Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jehanne Dubrow

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Stateside (Northwestern University Press 2010), which describes her experiences as a "milspouse." Her first book, The Hardship Post (2009), won the Three Candles Press Open Book Award, and her second collection From the Fever-World, won the Washington Writers' Publishing House Poetry Competition (2009). Finishing Line Press published her chapbook, The Promised Bride, in 2007.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I admit it. During the school year, much of my reading coincides with whatever class I happen to be teaching or whatever I’m planning to teach next. For instance, at the moment I’m in week fourteen of a course called “War Poetry in the 20th and 21st Centuries.” I fell in love with Bruce Weigl’s work while my students were making their way through the anthology, From Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath, edited by Philip Mahony. In fact, I was so crazy about Weigl’s poetry that I went out and bought his book What Saves Us. In the title poem, the speaker describes the night before his deployment to Vietnam; he had hoped to finally sleep with his girlfriend as a send-off gift but, instead, learns that we can’t always anticipate what “will save us.” The poem is both erotic and terrifying: “People die sometimes so near you, / you feel them struggling to cross over, / the deep untangling, of one body from another.”

My other confession is that I often read more for research than for fun. Right now, I’m working on two book projects. The first is a collection of poetry about my teenage years in the Eastern Bloc. Quite by accident, I came across Charity Scribner’s Requiem for Communism, a very lucid scholarly account of Eastern Europe post-1989. In many of her essays, Scribner focuses on cultural artifacts like Andrej Wajda’s films about the Solidarity movement. She uses such texts to demonstrate the ways in which artists and intellectuals respond to political oppression.

I’ve also been reading Mark Yakich’s The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine. Yakich is a scary-smart poet. I especially admire poems like “Adorno” and “An Untenable Nostalgia for Chernobyl,” where he critiques sentimentality, trauma, and the (mis)use of history in art. At the end of “Adorno” he writes, “never be content with / The aphorisms of poetry or Auschwitz.” Theodor Adorno famously said that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” Here, Yakich interrogates not only the philosopher’s injunction against writing poetry but also the ways in which poets have tried to challenge Adorno. We should question any language that rolls off the tongue too easily, that is too pat or perfectly packaged.

My second work-in-progress is a collection of linked essays about my experiences as a military wife. When I finished writing the poems in Stateside, I realized that I wasn’t yet done with the subject of “milspouse” life. There were still other stories I wanted to tell, not as poems but as prose. So, I’ve been reading a lot of creative nonfiction. I’ve just started Alison Buckholtz’s memoir, Standing By: The Making of a Military Family in a Time of War. I’m interested in the book’s perspective because, like me, Buckholtz falls into the category of a “nontraditional” military wife. I’m also rereading Lia Purpura’s exquisite book, On Looking. These lyrical essays, with their precise metaphors and vivid images, demonstrate why so many poets are able to make the leap from verse to nonfiction. Purpura’s essay, “Autopsy Report,” is worth the price of admission alone. After watching a day of autopsies performed in the morgue, Purpura steps outside to discover that “everything looked as it always had—bright and pearly, lush and arterial after the rain.”
Read "Against War Movies" and sample other poems by Jehanne Dubrow, and visit her website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue