CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: “Jacinte” references several distinct locations. What is your relationship to these locations and travel itself?
Jayne Benjulian: I used to live in the Pacific Northwest and miss that coast. The poem documents a conversation in that cemetery at the edge of British Columbia but veers off into places I’ve never been. But I imagine “Jacinte” has been there. Travel for me is a cauldron for autobiography: I’ve discovered both my sympathies with others and the way in which I am unlike others in long journeys, mostly in Europe. I am a greedy traveler and only travel when I can stay in places for some time. I lived in Lyon, France for a year and spent many days walking in the Roman ruins. Once, while reading in the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, I witnessed a stage crew building a set for Aida, an experience that found itself in a poem about something altogether different. After I saw the Roman ruins in France, and then later, on the coast of Israel, I began to understand the geography of the ancient Mediterranean and to see it as a world distinct from modern political boundaries. I imagined that world with the sea at its center as Shakespeare might have envisioned it with his princes washing up on the shores of Tyre. Water speaks to my primitive beginnings; I spent my childhood swimming in it or traveling on my father’s boat; he was a volunteer Coast Guard.
RR: How was the transition for you from play writing to writing poetry? Do you ever see a return to theater?
JB: Working as a director of new play development means working with an artistic director to shape a season and discovering talent in the places no one else is thinking about. I have an eye for nascent talent. But that is completely different —and offers a completely different feeling and reward—than writing poetry. I adore working with playwrights on their plays. My idea of a good time is sitting in a theater and taking notes about what’s working and what’s not. Always in that context, I am collaborating to realize someone else’s vision. And that is the same skill I deployed while working as a speechwriter, my first career. You must have an ear for someone else’s language. I was happy collaborating to realize someone else’s vision—while I pursued an MFA in poetry. Poetry is my first art; its roots sink deep in the soil of my childhood. Now I take huge pleasure in writing about the culture of theater and the directors and playwrights who make it. But in the dark, I listen to the eccentric wanderings of my own brain.
RR: The “she” in “Jacinte” seems assured in her spiritual, yet pragmatic acceptance of approaching death. What led you to portray this particular type of relationship with death?
JB: “Jacinte’s” remark surprised me: it revealed her to be someone for whom death has a completely different meaning than it has for me. I was surprised into hearing my way is not the only way of experiencing death.
RR: What would you say is the most common and influential form of appetite within your own writing?
JB: I am hungry for the scales to fall from my eyes, the fog from my ears, so that I may see and hear in a way I’ve never before seen and heard.
RR: What’s next for you?
JB: What’s next for me is to elevate my work in a way that honors its eccentricity and compression. I have a completed a first manuscript; I am working on a second.
Jayne Benjulian’s work in Issue 1.4:
Poems by Jayne Benjulian appear in a number of journals, including Zone 3, The Seattle Review, The Ilanot Review and Barrow Street. She has a parallel career writing essays about the culture of theater. She served as Fulbright Fellow in Lyon, France and Teaching Fellow at Emory University in Atlanta and holds an MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers.