Edison Jennings

reckoning-thumbReckoning (Jacar Press, 2013)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

Three come to mind immediately. In ascending order of publication: Hard Rain, Tony Hoagland; The Pilot House, David Rigsbee; Urn, T. R. Hummer.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

Let me think.The chapbooks I enjoy most are orchestrated. The poems are stitched together, complementing and developing a single voice and overriding concern throughout the short collection. That’s a pretty vague—bullshitty—response. Let me see if I can do better. The length of chapbooks, their brevity, can frame the individual poems as choruses, and sometimes refrains, responding to a central concern through a voice that both creates and struggles to negotiate that concern, while still allowing for a variety of lyric strategies—lyric rope-a-dope. I’m not sure my chapbook exemplifies those qualities. Probably doesn’t, but I tried. A good chapbook makes a virtue of brevity. Also, chapbooks are excellent venues for a couple of long poems, or even just one poem.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s mainly about the death of my daughter.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired your chapbook?

The oldest poem is “Rainstorm.” Wrote it in 1993. The poems that inspired my chapbook were Wordsworth’s poems about Lucy, sometimes called The Lucy Poems—five of them, first published in Lyrical Ballads. The first poem that sort of made the “chapbook connection” is “Reckoning II,” a short poem originally titled “Reckoning.” (I later wrote “Reckoning I.” Odd.) I ran the idea by Amy Glyn, excellent writer and very funny person. She thought it was a good idea, and that was good enough for me.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

The arrangement is binary, based on two intertwined definitions of “Reckoning.” And the title of the chapbook, as I already noted, came from the title of a single poem.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Oh, I left that up to the editor, Richard Krawiek and the cover artist, Daniel Krawiek. The cover is the best part of the chapbook.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

There are questions I’m glad I wasn’t asked! And if I had been asked them, I probably would have lied.

What are you working on now?

Another chapbook.

What is your writing practice or process? Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

My revision technique is to be ruthless. I cut a lot. I recite a poem in progress over and over, trying to get the syntaxes right as they hook up and trundle down the lines. I also try to look at a poem as a structure, not just teetum teetum. What/ where is the foundation? What comes first? What second? Does the poem go off the rails in places? What parts or pieces are ornament? Does this or that ornament contribute, or is it just cheap rococo? Am I being cheap, easy? Am I conning the readers, selling them soul rotting crap? Stuff like that.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Listen. Keep your eyes open.

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

I hope my chapbook offers a world very much like the world we live in, but comprehended, or focused, through a shared lens—the shared lens is the chapbook, which the reader and I grind in tandem. The product is a smudged, tinted lens. Scratched a bit, too.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them? Theme?

Hard to say. How about “Change alone is unchanging”? Thank you, Heraclitus, wherever you are.

What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?

Maybe work harder. I was blessed with a great editor.

How do you use computers/digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?

Not always. Actually, I like writing with pen in a notebook. But my office is quiet, convenient, and messy. Plus, it has lots of books and a decent PC—a good place to write. And nap.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

“Saudade.” It seemed to bring the curtain down.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I’m not particular. My reading fare is kind of catch-as-catch-can. I’ll probably begin a novel tomorrow. And of course I read a lot of poetry.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

Let me flip that question. I don’t want anyone to read my chapbook who will be deeply hurt by it. I’m ok if my chapbook makes a reader sad. I’m ok if a reader shudders a little, feels a little spooked. But I don’t want my chapbook to cause or exacerbate genuine pain and grief, the virulent kind, the lasting kind. Faulkner was wrong. One “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is not worth even one grandmother. And I love Faulkner. But he got that wrong.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

Yes. And I think it has an arc. Or, I hope it does.

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

My family is very small (two sons and a two siblings). My two sons have read it. They have never said, “Daddy, why don’t you write the Great American Novel.” They’re more likely to say, “Daddy, why don’t you fix us a rack of Great American Barbeque.” (Actually they’re picky about BBQ. They prefer the North Carolina variety.)

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?

I’m a teacher. I think I’ve helped a few students develop a taste for poetry. As for the second question, new readers might find a chapbook of poems more welcoming than a full collection of poems, if only because a chapbook is shorter.


Edison Jennings lives in Virginia and teaches at Emory & Henry College.

Brown Eyed Girl

(Genetic analysis of a Denisovan fossil, dubbed “Brown Eyed Girl,” reveals kinship to modern humans.)

So close, we’re kin,
according to the DNA
unraveled from your genes:
brown eyes, hair, and skin.

You bequeathed two teeth
and a mote of finger bone,
coded scant remains
that reveal your life was brief.

My short-lived daughter, too,
had brown eyes and hair.
That makes us kin:
she through me and me through you.


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