INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD JORDAN
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: In “Jesus in the Café,” we were intrigued by Jesus positioned in such an unexpected setting. How did you land on that juxtaposition?
Richard Jordan: I had recently written a prose poem in which Jesus is at a trout stream (that juxtaposition was surely due to my love of fishing and, well, fishermen/fishers of men). I liked how that poem turned out, and I wondered where else Jesus could be. I wondered that while drinking my morning coffee, so…
RR: We love how the end is so abrupt and poignant, with the irreverence of the biscotti-puncturing image. What brought you to that image and how did you know it was the right moment to close the poem?
RJ: People claim to see the face of Jesus in trees, clouds, even burnt toast. Probably someone has seen Jesus’ face in their cappuccino foam. I was thinking, here’s Jesus in the flesh in plain sight, and no one recognizes him. Perhaps his puncturing of the face (his?) in the foam is an expression of frustration or a response to the irony of the situation.
I had no idea where the poem would go when I started to write it. When it arrived at that image I was surprised. I mean, I came up with it, but I wasn’t expecting to. When I did, I knew it had to end on that. So through revisions I kept the ending and focused on the lead-up to it.
RR: We’re interested in the piece as a prose poem. What do you consider when deciding on the structure of a piece?
RJ: Most of the lineated poems I write are metrical. Verse comes to me in iambic pentameter. In order to challenge myself and break away from that, I go to an opposite extreme sometimes—no fixed form at all (though often my prose poems still have obvious stretches of iambic meter in them). So, really, I just make a decision that I want to try a prose poem. Once I decide that, it sort of frees me up to be a little weirder than usual, try looser associations, take more leaps than I do in my verse poems. Some poets can do that in verse form. Me, not so much.
I should say that I do have a sense sometimes of whether prose or verse will be more appropriate when the images or ideas in my head that kick off the urge to write come to me. But not always.
RR: In your bio, you mention you have a Ph.D. in mathematics. In what ways, if any, does this connect to your writing?
RJ: As I mentioned above, verse comes to me in iambic pentameter. I believe that’s connected to my mathematical brain—a desire, or maybe an obsession with patterns and structure. Mathematics is also about representing and conveying complex concepts elegantly and compactly (at least ideally). One might say poetry does that, too, or at least I aim to do that in my poems. Of course, I fail at that more often than not.
RR: Where is your favorite place to write, and under what conditions?
RJ: I usually write early in the morning, at home while sitting on a comfortable couch, before I start work at my job. But ideas tend to come to me when I’m out and about, maybe at my favorite fishing spots. If they seem like promising ideas, I type them into notes on my phone on the spot, if I can, then return to them later when I have time to write.
Read “The Jesus in the Café” by Richard Jordan.