Black Lawrence Press
August 14, 2015

Welcome Back, Jenny Drai!

This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Jenny Drai, and we have to admit that we are more than a little in love with her. We published her chapbook The New Sorrow is Less Than The Old Sorrow in March. Then, in April, we accepted two of her full-length manuscripts for publication. Wine Dark will be published in April of 2016, and we’ll follow that up with The History Worker in early 2017.

IMG_0423The Author

Jenny Drai’s poetry has appeared in American Letters and Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Handsome, New American Writing, and The Volta among many other journals. She is the author of Letters to Quince (winner of the Deerbird Novella Prize from Artistically Declined Press) and two poetry chapbooks, The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow (Black Lawrence Press) and :Body Wolf: (Horse Less Press). A novel, “Fear of Endings,” was a finalist (in manuscript form) for the Subito Press Prose Prize. Her first full-length collection of poetry, [ the door ] will be published by Trembling Pillow Press in August 2015. She has worked every odd job imaginable and lived all over the place, currently in Bonn, Germany, where she is at work on another novel and pretty much having the time of her life.

 

The Book: Wine Dark

I wrote the bulk of the poems that would become Wine Dark in about two weeks, then over the next year or two fine-tuned the poems, took out some, added others, took out some of the poems I had added, returned some I had taken out. Then over coffee one morning, I put them in order and showed a friend. I told her, “This is my straightforward book, my book for all the people in my life who have no idea what to do with some of my other, more ‘experimental’ work.” So that’s part of why I wrote it the way I did. Also, I like to challenge myself in a different way with each project, and here I really focused on line breaks.

But truth be told, I also remember another thing about writing this book. During the period of its writing, and for a while before and a while after, I was completely and totally emotionally at sea. I expressed this in poetry by writing a number of poems that evoke the literal ocean, a huge force in my life due to my experiences sailing the Channel Islands off the coast of California in the majestic Pacific, but also a handful of persona poems about historical, mythological, and literary women who, I imagined, must have also been, in one form or another, emotionally at sea. Later I added additional poems that seemed to fit in with the overall tone and theme of the book as a whole. And that’s how I came up with Wine Dark.

Excerpt: Wine Dark

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THE WORLD COULD DRAIN YOU OR EMBOLDEN YOU

A great hold

takes over.  Thou

art a lovely

minor entity

at the shore

of obsidian, the darker

sea glass.  Pretty

are pieces.  I

don’t have

a soul, but still then

what explains it?

No one  is

ever going to be

the blue ocean.

Thou art a lovely

sea bird, whether

gull or pelican,

cormorant

or duck.

Stand here.  Just try it.

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JANE EYRE

A lot of voices

inside me.

A lot of lengths,

phrases of all turns,

sizes like yarn

bits and

string coiled in

wooly, fuzzy

skeins.  Be

my wicker basket.

Be two

hands held high

as fleece is

drawn within

a new,

precarious

boundary.  Be every-

one and every-

thing, every

method of

era and

dwelling.  Explain

dormancy, a sensitive

air the fingers

bear within the

problem’s

heat.  Break

the book’s

spine, the exoskeleton

of the book.

Be kind.  Bear

good will, even to Aunt

Reed.  A lamp

flares.

Glaring light.

What happens to

power in a

central body?

As if I

held shawls

to my face,

the attic

of the mind.

(originally published in Jellyfish)

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SEVERAL ALARMS AND THEN AN ANSWER

The yard as

an envelope

for ash.  Or

a breeze tearing

through the cat’s

fur.  Domesticity

isn’t a crime

but there’s an

open warrant

for arrest.

What you see

will disappear.

The tea things

evaporate in

steam, the

bedclothes to a

wispy cloud of

downy feathers.

Or rather, they take

place in a room

opposite a stalwart,

impenetrable

door.  Door

isn’t theoretical.

Nor is room,

neither you.

It’s a way

to infuse the I

with a necessary,

voluminous

distance.

For example.

The cat rests

at my feet.

I love the cat—

he makes me

real.  The cat

isn’t a falsehood.

But he’s a

temporary

placeholder in a

yard full of

light, greenery,

bees collecting

nectar for honey

as if nothing

were amiss.

They make a

home.  I try

to do the same.

My apron is

burning.

 

The Book: The History Worker

Almost every book I’ve ever written has started with a clear idea and The History Worker is no exception. The sequence tracks the development of a thought process into poetry, one in which an American of European ancestry explores the history of her own (in this case, definitely my own) awakening to the idea that it’s impossible to discover a landmass that is already populated. (This started happening for me in the fifth grade, when I learned about the Trail of Tears.) But the book is also the hardest for me to write about concisely because the development of an idea so often includes lanes and alleys into other places that in turn wind back and lend strength to the idea, albeit in a completely individualized and idiosyncratic manner. In that sense, this book springs out of the attempt to gather the disparate strands of a child growing into a woman thinking about land-heft, human character, immigration and emigration, and the genetic accident of being born at all. (I began the actual writing of The History Worker after a visit to Hearst Castle. To get to Hearst Castle, I drove along the Chumash Highway, named for the native people of that area of coastal California and the Channel Islands.) But I was also aware that it might be a lot to ask a reader to simply follow the trajectory of my mind so I wrote a frame for the book and unlike more traditional notes, which usually come at the end, the frame opens the book. My goal here is to provide context, a welcome mat of sorts. The frame is part of the poetry.

