I’m happy to have this new poem in Tiferet, which is always gorgeously produced. The editors take such care with all the details big and small–from the cover art to the signature font. This issue also has a section of Malawian poems–I cannot wait to read them!
“In Jones’s poems, as in Lorca’s, duende and qi come together on the page in an act of passion, an explosion of energy, ensuring that the words live on in the mind long after the reader has closed the book.”
An Offering to Mind and Body: A Review of Lois P. Jones’s “Night Ladder”–By Kate Kingston for Los Angeles Review of Books
This is a beautiful book! I’m so happy to share the review!
JT: Melissa, I hugely enjoyed your poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, which seemed to me original, strange and often sublime. At the same time, your neo-Romanticism is also accompanied by an eye for the beauty of the everyday – so that the sublime mixes with the mundane (“Washing clothes … is an act of prayer,” you say in one poem, and another is entitled “Starry Night, with Socks”). For me, I would say this was one of the hallmarks of your style – but do tell me if I’m wrong. How would you describe your style?
MS: I love that assessment, Jonathan – especially that you called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast “strange.” In pointing out the commingling of the mundane and sublime, you nailed not only my style, but also how I experience the world. I grew up in a secular home. My father is agnostic, and my mother is spiritual with a deep curiosity about supernatural mysteries. We didn’t go to church, but I would sit at the top of the jungle gym in my back yard and talk to god. I believed and still believe that god is in my backyard. That’s part of it. Also, there’s something a monk said to me years ago when I was learning Buddhist meditation. He said, “When you learn to relax inside your mind, you can be on permanent vacation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” You don’t need to go anywhere or seek anything. The beach, the flower, the mountain – they are all inside you. So, yes, I carry them with me when I vacuum and put on socks. Then I realize that vacuum cleaners and socks are sublime too. So, I think I would describe my style as you have, except to also possibly add that I think figuratively. I’m sure I have driven people crazy with my constant metaphors and analogies in everyday conversation, but if I want to understand or explain something, my mind almost always reaches for a comparison.
JT: Clearly, there’s a lot of cosmic and creation imagery in the collection. What themes and ideas were you exploring in this respect?
MS: I was exploring a feminine, cyclical conception of god, time, and the universe. Rather than fashioning my poetic god in man’s image, I fashioned her in woman’s image. It was important to me that she be god and not the diminutive or adjunct “goddess.” I wanted to convey her as the origin and the all powerful, but I also wanted her to be present in the whole of everything. So, in I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, most everything is pretty much a microcosm of the divine and the all. That’s why a pancake is creation flattened out. It’s all interconnected, all divine. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast plays with ideas of reincarnation, god birthing the universe, and god attempting to parent the world.
Sarah Marcus: Cate Marvin wrote of your stunning debut poetry collection,I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast (Saint Julian Press), “In so many ways the poems in this book read like paintings, touching and absorbing the light of the known world while fingering the soul until it lifts, trembling.” Which is exactly how these poems made me feel, but I also had the sense that the “known world” was also somehow secret. The poem “In Another Dimension, We Are Making Love” ends with: “Everything we need to remember/ can fit on a scrap of paper/ smaller than your hand.” Which feels so impossible and so true! Can you tell us about this collection and your process of poem-painting?
Melissa Studdard: Of course you’re right—it’s impossible but true. What’s known touches the boundaries of secrecy, and what’s secret is also subconsciously known. That paradox, that interplay, is part of what thrills me about poetry. We can get right up to the edge of something and feel it deeply and still not fully figure it out, and that ambiguity is not only okay; it’s pleasurable. I like your phrase “poem-painting” in this context too, because in the dream-logic of poetic composition, ideas and concepts are often nestled inside images and metaphors. Therefore, we must paint poems in order to unpack the images.
In my process, a poem usually starts with a phrase or image rather than an idea. The process of writing the poem instructs me as to what it’s about. I rarely know before I begin. I’m usually just struck by something—a fist of leaves unfolding, a plastic Jesus hanging from a rearview mirror, the instant between a smile and when the smile fades—and I write until I know why the image ignited me. I often do that part of the writing with pen and paper, and then, when I figure out why I’m writing, I move to the computer so I can edit more easily as I go along.