|March 1999||Café Society's Poetry News Update|
||For this issue,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview Jerry Jenkins.|
Jerry Harrison Jenkins has been writing poetry since 1993. He is a member of the Academy of American Poets and the Science Fiction Poetry Association, where his poetry has been nominated for the Association's Rhysling Award. His poetry has won numerous awards in individual and chapbook competitions, and has appeared in printed publications and anthologies such as The Formalist, The Lyric, Mobius, Echoes, Harp-Strings, Amelia, Cicada, The Piedmont Literary Review, Mail Call Journal, Poetry Monthly (U.K.), The Devil's Millhopper, The Fractal, Dark Planet, Pirate Writings, and Star*Line. His online publication credits include work in Octavo, Eclectica, Pyrowords, Avalon, Poetic Express, and Deep South.
|His chapbooks include AVIAN, Helionaut, Hamadryad's Passage,
Candle, Monks' Wine, Our Own Loving Kind, and Confluence (in
collaboration with Rosa Clement).|
He is a former Marine Corps officer with 26 years of service, including service in Vietnam., He recently retired from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he was Assistant Vice-President for Information Technology. He is a Sysop of the Poetry Forum on CompuServe, where he is the editor of the Compuserve Poetry Anthology.
|Poetry L & T:||Having read and enjoyed your work, Jerry, and knowing that you have won many poetry awards, I am surprised to learn that you only began to write poetry in 1993. What first inspired you to write poetry, that year?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||My father had died the year before, and he was the best storyteller I had known. I entered a period of reflection and self-assessment that convinced me to do something to extend and honor his and my mother's influence in my life. My mother is a poet and much of my appreciation of poetry comes from her work. Since I had always enjoyed reading poetry, I thought writing it might be a way to fulfill my goal. I joined an online poetry group on Compuserve that gave me the encouragement and the critical appraisal I wanted, and I've been at it ever since.|
|Poetry L & T:||Do you find that your Marine Corps experience, particularly in Viet Nam, inspires a lot of your poetry?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||It has influenced my poems, but not especially more than my other life experiences and interests. I write poems about that period of my life to satisfy my own impulses, but also in recognition that very little poetry has been written or published about the Vietnam conflict. It seems to me to be a gap in our literary record and an opportunity that should be recognized. I've tried in my poems to reflect the experiences of the combat infantryman in that conflict. But the institution of warfare, whatever the period in which it's fought, is an arena in which all humanity is on display, so I write about warfare in its historical and human context more than from personal experience.|
|Poetry L & T:||How did your association with the Science Fiction Poetry Association come about?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||I've been a lifelong fan of science-fiction and fantasy, and much of my poetry expresses those themes. One of my favorite SF stories is "Green Hills of Earth", by Robert Heinlein, a story that tells of the blind poet, Rhysling, who wanders from one spaceport to another, and carries the bardic tradition into the space age. I was seeking a market for some of my SF/fantasy poems, and in Poet's Market I came across the entry for Star*Line, the poetry magazine of the Association. When I read that it had named its annual poetry award after Rhysling, I knew it was a magazine I wanted to submit my work to, so I joined the SFPA.|
|Poetry L & T:||Can you share one of your science fiction poems here?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||I'd be glad to.
|Poetry L & T:||How did the collaboration with Rosa Clement come about, in the chapbook "Confluence"?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||Rosa and I have exchanged poetry for years. She's becoming one of Brazil's most popular and respected poets, and writes of the Amazon region which is her homeland. We share a respect for the poetic craft, and our poems often explore similar themes. One day as I was reviewing some of my poems, I remembered several of hers that wrote of the same subjects - of nature, loss, myth and wonder, and saw that our poems mutually complemented the other's work. I suggested to her that we collaborate, and she agreed. "Confluence", which denotes the joining of two rivers near Manaus, as well as the parallels and convergences in our poetic interests, was the result.|
|Poetry L & T:||When putting a chapbook together, do you normally work to a theme?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||Yes, almost always. The two exceptions I can think of are "Confluence", and one in which I assembled my favorites among my poems regardless of thematic unity. In the collections that feature a theme, one poem forms the centerpiece and a phrase from that poem, or its title, provides the title and concept for the collection. By the way - I recommend this method to other poets who are thinking of collecting their work. The process of assembling them into a coherent whole often points up the need for one or more new poems that will fill in the gaps and make the transition between poems already written. It's a good way to overcome writer's block, and it's a good way to assimilate, integrate and more fully appreciate the poems you've already written.|
|Poetry L & T:||What do you think is most important to remember, in putting a chapbook together?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||It depends on the purpose of the chapbook. If it's being submitted for a competition, then the competition itself will often impose some limits and guidance, and then, of course, you select the poems that best fit the competition standards. But when there are no imposed limits, then I believe it's important to select poems that will stand individually by saying something worthwhile. It's equally important that all the poems work together so that the collection itself transcends the content of the individual poems. I like to think of it as a process like star formation, in which the individual poems revolve around a central gravitational locus until they eventually achieve a density that ignites into fire and light as stars do. Both process and object are important in this effort.|
|Poetry L & T:||Which well-known poet do you most admire? Is there one, or do you prefer to name several?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||Those whose poems I'd take with me on a long and lonely trip between the stars are Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur, for their craft, William Butler Yeats, for his integration of myth into his work, Jorge Luis Borges, for the clarity and economy of his thought and the scope of his interests, Shakespeare (plays and poems) and W. H. Auden, for insight into humanity, Loren Eisely, an eloquent naturalist and humanist whose prose crosses over into poetry, and Ray Bradbury, perhaps the most poetic of SF writers.|
|Poetry L & T:||Do you find the work of other poets on newsgroups inspirational, sometimes?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||Not in the sense that those poems spark an enthusiasm or creativity that I might not have found elsewhere. Writing poetry can be done as well by deliberate decision and craft as it can be by the metaphysics of inspiration. On the newsgroups I participate in, there are some poets whose work is well-crafted, and that's always good to find. I've often found something to admire in the themes they select, their attention to workmanship, or the phrasing they use. But I also take encouragement from the example set by the determination of some poets to constantly improve their work, to seek criticism and honest reaction, and to help others. The poetry I read on web sites is more varied than on newsgroups, there's more of it, and consequently web sites rather than newsgroups are, for me, a rich companion source of poetry to the newsgroups and forums.|
|Poetry L & T:||Are there particular errors, in general, that you see some newsgroup poets making, or habits which are distracting from the message of a poem?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||The terms 'error' and 'poetry' and 'message' may be mutually exclusive, as they suggest that there's a right way and a wrong way to write poetry, and that poetry's major purpose is to send a signal. Poetry succeeds when it says something that others want to read, and says it in elegant ways that prose can't. Poems that have nothing to say except in self-referential terms can be useful if not carried to extremes, because they represent a point of departure for beginning poets. But it seems that many poets stop at that stage of their development and don't go beyond themselves into the larger world that interests their readers. Lack of attention to spelling, punctuation and grammar that convey and clarify meaning will always hinder even the best potential poems. Poems with deliberately or lazily obfuscated meaning enter the arena of appreciation with an unnecessary handicap. I like the philosophy of Leslie Mellichamp, the editor of The Lyric: "We have no compulsion to shock, embitter or confound our readers".|
|Poetry L & T:||You gave some interesting advice on the newsgroup recently, not to do, in poetry ezine design. A lot of it made perfect sense to me. Can you share a little of that advice here, for anyone thinking of setting up a poetry ezine?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||I believe I wrote that literary e-zines should recognize the importance of content and should employ good design ergonomics: avoid large slow-loading graphics, blinky lights, pulsing hearts, pursing lips, and marquees that have no clear justification, and instead of using technological gimmickry for its own sake, use it to support the presentation of content. Other considerations include reliability of the site (its URL remains constant), its editorial philosophy remains constant, its editors are accessible and honor the writer/editor symbiosis, its competitions and awards are founded on demonstrated excellence and integrity as demonstrated by promises made and kept in the rules and outcomes of the awards, and the like. I respect anyone who tries to set up an e-zine and keep it in business. Maintenance of a dynamic web site is difficult enough, and maintaining sites whose content changes frequently is especially demanding. Poetry print journals are always starting up and disappearing, and their online counterparts are even more fragile. The ones that succeed will be those that stabilize the relationship between reader, writer and editor.|
|Poetry L & T:||Finally, is there any advice you could give to any young person wishing to start writing poetry?|
|Jerry Jenkins:||Read a lot and read it as often as you can - poetry spans centuries and cultures, and what is being written today rests on a foundation of earlier poets. They have something worthwhile to say. Read them. When you write, write about what you know. It makes the job a lot easier. But there's more to it than that. The development of an appreciation for poetry will enrich your interpretation of your own life experiences. Finally, be your own worst critic. Try not to post a poem until you've made it the best you can make it, even if you have to rework it several times before it sees the light of day. Your readers will recognize and appreciate that effort, and your readers are what it's all about.|
|Poetry L & T:||Thank you for the interview, Jerry.|
MORE OF JERRY'S POEMS:
© Jerry Jenkins
As published in Eclectica Webzine Vol 1 # 12
Late day shadows crawl across the gorge,
You bear no souvenirs, no farewell gift
of ancestry. What joys moved in you,
back to remembered trees' enfolding green,
and still we look for something past ourselves.
