her out on the water, and the water has been a player on her life stage. She now lives in Salem, Mass., a historic seaport with her husband and kids. So I guess you could say she has never been a fish out of water.
Jean who teaches writing at Salem State College, is an accomplished poet with work in Caketrain, California Review, North Dakota Quarterly and others. She is the author of two collections of poetry “In the War,” and “Fishwife Tales.” This enterprising bard is an instrumental player behind the Mass. Poetry Festival to be held May 13th and 14th in Salem, Mass. I spoke to her on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer”
Doug Holder: Your new collection “Fishwife Tales” uses marine creatures as a focal point. What was behind your choice to use these denizens of the deep?
Jennifer Jean: When I began the project I was in graduate school and I just got married. I felt I was going from my female world to unknown seas. I had a group of friends who stayed together like a group of fish. When I separated from the school—and I became married—which I am very happy with—at first my husband felt like an alien creature. The women’s community that I was from had a history—so much of my life was a female only life. I had so many people who were closer to me than my husband. But of course now we have a wealth of experience. But before I was living in my own mythos. I wanted to make that something that I could write about.
I identify with the water. I was born in Venice, California. My mom would take us out on the ocean all the time. So I have an affinity for water. The Fishwife is sort of born out of water. So when the character of the Fishwife comes out of the water for the Fisherman (Her husband) they obviously have a commonality.
DH: You have founded something called the Fishwife Music Project. Can you tell us about this?
JJ: Somehow the Fishwife poems lend themselves to music. I collaborated with a student from the Berkeley College of Music in Boston. She was inspired by the poems and wanted to put them to music.
DH: In the poem “Fishwife Advent” the fish or fish/woman seems to be sympathetic to the boat in the midst of a storm?
JJ: The Fishwife is in a woman’s form. She knows her husband is out in the storm. She changes into a half marine creature and half woman—and guides his boat to safety. She allows herself to be both fish and woman.
DH: You are a columnist for an art magazine “Art Throb” on the North Shore. Does your role of a poet play a role in your journalism?
JJ: To some extent, like poetry, every word counts in journalism. I am spitting bullets when I have to write prose on a deadline—and I teach Comp! I love the end result, but it is hard. I love “Art Throb’-it’s run by two young ladies—they are very tolerant of me!
DH: You teach Creative Writing at Salem State in Salem, Mass. What does the new breed of students bring to the plate?
JJ: The kids are more into form or meter in poetry. Hip Hop may have been a big influence. They are into internal rhyme. However they sometimes cannot reach the same depth with rhyme.
DH: Tell me about your involvement with the Mass. Poetry Festival?
JJ: I originally got involved through Stone Soup Poets. We brought the Festival from Lowell to Salem. Well, I live in Salem and so I am involved. I work closely with founder Mike Ansara and his assistant January O’Neil.