Interview with Beverly Jackson

Elizabeth Glixman: Bev, I’ve always enjoyed reading your poetry. I am glad I have this opportunity to ask you questions about your work. The Red Car, your poem in the spring 2012 issue has different imagery and a different tone than the poems in your chapbook Every Burning Thing  (Pudding House Publications, 2008). Burning Thing’s poems were confessional to me. The Red Car doesn’t read that way. The imagery is surreal even magical. The women in the red car work at a sex factory. They are old and toothless with labias for mouths (amazing image) and there is a desert beneath their skirt (a powerful comparison). The traffic lights are not green, red, and yellow but all black moons (evocative image). The car is not moving. The /images elicit feelings of decay, stagnation, loss, aged women and their sexuality, economic exploitation and history. Do you agree that this poem is not like others you’ve written? What was your intention when writing it? Is it part of a larger group of poems?

Beverly Jackson:
Thanks, Elizabeth. I do agree that this poem is a little different. I don’t think it’s too off the mark of a theme that’s developed in my later work. A bit of surrealism seems to creep into many of my poems, especially those dealing with age. The first poem in my chapbook (borrowing from Rilke’s angels) is called Resurrection:

My own terrifying angels reappear after years of silence…
.. they dip into the bowl of my brain to wash their long white fingers…

The Red Car, however, is a more in your face with sexual imagery. Aging is this slowly evolving phenomenon that ultimately shocks most of us, I think. We still feel like our younger selves inside, but all has changed. Many adults who have been sexual beings feel suddenly like discards and unloved. Viagra has been developed for men, but women are mostly shelved for younger sexual versions of themselves. But for both genders, loss of sexuality is the taboo subject/the unaddressed grief of aging.

You mentioned that you found Every Burning Thing to be confessional. I’m guilty. I worry that it’s become an accusation these days to critique poetry as “confessional,” that it dismisses work as subjective self-indulgence. Do you, yourself a poet, worry about that?

It seems to me that all poets must be guilty, and I think it might account for the veiling of meaning and inaccessibility of much poetry. Just to avoid the accusation. However I don’t understand how anyone writes decent poetry at all without pulling out their own insides through their fingertips, trying not to leave blood on the page. So, I write what I feel—whether it’s about me personally or about others, it’s coming from some depths of me that I don’t tackle the same way in prose or painting. I guess The Red Car might be
considered confessional as well.

 

EG: I hear what you’re saying about the confessional poet label. I’ve had similar thoughts. I think a “confessional” poem can transform a personal experience into a universal one. I don’t think this is self-indulgent at all: “pulling out their own insides through their fingertips, trying not to leave blood on the page.” That communication of feeling is what poetry is about IMO. I find it hard to keep the “I” out of poems.

As to the veiling of meaning and inaccessibility of much poetry some people seem to like reading poems where things are not clear, they like to work at getting it. I can see how other readers might get turned off by that and look for poets whose work is easily accessible. Each to his or her own. Sometimes the “veiled” poems do seem like a form of hiding. Then again poets often think in terms of symbols so perhaps it isn’t hiding at all.

What poets have influenced you?

BJ:
My first influence at a very girlish age was Edna St. Vincent Millay. She is still a flower in my heart. Today I am enamored of Dorianne Laux, Thomas Lux, Chase Twitchell, and so many more. I’m not sure that my work is directly influenced by these fine poets, but they always inspire me to write.

 

EG: Along with being a talented poet you also write fiction and non-fiction are an artist and you were the editor of a print and online-lit magazine. How do you juggle all these activities and where is writing poems on your daily creative “to do” list?

BJ: Ha. I do all these things over decades, I’m afraid. Not all at once, at all. I can barely juggle lunch and a nap these days. I haven’t painted for a couple of years, and poetry is on the back burner until I finish the memoir I’m working on. So it’s sort of my own crazies that drive me from one endeavor to another. I have always felt there is not enough time to do all the things in this world that I want to do, and I’m cramming them in as fast as I can – including quilting, macramé, needlepoint, sculpting, collage, decoupage, and encaustics, tournament backgammon, to name only a few. I really do hope we all reincarnate because I’d like to have one lifetime to tackle just one endeavor and master it, for once.

book cover

EG: Do you think being a visual artist is an asset in writing poetry?

BJ: I don’t really know. They seem totally different to me. Painting comes from a place that doesn’t have words, so I hold it differently than the art of language. Emotionally they don’t even feel the same. I think there’s more joy in painting for me. It’s a kind of ‘dance’ and release. But my life doesn’t seem to want to focus on joy. Even though I have a very good time, writing seems more natural, and somehow (to me) more important.

 

EG The Loose Fish Chronicles is your memoir in the works. http://www.echapbook.com/memoir/jackson/ At this link are excerpts from the book and a quote by Herman Melville from Moby Dick of which the following is a part:

“What are all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish too?”

If this quote is from the book, please explain the choice and relevance of the Loose-Fish and Fast-Fish idea in the memoir.

BJ: In Melville’s time, when whalers threw a harpoon and it stuck in the hide of the fish, they had “dibs” on that whale and would chase it down without fear of another
boat stealing it because they had encountered it first, thus the harpoon held it “fast.” A loose fish was a whale that nobody had hooked, so it was fair game, anybody’s for the
taking. Melville pointed this up as a metaphor, and when reading Moby Dick, I instantly identified with it, since I have never been held fast to anyone or anything for very long. I’ve lived in dozens of different cities, countries, houses. I am without husband, children, parents, so truly a “loose fish.” So much of my writing has chronicled this loner lifestyle that I thought it was a fitting title and theme for the memoir.

 

EG: When will The Loose Fish Chronicles be finished?

BJ: Hopefully while I’m still alive. It feels like the endless project. But I’m guessing by the end of 2012.

 

EG: You’ve written your memoir as a series of short stories. I am not familiar with this manner of writing a memoir. I know of linked short story collections. Are there any linked memoir collections you know of on the market that may have influenced you? Why did you decide to write your memoir in this form?

BJ: No, I don’t know if it’s been done, though I’m sure it probably has. I had many short stories that were fictionalized versions of personal experiences. I decided to remove the fiction and let the truth stand alone. The truth is a loose fish too. I wondered if I was made of stern enough stuff to just tell it like it is, to be fearless It’s been a wonderful process. It’s very challenging to weed out the rationalizations, distortions and downright self-lies in telling a true story. In fiction, it doesn’t matter, so I find non-fiction much more difficult.

 

EG: I read on your blog that you are learning stock option trading. How does stock option trading compare to writing? Why stock option trading?

BJ: It doesn’t compare to writing. It’s the side of my brain that pays the rent and feeds the dogs and pays for the ink cartridges. I do it to make money. When I get good at it, I
hope to make a lot of money. Wall Street and stocks and bonds were always terrifying to me. Just to look at the Wall Street Journal pages of tiny lists of stocks with their secret
abbreviations and acronyms would make my eyes cross. But all the things that used to terrify me went on my Bucket List. I love conquering my fears. I didn’t have enough money to invest in stocks, but options are an inexpensive way to play the market. It requires much skill, so I’ve worked hard at it. I’m starting to understand investments now. (I used to be afraid of guns too. When I lived in North Carolina, I bought two of them, learned how to shoot them, and I just sold them the other day. I don’t need them anymore. I’m not afraid. Another item off the Bucket List.)

Muse with Long Neck

EG: I know you’ve done a lot of different things in your life: writer, artist, traveler, editor of Ink Pot, Literary Potpourri literary magazine. I imagine the memoir will be very interesting. Was it easy to know what to include or leave out about your life while writing it?

BJ: The memoir hasn’t been edited yet. Still a work in progress. I’m hoping an agent or editor will help cull what doesn’t belong in the book eventually. But yes there’s much to
write about. When you’re a loose fish, there’s lots to explore, and my life has stretched from 9 to 5 jobs to the New York stage and a stint on the Ed Sullivan show to fighting a
bull in Madrid, to say nothing of two failed marriages, myriad relationships and assorted dramas that they entailed. I’ve lived in North Africa, Trinidad, and Spain. I worked in the movie industry in Hollywood and rubbed elbows with celebrities. There’s more than enough material to use for the ‘bones’ of short stories, but the fabric covering them is the stuff of bildungsroman. And that’s what the book is really about. That journey which is so different for each of us, and yet somehow so much the same.

 

EG: rkvry is a magazine with a recovery theme. Recovery is defined in the magazine as “an act, process, or instance of recovering; a return to normal conditions; something gained or restored in recovering; obtaining usable substances from unusable sources.” How does The Red Car fit into this recovery theme?

BJ: When I submitted this poem to rkvry, I felt it was a fit because it was about misfits. Old women waiting to die, women who once “fit” and now they don’t.

Such people cry for resolution, for acceptance, for transformation. All of which can be generally encompassed in recovery.

There is no recovery unless there is an unhealthy or uncomfortable condition preceding it. For me, this is life. I feel like I have been recovering my entire lifetime from conditions of dysfunction, discomfort or dismay. The very fact of being born Homo sapiens is the condition. I would guess that most of my energies have been used in this lifetime to improve my condition, whatever level it may have attained. There has always been the next level, the next rung on the ladder of experience to be scaled. To me, it is a process – moving tirelessly from darkness to light for lack of a better image. Always waiting/hoping for the blacks lights to turn red, yellow, green. A recovery of sorts.

 

EG: Your take on recovery is a powerfully constructive perspective. It reminds me of this quote by life coach Michael Pritchard, “Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.” You are changing the negatives in the dark room. That is inspiring.

BJ: Thanks very much, Elizabeth. Your questions and observations are very much appreciated. As a poet yourself, it’s lovely having you do this interview. I’m also very grateful to r.kv.ry for taking the poem and inviting us to this conversation.

 

 

 

Elizabeth P. Glixman is a poet, writer and artist. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks A White Girl Lynching, 2008; Cowboy Writes a Letter & Other Love Poems, 2010; both published by Pudding House Publications and The Wonder of It All, 2011 published by Propaganda Pressl.  Her latest chapbook  I Am the Flame is in the works at Finishing Line Press. Her author interviews, articles, book reviews and  non-fiction have appeared in Whole Life Times, Hadassah Magazine, and the anthology Chocolate for A Woman’s Soul II.  Visit her at http://elizabeth-inthemoment.blogspot.com/

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