Excerpt: The History Worker

reader, a frame

George Hearst lived from 1820-1891 and struck it rich on silver mining. His only child, the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst (W.R.H.), lived from 1863-1951. Moorish stars have 8 points and decorate many of the medieval Spanish ceilings of W.R.H.’s Hearst Castle, now a California state park. (As a rule, the building contains artifacts—everything from furniture to fireplaces—obtained from the grand old houses of Europe, purchased after WWI when Europeans needed cash to rebuild.) Hearst Castle stands on land originally purchased by George Hearst in 1863. In its heyday, the castle included a zoo.

The Chumash are the people native to San Luis Obispo County in California, where Hearst Castle is located.

Blueuts is French for blueberries and is often printed on the grocery store label of that food product.

A fata morgana is a mirage of the appearance of water (although this usually refers to a vision of water in the desert).

The Plantagenet dynasty takes its name from the Latin for the common broom plant. (I was raised on stories of English history, not tales from this country’s western expansion, and the personage of the historical Richard III was my first introduction to what might be termed ‘the complexities of human character,’ a theme I would return to as I considered various character assessments of George and W.R. Hearst.)

Hearst Castle includes 2 magnificent swimming pools, the outdoor Neptune pool and an indoor pool modeled after a Roman bath.

Deadwood aired for 3 seasons on HBO from 2004-2006 and includes a highly unflattering characterization of George Hearst. In that television program, Al Swearingen is the name of the fictionalized real-life saloon owner who carries out a murder at Hearst’s behest and Seth Bullock is the town sheriff, also a real-life character, albeit in the series something of a tortured soul.

Legend has it that Richard III fought bravely until his end at Bosworth Field where Shakespeare has him cry, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

Marion Davies, a silver screen comedienne in her own right and the girlfriend of W.R.H., lived from 1897-1961. Upon his death, she returned to his family the sizable share in his company that he had left her.

Richard III is the hero of several novels. Anne Neville was his wife.

Titus Flavius Josephus is the name of a Jewish historian who was born roughly in year 37 of the Christian era and who wrote of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth by the occupying Romans. As a young child in parochial school, I first turned to my father’s set of the 11-volume The Story of Civilization (Volume II, ‘Caesar and Christ’) to bridge religious insistence with some notion of historical possibility.

The Story of Civilization covers western history for the layperson and was published between 1935 and 1975, written by Will and Ariel Durant.

Indian casinos, like all casinos, include the prerequisite slot machines. Tribes pay revenue on what they earn from gaming and have to negotiate with states to open casinos.

 In discussing whether or not alien life forms visiting our planet would be friendly, Steven Hawking has said, “”If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” (Huffington Post, updated 3/23/11.)

The Sámi are the indigenous people of Scandinavia.

Columbus arrived in the Americas on October 12, 1492.

The Vikings arrived in the Americas as early as the 900s (and referred to the native people as ‘Skraelings’—in modern Icelandic this word means ‘barbarian’ or ‘foreigner.’)

The ‘Trail of Tears’ refers to the forced relocation of certain Native American tribes in 1838 from their ancestral lands to Indian Territory.

Arad, from where my paternal grandfather’s family emigrated, is a city in Romania. My mother’s family comes from various regions in Germany. Prussia is in northeast Germany, Schwabia in the south.

The Romanian revolution took place in December of 1989 and resulted in the overthrow and death by firing squad of the Communist despot Nicolae Ceaucescu (referred to as Nicolae Caligula in the poem) and his wife Elena. Cluj is a city in Romania.

On the day after 9/11, the headline of the French newspaper Le Monde translated as ‘We Are All Americans Now.’

Poulet is French for chicken.

Edward was the son of Richard III and Anne Neville. He died young, predeceasing his parents. The Woodville faction refers to the family of Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Richard’s older brother Edward IV, the father of the two princes in the tower.

The opening paragraphs of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, usually dated to the early 1200s, include a description of the moral character of man as mixed as the plumage of a magpie. A magpie has both black and white feathers.

Centurion is a 2010 film that depicts the Roman occupation of Britain. The film portrays native Britons defending their homeland and attempts to explain the fabled disappearance of Rome’s ninth legion.

The artifact, this mind, pushes through.

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The Attendant

Stanley the Cat