TSR: The Southampton Review
Special Feature: A Discussion with poet Jenna Le
Contributor to the Summer 2013 issue of The Southampton Review
Q: Some of your poems for TSR: The Southampton Review are both extremely funny and at the same time thought provoking. What is your intent as a poet?
A: My poems are driven by many motivations at once, most of them subconscious. Each poem is like a hapless child who’s being attacked by a swarm of bees, hurtling at him from every direction: it’s near impossible to explain the subconscious mental processes by which the child chooses a single direction in which to run away. And yet, run away he does. To give an example, my poem “We’ll Always Have Flushing” embodies a wide range of desires on my part: the desire to be interesting and amusing to my readers, the desire to provide emotional comfort (to myself as well as to others), the desire to exhort (myself as well as others) to lead an ethical life, and, most importantly, the desire to memorialize and dignify the precious small things in our world that would otherwise be forgotten or belittled. I guess that’s my main intent as a writer, if anything: to extend memory and confer dignity.
Q: Metaphor is in the title of one of your poems. What metaphor is most important to you?
A: Well, I’m keenly interested in the use of animals as metaphors. The poem that you’re referring to is a poem about ducks, for instance. I think ducks are a great metaphor: as scientist Patricia Brennan recently described in Slate, ducks are “one of the few vertebrate species other than humans that form pair bonds and exhibit violent sexual coercion.” The metaphor that means the most to me personally as an erstwhile New Englander, however, is the lobster. Lobsters are cryptic little critters that are uncannily similar to poets: I read somewhere that if you chop off all of a lobster’s arms and legs, it can maneuver itself around using its mouth alone. One of the poems in my book Six Rivers is about that.
Q: We won’t ask you what poet has had the greatest influence on you as you work. Instead we’ll ask what poet you would choose if you were shaking his or her shoulders—and why.
A: I think Sappho could use a good shake. Someone needs to reprimand her for not doing more to preserve her beautiful poems for posterity!
Q: Wait! What other questions should we be asking a poet?
A: I always like it when other poets are asked what books they’re reading right now. I’m currently in the middle of two great poetry collections, Mina Loy’s Lunar Baedecker and Joshua Mehigan’s The Optimist.
Jenna Le’s first book, Six Rivers (New York Quarterly Books, 2011), was a Small Press Distribution Poetry Bestseller. Her writing has appeared in AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Post Road, and 32 Poems. She has been a Pharos Poetry Competition winner, a Minnetonka Review Editor’s Prize winner, a Pushcart Prize nominee, and a PEN Emerging Writers Award nominee.