Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Jehanne Dubrow

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of four poetry collections, including most recently Red Army Red and Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2012 and 2010). 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.

Her poetry, creative nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in journals such as Southern Review, The New Republic, Poetry, Ploughshares, The Hudson Review, The New England Review, West Branch, Gulf Coast, Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Prairie Schooner, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

Recently I asked Dubrow what she was reading. Her reply:
The last time I wrote for the “Writers Read” blog, I was working on my fourth book, Red Army Red, a collection of poems about my childhood and adolescence in Cold War-era Poland; at the time, my reading list was full of books on the subject of Communism and the Iron Curtain. Now, I’m in the middle of drafting The Arranged Marriage, a book of prose poems that mythologizes my mother’s Jewish-Latina upbringing in Honduras, El Salvador, and southern Florida. Because I usually work in traditional forms like the sonnet or the villanelle, this new project has led me to study up on the history and craft of prose poetry.

Michel Delville’s The American Prose Poem has served as a great introduction. The book covers the development and establishment of the form within American poetics, including the influence of the avant-garde, the role of Modernism, and the connection between prose poetry and flash fiction.

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, edited by Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek, brings together contemporary prose poems with brief, self-reflective essays by the poets. I am a huge fan of writers writing about their own processes (such essays are like “Inside the Actor’s Studio” but for poets). In one of the chapters, poet Ray Gonzalez explains that “[t]ruth in prose poetry forces me to maintain the paragraph in a poetic atmosphere, while I attempt to break out of its boundaries.” Many of the writers included in this anthology examine the blocky shape of the prose poem, attempting to understand how these boxes of text can look the same on the page while creating tremendously diverse narratives, voices, and pictures of the world.

In addition to rereading Baudelaire’s iconic book of prose poems, Paris Spleen, as well as examples by Gertrude Stein, Allen Tate, Robert Hass, Charles Simic, Nin Andrews, and Sabrina Orah Mark, I’ve been spending a lot of hours with Allison Benis White’s collection Self-Portrait with Crayon. This book uses paintings and other pieces by Edgar Degas to speak about childhood, a mother who abandons her child, and the absence created by such maternal absence.

I love to work on several book manuscripts concurrently, moving back and forth between them in order maintain a fresh perspective and to avoid boredom. Right now, I’m writing what I call “meditative close readings” of poems by Philip Larkin. This project tries to make sense of how the writers whose words we love become an intimate part of our daily lives. So, I’ve been reading and rereading Larkin’s The Complete Poems, edited by Archie Burnett. This new edition brings together all sorts of poems and scribbles by Larkin that I’ve never read before, but it also offer useful critical commentary. I don’t intend my essays to function primarily as scholarly analyses of Larkin, but it’s important to study a scholar’s perspective of Larkin nonetheless.

Finally, I’ve been reading a book by my former poetry professor, Stanley Plumly. Posthumous Keats: A Personal Biography serves as one kind of model for what I hope to accomplish with Philip Larkin. Plumly’s study of the life of Keats is not only thoughtful and tremendously well-researched (Plumly spent twenty years working on this project) but it is also, as the title reminds us, a personal engagement with a fellow poet. So much of what poets do involves conversation, argument, debate, and communion with previous generations of poets. A poet doesn’t die, if we carry his words with us—in our pockets, in our mouths, in our memories.
Visit Jehanne Dubrow's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jehanne Dubrow (April 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue