Sunday, September 6, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 15 w/ Jennifer Chang)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Jennifer Chang.

BT: I would love to write a poem about a poet. Have you ever written a poem about a poet? If not, what poet could you see writing a poem about?

JENNIFER: I recently put Frank O'Hara in a poem about looking at a field and thinking about the death of my friend's dog, Tammy. I was mad at myself for writing yet another poem about a field, even though it was about my friend's loss, but then it was about what draws artists to our subject matters and I started incorporating an exchange about art
between O'Hara and Motherwell. "Shut up, and just paint the pictures," Motherwell says at one point, frustrated with all their navel-gazing.

Anyway, I feel better when I think about Frank O'Hara and he's in there because he's a hero and a specific word like "Gauloise" and what's weirder than a nature poem with Frank O'Hara in it? I also have a poem with Andres Breton in it. It's about not wanting to leave the house. Clearly, neither of these are good poems, but other poets appear in my poems when I'm feeling the anxiety of influence, which is really the anxiety of self, in an especially keen way. I'd like to write a poem with Gertrude Stein in it, but Lynn Emanuel's already done that so exceptionally well. Her poem's kind of about anxiety, too.

BT: Pick a poem, any poem…

JENNIFER: "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes

BT: I love your poem Pastoral where you say: "dirt and chant" and "roar and bloom." I love when poets throw together words that aren't usually thrown together. What made you put "dirt" and "chant" together?

JENNIFER: Thank you! I wrote that poem while I was staying with a flower farmer in Napa Valley. One morning I was watching her from the window working in her fields of flowers. Even though I couldn't see her face, I could tell she was so very happy out there in the dirt and in the wind. I hadn't known one could farm flowers. And there were so many flowers! Most of the poem's images and word play emerged from that experience. I liked the sound of "dirt" and "chant; they share a similar concluding consonance and yet have such different denotations.

BT: I am a logophile which is a lover of words. Do you have a favorite word at the moment?

JENNIFER: Lately, I've been thinking about, a little obsessed with, words whose roots don't quite match their current meanings, and because I just taught Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad was another logophile) I keep wondering about the repeated use of the words "absurd" and "unsound" at the end of the book. Neither word is about sound, even though both words' roots are related to hearing. So this week, I've thought about both "absurd" and "unsound" at least once a day and I know I'm going to eventually find a way to use them in a poem.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

JENNIFER: Jennifer Kronovet

Jennifer Chang’s first book, The History of Anonymity, was an inaugural selection of the VQR Poetry Series and a finalist for the Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize for Emerging Writers. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in A Public Space, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, New England Review, The New Republic, and Northwest Review and she has received recent fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. A Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Virginia, she is writing a dissertation on race and pastoral modernism.