Lead me home.
MOTH IN A THUNDERSTORM
The thunderstorm moved slowly to its mooring,
It opened its bomb-bay doors, unleashed the strike,
The earth was saturated. Down and down,
Hail plunged in a white artillery.
A lone moth fluttered upward from the lawn,
It slowly climbed aloft through pelting hail.
It reached the tree and folded its soft wings,
This issue's interview has some interesting views, poetry-writing tips and ideas for webzine design, from successful poet Jerry Jenkins, along with some of his poetry. It is well worth visiting his website, which impressed me very much when I saw it, while researching the questions. It is illustrated here and there, with Jerry's own artwork. Just follow the link in his bio, at the top of the interview.
The theme for this month's poetry section is - anything unusual, eccentric or whimsical. Some wonderful submissions have come in, as usual. Many thanks to all contributors involved.
Any comments on this issue or back issues can be emailed to me on the link at the bottom of the page.
JAN SAND, poet and illustrator from New York, is a regular contributor to Poetry Life & Times. and the newsgroup alt.arts.poetry.comments. A great deal of his work is about animals, as in this charming example.
To see more of Jan's poem and illustrations, visit the November '98 issue of Poetry Life & Times, and scroll down past the Editor's Letter.
NOT QUITE SO BRIGHT|
© Jan Sand
I see the tiger in the zoo
Some delinquent night I could try
I would find the tiger's cage unlocked.
Through the murky alleyways
Up the elevator we would ride,
Next morning, in the bright of day,
That done, he'd don a derby hat,
On our morning's stroll
Offhandedly he'd gobble down
Back at home, we'd discourse on
In the end, he'd do well.
DALE HOUSTMAN's "Bio Con Brio:"
Have had poems published in Caliban, Insomnia, Practical
THE TWO YOUNG GIRLS, THE COFFIN
The Two Young Girls kissed
Beneath the Natural Church
& Local Tavern,
In the end they chose to
push the Coffin
Outside, a Policeman wiped
With his tiny Policeman Teeth
Beneath the Branches of the
THE VERY QUIET HORSE
Quiet as a Turnip
The Quiet Horse was Quieter
Quiet as a Sugar Beet
The Quiet Horse was Quieter
You cannot hear Him Coming
He’s Quietly Determined that
You will not Hear Him Anywhere
wrote this elegant piece, which I found on the newsgroup alt.arts.poetry.comments and knew it would be perfect for this issue. When I asked if I could use it she modestly replied:
She moves like a hollow bamboo toy, he said
Do everything! Sing duets, step pirouettes,
Now she answered: she was just a fat and ancient
You see, my dear, we are no longer young.
Adventure is only trouble misspelled anyway.
Nevermind, time for bed, goodnight, my love.
I'll meet you at the gates of Dreamland,
animation by the Potato of Terror
THE POTATO OF TERROR is an oddity on the poetry newsgroups and the Internet. Its work has appeared in Avalon, Curiouser and Curiouser as a featured website, and a previous issue of Poetry Life & Times. Its website, in 1998, won the THREE-TOED ELVIS DUCK AWARD for weirdness, from Curiouser and Curiouser. There are no photos of P.O.T., only various potato animations on the website.
THE SALON - PART TWO:|
An Avant Garde Departure Lounge in Suspension
© The Potato of Terror, P.O.T., M.B.E., L.O.O.N.Y. (Cert).
Queen Wasp preened on the reptile lounger.
"Are we closing yet?" ventured the vulture.
The Mincy Gizzard minced in heels.
TO BE CONTINUED...
I just wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know that I love the February issue of Poetry Life and Times. It's filled with such beautiful poetry. You are finding and showcasing great talent - keep it up.
Hi Pinky -
Wanted you to know how delighted I was by the new Life & Times, and particularly your drawing of my love - though her wings were as I recall a bit bigger! « g »
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