Saturday, March 19, 2016

Poet Jennifer Barber and her “Works on Paper.”

Jennifer Barber

Poet Jennifer Barber and her “ New Works on Paper.”

Interview with Doug Holder

Poet Jennifer Barber is the founder of Salamander magazine based at Suffolk University in Boston, and the author of a number of poetry collections. Her latest collection is “Works on Paper.” We discusses her new book and other aspects of her rich and varied career on my Somerville Community Access TV show: “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Salamander used to be based at your home. Now it has been at Suffolk University in Boston for a number of years. How have things changed for the magazine since its transition?

Jennifer Barber: Well-- my dining room table has been cleared of manuscripts. We can actually eat on it. Being at Suffolk has been great for us in a number of ways. I have a managing editor who helps me now. We have a budget from Suffolk—that makes things much more stable. And of course office space makes a big difference.

When I started the magazine I had recently graduated from the MFA program at Columbia University. I loved the work of my fellow students but I did not see any of it in journals at the time. So I started the journal to see their work more often. We started out mostly with writers from New York and New England. Now it has expanded and we get work from around the country.

DH: Who do you have in the current issue?

JB: We have selections from Martha's Collins new poetry collection “Admit One: An American Scrapbook.” We have two poems from Gail Mazur who founded the Blacksmith House Poetry Series. We have an emphasis however on newer writers. One that comes into mind is Jessica Greenbaum—she regularly appears in The New Yorker.

DH: Has the magazine helped your career in any way?

JB: I think it has helped my writing. As you know, when you edit a journal you see a lot of manuscripts. At one point I think I was letting myself get away with things stylistically. So after seeing some really fine manuscripts, I was inspired to make my work stronger. I started the magazine when my son was very young, and I was isolated from a lot of writers in the area. So through the magazine I became friends with poets like Fred Marchant—the founder of the Poetry Center at Suffolk University.

DH: I have noticed you won a grant from the St. Botolph Foundation for translation.

JB Yes. I translated the work of Emilio Prados-- a contemporary of Lorca. After the Spanish Civil War he went to Mexico. He published his own work and those of his contemporaries. I loved his work--especially the poems about the Southern landscape of Spain. In general, I love Romance Languages. Back in the 80s I lived in Spain with my husband, who is a translator and fiction writer. So I was immersed in the culture and language.

DH: Are you competitive with your husband?

JB: No—not now anyway. We critique each others work. And he never questions the time and commitment I put into writing because he is a writer himself.

DH: I noticed your new collection is dedicated to your late father?

JB: Yes—he passed in 2014. In his later years he took classes on poetry. He was in the lighting business for many years. But he had many interests that he pursued. I remember that we had a lot of books around our house and my mom used to read to us all the time.

DH: You got your MFA at Columbia University. Who did you study with? Who made an impression on you?

JB: Well I took workshops with Dan Halpern, and Stanley Kunitz to name a few. I really love Stanley. He was inspiring... he got to the essence of poetry.

DH: Has poetry changed you?

JB: When I was young Emily Dickinson really had an effect on me. I loved her intensity... what she did with a few short lines.

DH: You seem to be hyper-aware in your poems. I saw that in a number of poems in your collection—one that concerned a falcon that was killing a pigeon, and another about the anticipation of the onset of rain.

JB: I am very aware—the rain, nature, etc... I think it is part of being a poet.

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