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Intermittent Visitors: Jeannine Hall Gailey

  Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington and the author of three books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and most recently, Unexplained Fevers. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The Adirondack Review, The American Poetry Review, The Pedestal Magazine, poemeleon and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers for Crab Creek Review and is a Seattle 2013 Jack Straw Writer. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.

 

1. What is your writing process?

I write a poem or two every week, sometimes more, sometimes less. They are usually inspired, not planned—they happen after reading poetry or fiction, viewing an inspiring art exhibit, even after reading news stories or watching a particularly good movie or television show. They usually happen in patterns and in clusters—a group of poems about radioactive elements, or a group of poems on supervillains, that kind of thing.

 

2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Let your language and cadences be the most “you” possible. Each of us has our own particular vocabulary, shaped by where we grew up, what we read, the music we listen to, etc. Don’t try to imitate somebody else’s idea of what a poem must be or sound like, don’t try to write a poemy-poem, just be yourself. (I know, I hated it when it was my mother’s dating advice, but it truly is the best idea when you’re writing poetry.)

 

3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Unexplained Fevers?

Unexplained Fevers grew out of some of the reading I was doing for research on my second book, She Returns to the Floating World. I happened to read two books—Blue Bamboo by Osamu Dazai, which contains a series of retellings of “Rapunzel,” and Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, which is a series of short stories which have two characters that could be related to the sisters, Snow White and Rose Red. I thought about the fairy tale characters I had left out of “Becoming the Villainess,” because I thought they were too passive: The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and thought up some new ways that they might escape their various traps. During the time that I wrote Unexplained Fevers, I was going through some fairly serious autoimmune and other health issues, and those were reflected in the poems as well. It’s not hard to imagine Sleeping Beauty as a drug addict, or Snow White as someone with chronic fatigue syndrome, when you’re spending a lot of time in hospitals.

 

4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Money is probably the biggest thing that springs to mind. You just don’t make as much writing poetry as you do writing technical manuals. But I don’t regret the switch. Probably also a certain amount of domestic house work remains undone most of the time, as well. I spent the last year working as Redmond, Washington’s Poet Laureate, and that job gave me the chance to see just how important it is to try to make space for poetry in our own back yards, so to speak—libraries, schools, community arts centers, etc. It’s as important to cultivate reading as it is to cultivate writing.

 

5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Yes, I think that anyone that goes into writing poetry thinking they know exactly what they’re writing about is fooling themselves. I often discover the themes of my book after I write them. This third book explores some similar terrain as my first book, Becoming the Villainess, but the tone is very different—maybe more funny, more cynical, a tad more, dare I say, mature? That’s what happens when you have a decade happen in between books, I guess. You do a little growing up, and that ends up in the poems.

 

This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.
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