Five Questions for... Jeannine Hall Gailey

The Five Questions series resumes with fabulous poet Jeannine Hall Gailey. Find out more about Jeannine at her blog.  

In your previous chapbook, Female Comic Book Superheroes, and collection, Becoming the Villainess, pop culture goddesses play a big role. With She Returns to the Floating World, Japanese folk tales are thrown into the mix. Can you talk about your inspiration and fascination with strong women in your work? 
Sure! In my chapbook and first book, Becoming the Villainess, I was very interested in examining the models of women in power – there are so few of them portrayed except in a fantastical way that as a child I threw aside my Grimms’ (all those trapped heroines in towers and glass boxes!) for Wonder Woman. As a child, I also was very affected by the more empowering heroines of anime, and that sparked the interest in Japanese culture that eventually resulted in my second book, She Returns to the Floating World. Hayao Miyazaki’s first movie, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, came on television here in America when I was 10, and I was spellbound by the image of a heroic girl who saves her valley – and the entire human race – with courage and kindness, and becomes sort of an eco-savior/animal-human messiah. Nothing like that in Western culture, definitely not in the '70s Disney-type movies, anyway! So I guess I started looking for powerful female role models at an early age, and many of them were heroines of the fantastic, rather than the realistic, world, and that’s how I became interested in typical geek culture stuff: comic books, anime, science fiction, etc. I also felt that the mainstream poetry I was reading when I was first started studying poetry left people in my little brother’s generation – the so-called “Y” generation – feeling cold and alienated, so I wanted to write something that would appeal to them, to include characters from my own childhood and from theirs, and draw on mythology as well, to present an amalgam of female power – the good side, and of course, the bad (more fun to write about!) Both of my books deal with the good and bad side of female power, I think; Becoming the Villainess involves more children and teen stories, and She Returns to the Floating World deals more with what happens after women grow up, get married, and change into foxes. You know, the usual.

Did you always want to be a poet? What other kind of writing, if any, do you do?
Yes, I’ve been interested in being a poet since I was about 10 years old, when I fell in love with the poetry in my mother’s college poetry textbooks. I remember memorizing Louis Simpson, T.S. Eliot, and e.e. cummings. I loved science fiction at a young age, too, but I always pictured myself keeping company with poets for some reason. I’ve worked as a technical writer, journalist, marketing writer, and I’m practicing flash fiction and creative non-fiction these days as well. But my first love will always be poetry.

Do you have a writing regimen or schedule?
I tend to write in clusters, sometimes six poems a month, sometimes one a week. When I’ve tried to write fiction and non-fiction, it’s much more intense – twenty pages in two days, that kind of thing. I tend to write when I first wake up or very late at night; times when your conscious is able to be pushed to the side, right after a dream or so late that I’m too tired to censor myself.

Poetry is slowly making its way into the eBook world – what are your thoughts on this? Are you an eBook fan?
I received an e-reader for Christmas (a Kindle Fire) and have, surprisingly, really loved it. I’ve found beloved old books, unavailable in print, that look great and are even free to download. The world of prose e-books is pretty great, but I was disappointed by the lack of poetry books – and where they were available, they were expensive and poorly formatted. Some of the exceptions, I’m happy to say, are my friends’ Kelli Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy’s women’s poetry e-anthology, Fire on Her Tongue. I was very pleased with She Returns to the Floating World’s translation into e-book form – Kitsune Books did a terrific job making it look just wonderful, like, the clich√© goes, a real book. I couldn’t be prouder. Of course, the way we read continues to change. I still treasure my paper books, especially poetry books and the old illustrated collections of folk and fairy tales from my childhood. And, in case of apocalypse, it’s always nice to have a book that requires nothing more than a little light to read by. I find myself wanting both the paper and e-book versions of stuff I really love, like Osamu Dazai’s recently-released-in-English collection of fairy tales. I also think that literary magazines would be wonderful on an e-reader - you usually use them for short bursts of reading, so I'd love to have more lit mags available on the Kindle!

Name three poetry collections you’ve read recently that you can’t stop thinking about and would recommend to others.
The first two are upcoming collections, but Annette Spaulding-Convy’s Broken Latin (coming out this fall from University of Arkansas Press) is a wonderful tale of a nun’s gradual disillusionment with her life in a convent, done with so much humour and grace and the subtle whisper of sensuality. One of my favorite poems is one in which a nun sleeping in the nude is awakened by firemen breaking in in the middle of the night, and the combination/conflagration of physical sensation and moral confusion. I’m in the middle of reading and reviewing Kathleen Flenniken’s upcoming book, Plume (University of Washington Press), an incredible collection about a subject close to my own heart – how she grew up in Hanford, WA, where a nuclear plant not only supports her father and the community with jobs but is slowly and subtly poisoning the environment and the community at the same time. I feel a lot of kinship for this subject as my father worked in radiation cleanup consulting at the partner nuclear plant of Hanford at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. One of the most touching moments in the book is a poem in which the speaker of the poem is televised, as a child, sending an impassioned letter to President Nixon to save the nuclear plant and keep it from shutting down; the poem is addressed to a friend’s father who has died of radiation poisoning caused by the same plant. For different reasons, I’m fascinated by Matthea Harvey’s new combination art/erasure poetry book, Lamb, out recently from McSweeney’s new poetry division. The art work is fanciful, haunting, disturbing; the poetry, an erasure of a Charles Lamb biography that follows the story of Mary and her Little Lamb, is equal parts an evocation of profound love and extreme alienation. I really like the way that the art and the poetry play off of each other in a way that makes both more layered and interesting.

Comments

Karen J. Weyant said…
Great interview! Thanks for posting.
Collin Kelley said…
Thanks, Karen!
Lisa Allender said…
I'd forgotten how much I enjoy your interviews, Collin. This one is awesome. :)

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