Monday, September 7, 2015

book interview: the fool by jennifer jean

-May as well start here. I’m curious: what’s your elevator pitch for your book?

My debut collection, The Fool, explores the economic and spiritual poverty of my adolescence in Los Angeles—as well as the formation of my own family and spiritual development when I moved East to the Boston area.

-How did you come upon the subject of your book?

Like many poets, I explore my formative years in my first collection. It’s not a necessary rite of passage. But, it seems, retrospectively, that I needed to lay this sort of foundation for the manuscripts I’ve in development now. In writing The Fool I feel as if I’ve exorcised (or at least, have exercised!) some of the demons that’ve held me back—one of which is the cause of our family’s poverty:  the absence of my father due to his war-induced, severe PTSD.

-And the title? Sometimes, it seems to me, titles can strike like lightning or can be extraordinarily elusive. How did you go about finding your title?

The book is named after the central character of the Tarot Deck who encounters all manner of archetypal people and situations as she moves through each phase of her life. In many ways The Fool character is analogous to the debut poet who explores her formative years as if on a journey from ignorance into (the beginnings of) understanding. Some people have asked me, “Are you The Fool?” I tell them, “Yes, and so are you.” We’re all The Fool! I found this out when I worked as a phone-psychic in my 20’s. I also discovered then that reading poetry is much like reading a Tarot spread—so much depends on the juxtaposition of symbols and the connotations of words.

-Tell us something about the most difficult thing you encountered in this book’s journey.

Writing about meeting my father for the first time in 14 years was difficult. But after the galleys were in, and I’d begun pre-publication promotional readings, I felt courageous again. I geared up to visit him one more time (by then, it’d been 21 years since our last meeting).

-And the most pleasurable?

I know a lot of other mother-writers who gave up writing entirely so they could focus (only) on nurturing their family. And, I know a lot of other adjuncts in academia who gave up writing because they were burnt out trying to survive. I am so fortunate that I have a supportive husband and writing community who have helped me keep hopeful, and active, and thriving as a writer!

-What’s the best and / or worst piece of advice (writing or publishing or similar) you’ve gotten?

“Don’t stop!” Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop sharing your work and trying to publish. That’s what poet Dean Young told my grad school class. He told us about wonderful and accomplished writers, dear friends, who just stopped writing. Faded out. He said he almost gave up too. Of course, his stories were always full of his constant learning, and growth as a writer—so it was apparent we weren’t meant to just pound the keys and bombard publishers. Clearly, he wished us to read and read and learn and learn and engage and engage with all art and the writing life.

-Tell us one of your favorite books you’ve discovered recently and say a little about why.

Visiting Indira Gandhi's Palmist by Kirun Kapur is fantastic! Every poem has substance, richness, layers. They’re longish poems—pretty packed, but without sounding or being prosey. She attends to her line breaks (too many “lyric poets” and “narrative poets” do not, these days). I’m really excited to read her next book!

-Can you share an excerpt from your book? Give us a taste.


Root for the nipple, root for the home team,
root your foot
and ground
when crisis strikes. Root in your trash
for treasure. But, the root of all evil

is uprooting—and always thinking,
I’ve got no trash, or, I come from me.

Fool—this means you’re numb
to the root
that binds our family.

-What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)

Well, if this were a Tarot reading you might ask, “Is my fate set?” And I’d answer, “No. Prophecies detail possible futures—when we know what’s possible we have the power to change our lives for the best and the adventurous.”

-OK, we’re smitten. Where do we go to buy your book?

Visit my website to find The Fool:

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