CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: In reviewing some of your past works we noticed that you have a wonderful way of playing with form and the white space on a page. Given that attention to form, could you speak to how you decided to craft the form of “Hunger”?
Sarah McCartt-Jackson: My poetry tends to be dense with images and language so that my mentors, Rodney Jones and Judy Jordan, suggested I play with form to open up the poem, to let my readers breathe. This particular poem comes from my manuscript Stonelight, which follows the lives of a family in early twentieth-century Appalachia. Each family member has his and her own voice and own forms from which I choose. The father (and speaker of this poem), Eli, is a coal miner, so I made his poems with shorter lines, fewer lines, and less punctuation (often depicting black lung and his straightforward choice of words) than the rest of the family members.
RR: We were struck by the detailed imagery in “Hunger.” What’s your connection to coal mining?
SMJ: My granny’s dad was a coal miner in eastern Kentucky. My mother told me stories about when they would go visit, how her granddad would be covered in coal dust, even if he hadn’t been mining that day. I decided to shape the manuscript around coal and this family because the region lives and manifests itself as the Homeplace in my own family and myself. Though my granny and papaw (after whom the manuscript’s protagonists are named) moved to the bluegrass region (Lexington) later in life, we still hold strong ties and return to eastern Kentucky where the rest of our family lives.
RR: On your website, you describe yourself as a student of nature and a folklorist. Does nature influence your poetry more than folklore or are they about the same?
SMJ: Nature influences my poetry first and foremost because nature, like poetry, is inextricably linked to my life. I have always considered myself a naturalist, even before I knew that was a real profession. For a few years, my graduate studies in poetry and folklife overlapped so that I was earning the degrees simultaneously, and this informed a lot of my poems in Stonelight. I also enjoy the use of folklore that I see in other works (like Kelly Link), so I wanted to try to infuse this natural world with supernatural elements that allow for things to happen (such as turning into a bear) that cannot happen according to natural laws.
RR: In an interview with Tidal Basin Review, you mentioned a desire to connect scientific rhetoric within contemporary poetry. How do you connect scientific rhetoric to folklore in your work?
SMJ: As a perpetual student of language, science, nature, and folklore, I am interested in the naming of things, and especially in precise naming. When a reader says that my eastern Kentucky character Ora cannot use the word rhizome in a poem, I disagree. Why shouldn’t she use the word rhizome? It’s not entirely scientific so much as accurate, to me. Again, I try to balance scientific rhetoric with image, folklore, and contemporary poetry so that they complement each other. Eli (the voice of “Hunger”) uses the terms stackrock and coal ribs, which are accurate geological mining terms, but the reader does not get stuck on those words because these words are carried through into other images (spine and coal ribs; heaving stackrock and the bear). I hope the balance evokes a particular kind of mood that exists somewhere between the real and the imagined.
RR: What are you working on now?
SMJ: My chapbook entitled Vein of Stone, which draws together poems from Stonelight, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press this year. Currently, I am working on a manuscript about my time spent living and working on a vineyard in California. I am also looking for ways to collaborate with other kinds of artists, to explore the space where different kinds of arts cohabitate in the liminal realm of art and craft.
Sarah McCartt-Jackson’s work in Issue 1.4:
Poet and folklorist Sarah McCartt-Jackson has been published by and received honors from: the Academy of American Poets, Copper Nickel, Indiana Review, Journal of American Folklore, NANO Fiction, STILL, and others. She was selected as Tidal Basin Review’s inaugural Poetry Series Center Feature poet. Her chapbook Vein of Stone is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press. She lives and writes in Louisville, Kentucky.