TNQ likes to show off its own, both writers and editors. For those poetry keeners who’d enjoy listening in on some literary talk while polishing off the eggnog, cleaning out the year’s clutter, strapping on cross country skis, or writing — yet again — to thank great Aunt Hilda for the fruitcake, here’s a link to a longish interview with TNQ consulting editor Amanda Jernigan on the publication of her first collection, Groundwork.
In the interest of full disclosure, Amanda is also my daughter. TNQ, like most small not-for-profits, is a family affair. The children and partners of our editors, staff, and board members are often pressed into giving a hand—hawking tickets, passing hors d’oeuvres, selling bingo cards, sweeping their way out of event venues. So when the members of this extended family step into their own creative lives, it’s a pleasure to give a hand in turn.
In the case of this interview, I’m giving two hands—two hands clapping. Amanda reads beautifully (mom’s honour!) and is a thoughtful explicator of her own poetic process. Though I have to say, my ears perked up when, in addition to drawing out the story of the poems’ genesis and arrangement, the interviewer, Hamilton poet Bernadette Rule, dared go where mothers fear to tread. She asked how it is that, after almost fourteen years together, Amanda and longtime partner John Haney, whose woodcuts grace the collection, decided to marry (answer: it’s something to do with the peripatetic life). The things you learn on air…
In other news, Groundwork was recently included in U.S. National Public Radio’s list of the top five poetry books of 2011, as chosen by David Orr, who writes the column “On Poetry” for The New York Times Book Review. He says of the collection: “Like Devin Johnston [another of the poets on his list], the Canadian poet Amanda Jernigan possesses daunting formal skill—if you’re looking for someone who can turn out an effortless-seeming slant rhymed quatrain, Groundwork is the book for you. As the title implies, much of Jernigan’s collection is concerned with exploring the past (and the idea of the past), whether that process involves the physical work of archaeological excavation (‘The Fieldworker’) or the spiritual subtleties of myth (‘Penelope in Heavy Weather’). Jernigan has put immense effort into making her work seem delicate, and her lines have an emotional intensity that is no less memorable for being understated. And she has a light, perfecting touch, particularly at the end of poems—‘The Photographer’ concludes with the cameraman at a dig looking at a broken-off marble hand and announcing, ‘I’ll bury / it again in the small night of my camera.’”
I was also pleased to see TNQ’s lists issue (“To List is Human”) included in the list of Notable Special Issues of 2010 in this year’s Best American Essays, one of two Canadian magazines to be so honoured (the other is Prism international for their 50th Anniversary Retrospective). The lists issue was guest-edited by Kingston writer Diane Schoemperlen who also created the cover illustration. Lists have been a recurrent formal element in her own writing, and she brought together a varied collection of list-based poems and stories — funny, provocative, and poignant. Lists, like similes, work through juxtaposition, and reveal as much about the list-maker and the times as about the things so catalogued. The issue, alas, has long-since sold out, but, for those who missed it, is still to be found on library shelves across Canada (and as a digital edition).
In a final cross-border exchange, I ventured some answers to Aaron Gilbreath’s questions about the resurgence of the essay form in Canada and the U.S. for the Iowa Review. I was surprised to find myself the resident expert, but The New Quarterly has, for some time, been moving toward publishing more non-fiction, initially to provide a context for the fiction and poetry that is our stock-in-trade but increasingly, through our personal essay contest and occasional features, to satisfy our interest in the genre itself.
Watch for two new entries in our “Writer-at-Large” series—travel writing in the loosest sense of the word—in the upcoming (winter) issue: Susan Olding’s “A Pilgrimage to Hampstead, or Household Pets of the Great and Lesser Poets,” an intricately braided essay about cats and other familiars, infertility, literary tourism, and Keats; and Pam Bustin’s “Ground: Hanoi to Hiroshima in the Wake of 9/11,” an account of a different sort of tourism, her travels to the sites of some of the last century’s worst genocides in order to discover something of their afterlife in the moral imagination. What is the purpose and efficacy of such witnessing? As the old Pete Seeger song asks, “when will we ever learn?” It’s a question we’re still asking.