Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jacquelyn Malone: A writer of historical verse and poetry of memory lost.

Jacquelyn Malone

Jacquelyn Malone:  A writer of historical verse and poetry of memory lost.By Doug Holder

 Jacqueline Malone has recently written a historical verse novel, and a collection of poetry dealing with her father’s dementia. In many ways she uses research in her creative writing to bring back the memory of the past, and in her new poetry collection she explores the existential crisis of loss of memory and loss of the “self.”

  Malone has been a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship grant in poetry. Her work has appeared in Poetry Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Cortland Review, and Poetry Northwest. The poem published in the Beloit Journal was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. One of the poems published in Poetry was featured on the website Poetry Daily. Her chapbook All Waters Run to Lethe was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011.  She is the editor and writer for

Doug Holder: You are editor for the website for the Mass. Poetry Festival.  Tell us about your work.

Jacquelyn Malone: Yes. I have been doing it for about two years. It reminds me a great deal of what I did for IBM and Lotus. And that is to make a homepage story that is interesting. I get a lot of stories about the Mass. Poetry Festival up as the event comes closer. I created a series “ The State of Poetry.” And what I find interesting about everyone who writes for it (and there are 14 all together so far) is that everyone has a different sense of what the state of poetry is. I loved learning how different people viewed poetry years ago vs. now. There is an interesting essay from a poet in Western Mass. about the small press and reading scene in that part of the state. We have had such well-known poets as Richard Hoffman, Jennifer Jean , January O’Neil, Charles Coe and others in this essay series.

DH: I read somewhere that you studied poetry with Louise Gluck. How was she as a teacher?

JM: She was very good. I had her my last semester at Warren Wilson. I worked with a lot of accomplished faculty. You had to write a contract about what you were going to do during the semester. I studied with Stephen Dobyns, and well as Gluck, and they both had very different ideas about what makes good poetry. For instance: Dobyns wanted to know how the poem went from here to there, and Gluck would feel you didn't that detail. So it was great...very challenging.

DH: You wrote a historical verse novel “James and Lottie.” It concerns the founding mother and father of Nashville, Tennessee.

JM: Yes. James Robertson and his wife Lottie led the first settlers from the mountains in North Carolina to the Cumberland River in the 1770s. This was about 250 miles if you went overland. The women went by the river route that was supposed to be easy--but they didn't expect the whirlpools, rapids, small pox, Indian attacks, etc...

DH: Why did you choose this to write about?

JM: I am from Tennessee.  I chose it because as a kid I would vaguely hear these stories and never really paid  attention, until all the people I could have asked about it were dead. Then I happened to be in the state archives in Nashville, and started read these journals about this time and the perilous journey these people undertook.

DH: You also explore in this novel how cultural differences and misunderstanding can spark brutality.

JM: When I first became interested I was primarily interested in the women, and what it must of been like to be a mother of two of three children and traveling to a place where you couldn't use a wagon and you had to ride on horseback, and all all the hardships it evoked. Later I became interested in the relationship between James Robertson and the Cherokee Indian chief, Attakullakullah. They got along well...the chef having been to England and fairly literate and Robertson was a very literate man. But things didn't turn out well in the end. The chief's son realized that if the white man came over the mountain it was the end of the Indian way of life.

DH: What are the challenges of writing historical verse?

JM: First of all I read a lot of novels in verse. The challenge is to lead people through the story and not be monotonous. I was very influenced by Christopher Logue  who sort of re-created the Iliad.  It was wonderful-- full of great dialogue--it made quite an impression on me.

DH: You have a new book of poetry  "Playbill for the Gray One." This deals with your father's Alzheimer's Disease.

JM: Yes. There are so many elements of Alzheimer's besides loss of memory. There are personality changes--depression--anger. It was hard to say when it started with my father. My mother reported that he was doing strange things like putting mail in the refrigerator. My brother and I thought my mother was exaggerating. And then one day my parents came  to visit. We all played Scrabble. And he put down the word "puppet" but instead of starting with a "P"--he started with a "T." My daughter laughed and he picked up the card table and threw it in the air. He was furious. And he always had been this gentle man. He still retained certain things. He would tell stories that didn't make sense at all--but he would still have the cadences, etc...of a storyteller.

DH:  In your poetry book you have a scene out of Hamlet-- and your father is a player of sorts in it. He has an existential crisis of being.

JM:  There are 8 segments to that poem, and the segment you discuss he plays Hamlet's father. He is a puppet also. He goes on stage after the guard says: " Who goes there?" The play ends when my father can't say whether he is king, a player, a fool, etc...

A Quantum Elegy
                                                                for E.K. Malone  1940 - 1986

Each seed drifts toward the windshield like a daytime star
or a floating aura around an invisible force.
They lift with the airstream, riding it the length
of the hearse. The train of cars approaching the hillside
hardly disturbs the peaceful procession
of wave on wave of dandelion puffs, one wave
at a time over one grave after another.
They pass the stone wall and flow down the pasture
alongside black and white cows, the rolling hills
green and pink with spring, the seeds
lifting and falling on their way to rest.

O let one of them be that invisible mass
that can become motion and speed backward in time.
Let it — genius of the corporeal world — move me
to an earlier spring where inside a barnyard fence
a brother and sister vie to scatter first
the dandelion heads we each hold;
in the backward flow of time, let the scattered seed
return to each head. For a moment —
o quantum dream — let regeneration wait
while at this graveside we each indulge ourselves
in the fantasy that memory isn’t all we have.

                        Published in Poetry Northwest..

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