Zachary Tuck: It seems that poets still reach most frequently for Classical antiquity yet your work, especially [WULF AND EADWACER], has a deep and complex relationship with Anglo-Saxon literature. Can you tell me about the development of your sense of lineage?
Jenny Drai: More than anything else, I think my sense of wanting to engage with the Anglo-Saxon comes from the dreamlike familiarity of the language itself. As a native speaker of English, with deep life-long roots in the German language, it just seems like a logical progression to engage w/ that literature. But the desire to engage doesn't come from linguistic concerns alone. I really thought the big Angelina Jolie Beowulf flick did a very good job of diminishing any chance for female characters to be portrayed in a non-stereotypical way, whereas other smaller Beowulf films (of which there are several) do not make the same mistake. So I started digging in, reading scholars on the subject. It helps, of course, that I am a big history geek. I like to go far into the past to understand something about the present conundrum. But I mean, I'm also just a geek. I want to know what the past smells like.
ZT: Part of the present conundrum, especially in EADWACER centers on the concept of consent: "Consent is venerable..." and "Consent is delirious,". In section 8, "A number of writers would like to assign you a task. To study the evolution of human emotions, or if / they have evolved at all. The interim project of behavior. Consent is required or you're just flying off the / handle". Do you feel that you, like the speaker of this poem, have been in some way assigned to grapple with this issue? In terms of non-stereotypical portrayal of female desire and agency, can you talk about about why you have chosen consent in particular as a focal point?
JD: I suppose I am the sort of person who grapples with everything I come across. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. But the issue of 'consent' is maybe just a mirror way for me to talk about intent, to understand the beating limits of one particular body, in this case my own. I think when I was a bit younger and more green, I thought if I wasn't moving very quickly in multitudinous directions, I wasn't really alive, as a writer or as a person doing the living. The Eadwacer poem comes from a place of needing to stop and slow down but thus also having to look at what's occurred. It's important to me to involve syntax in this process. It seems to me that a particular grammar could assuage in such a way that could allow for evolution after all. Like, you could actually see the drama unfold. I think I'm sort of answering your question and sort of not. Suffice it to say I have a lot of personal experience in pressured wanting and thus more recently, as this pressure has come to be mostly diffused, I can appreciate anew the clarity of actual, bona fide agency.
ZT: I don't need a straight answer. What is your grammar?
JD: Seriously! What a question. This is how I got to where I'm at. During graduate school, when my poems were being workshopped, I could throw little arrows to catch the word 'disjunctive' in the air (a word I now hate and would never use to describe someone's poetry, because it absolutely begs the question, disjunctive to what). Is there a base camp? But I was mucking about in grammar because I wanted a fractured sentence. It seems to me the poetic fragment does notalways take account of schism, it can be an artifice of it, but for some reason, while sitting on my bedroom floor reading an article on fractal poetry, the fragment felt like a sickness, like an outright lie. Something completely manufactured to lose itself around its edges. And the sentence, as I had heretofore understood it, didn't show its work. Put these words in that order. Like this or like that. And there was a personal story taking place in the grammar as well, an autobiography in syntax, maybe a disorganization reimagined to construct a new whole. But I'm much more relaxed now. I'm trying to let phrases turn across themselves against the line break. A swimming metaphor: like swimming freestyle into the turn, then pushing off on one's back so there's a different line of sight on the way back. Maybe even swimming diagonal into a different lane. To answer
your question: my grammar is texture.
ZT: I lob you an easy one while I meditate on grammar, texture and the backstroke. I know that you're also writing series of novellas. Could you tell us about them? Is there other new writing in the works? And what happened to that blog, hm?
JD: That blog went away because I determined there was very little else humorous to say about the relationship of my cat to Gerard Butler or about the ways Beowulf is adapted in our contemporary mind. I thought, quit while ahead. As for the novellas, the idea of a series is very much in flux right now. I can't help feeling that the writing styles clash, so I'm trying to sort this out. They are actually very much written. Beowulf in Love addresses the perplexing issue of why he doesn't have a queen and is meant to be a soap opera in lyric form.
Dark Age is the adult version of Nim's Island [aah! Gerard Butler reference] & the Haircut focuses on a single act of violence within adomestic relationship that is not otherwise violent. Each of the texts centers around source material from the fifth century and are in turn a bit obsessed with the history of human emotions. And are supposed to be documents of learning. [Wulf and Eadwecer] is actually supposed to be the fourth and final chapter in this project (although it's from the eighth century). I am going for a blend of seams and fusions and the novellas too allow for presence of other genre. Line breaks & such. As for the future, I am in the reading phase for a project that I hope will examine the almost inexhaustible tension between evolution and the religious belief of intelligent design from an atheist's perspective. But as one who is seeking to engage, not merely to proselytize.
Zack Tuck is a poet from Texas, now living in Oakland.
Jenny Drai is from Chicago, Munich, and Oakland. She has work
recently appearing or forthcoming in Calaveras, Court Green, H_NGM_N, Monday Night, and RealPoetik. She currently lives in Orange County, which is interesting.
See Jenny read at the calaveras reading release party at Studio One Arts Center on Feb. 19th. @7:30pm.
from [ Wulf and Eadwacer ]
by Jenny Drai
Adoring the intricate
hiddenness of textual
appeals to my but I’ll speak
her lay and to her hall
just to mead or hearing the scop
and an 8th century pin drop.
I can tell you my story, this story
belongs to mine and just
a woman’s lips and verbs, or.
I tell this shredding to my
people under my own
skin to roughen a twinge.
The speaker shall not shallow
out longing b/c words are gouges.
Eadwacer could seize her and utter her.
His tongue-silt is honey and honey
comes from his stomach
where he smells the orchard
in her hair,
smitten of peaches.