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Poem It Out Classroom

week 1: an interview with jenna mcguiggan

liz lamoreux

Today, take a deep breath and soak up every word of this delightfully fun interview with the incredible writer, warm-hearted friend, and roller derby maven Jenna McGuiggan.


Question 1: How is poetry a lifeline for you? 

Oh, Poetry. They say I'll find you in phrases with line breaks, maybe some rhymes, and in the orderly progression of words down the page. And yes, there you are. But it's not so simple as all that, is it? I find you everywhere, running out of bounds, breaking out of the bonds we try to put on you. I find you in words that sound good together, like apple dumpling, raw stars, and fresh water. I find you in the words that taste so good in my mouth, words like: Oblong. Patina. Jar. Delphinium.

I looked you up in the dictionary, dear Poetry, and this is what he told me about you: Poetry, he said, “is writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create an emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.” Not a thing about line breaks. Not a thing about rhyme. Language chosen, imaginative awareness, experience, emotional response. Well, now. That explains a lot. That explains why I find you in the covers of books marked “prose” and in the lilt of anyone who loves language and beauty. This explains why I find you when I read Virginia Woolf's novels and Annie Dillard's essays. This gives me hope that you could be mine, too, Poetry, when I write full sentences in full paragraphs with no line breaks. But still the rhythm. Still the sound. Still the meaning.

But there's something even the dictionary can't tell me, and that's how on earth I find you, Poetry, in the strangest places. You were in that southerly wind blowing secrets at me the day I sat on the garage door stoop. You were there in the twilight skimming wet sand on beaches in Oregon and Massachusetts. And more than once, I swear, I've tasted you in decadent slices of perfectly ripe avocado glistening with lime juice. You show up everywhere, don't you, Poetry? You wily, wonderful, winsome one. When I am tired from swimming and can't even tread water, you throw me life preserver and say, “Just float.” When I'm wrung out and worried, you stroke my hair and say, “Just be.” When I'm narrow-minded and bored, you throw open the window and say, “Just look!”

Question 2: Who are the poets and poems you turn to again and again? 

Anything by Mary Ruefle makes me feel alive, weird, confused, understood, and known – all at once. I  especially love the poems in Tristimania and the poemesque pieces in her prose book, The Most of It. You can see examples of her erasure poetry on her website. You can read a few of her poems here and here. But to really experience her poetry, I think the best way is to hear her reading it.

In college I read a lot of T. S. Eliot's  poetry, which I love, even though a lot of it is rather “dense.” He was a well-educated one, that Eliot was, but in amongst all of the allusions to classical myths and literature is so much heart, so much sadness, and so much hope. Check out “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Waste Land,” and “Four Quartets”

I love the concrete images and deceptively deep simplicity of these two William Carlos Williams poem: “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” 

Matthew Dickman's All American Poem is a great collection, so much fun and sadness packed together. His poetry is simultaneously accessible and profound, profane and sacred. (He once told me that he liked the necklace I was wearing, and I may have a wee bit of a crush on him.) I love his poem “Slow Dance,” which you can read here

The poet Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company for a lot of his life, which just seems so wonderful and bizarre to me. I like to think about  all the “ordinary” people in my daily life (the store cashier, the dentist, the FedEX woman) and how they might have secret lives of creative greatness. My favorites by Stevens are “Sunday Morning,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and “Man on the Dump.” 

and then there's ee cummings. he makes me happy, with his quirky punctuation and lower case letters all smashed together to make meaning. 

Question 3: Is there a line of poetry you would tattoo on yourself?

Hmm... Hard to choose, but here are a few contenders:

“The salt is on the briar rose / The fog is in the fir trees.” ~T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages,” one of the “Four Quartets”

“Quick now, here, now, always—” ~ T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets”

“love is more thicker than forgot” ~ ee cummings

Question 4: Would you like to share a poem of your own?

I wrote this poem from a word list that we created at one of Liz's retreats.

The Reckoning

Gumboots and blue bottles,

The containers of feet, flowers, lives,

Botanical prints cling to the wall in walnut frames

In the laundry or mud room

Where everything comes to be stoppered up or spilled out.

Rummage through the junk drawer,

Pull out orphaned matchsticks, pinking shears, corks swollen with wet.

What is vintage and

What is timeless?

Rosehips and silken ferns,

Bloodshot bones and a tailored palette,

The subtle blossom of the clock as it cradles

Time in your eyes.

Peek through that keyhole. Peel

Fresh ginger.

Be transformed, a vivid infusion of citrus-scented light.

Open the window, and welcome.


Jenna McGuiggan is a writer, editor, and coach who works with creative souls and organizations with heart.

Visit her in The Word Cellar, which she envisions as a cozy, stone-walled chamber filled with twinkle lights, shelves of stories, nooks of books, and plush armchairs perfect for sharing your tale.