Jane Shlensky: Poet Interview

Jane Shlensky likely doesn’t need an introduction on the Poetic Asides blog, but I’m going to give her one anyway, because she deserves it. Not only is Jane a fine poet (read her Top 10 sijo here), but she’s also one of the “encouragers” on this blog.

Jane Shlensky

Jane Shlensky

Jane is also part of a faction of poets I like to refer to as the “Hickory Poets” (of North Carolina), along with the likes of Nancy Posey, Scott Owens, Helen Losse, Jessie Carty, and others. I’ve seen her read in person, and it made me appreciate her poetry even more.

Without further ado, here’s her Top 25 poem from the 2013 April PAD Challenge:

Storm-taught, by Jane Shlensky

A streak of yellow sky laid under
blue-black clouds, distant thunder,
and high wind bodes a reckoning.

Whatever tender plant or flower
newly born but for an hour
faces a beating April sting.

Old women learn to read such skies
like three-day bruises, alibis
for mischief loosed across the earth.

They think to harbor things they love
from hail and downpours from above,
knowing the scars from one outburst

can wreck a garden’s trust in good.
Old women know it’s understood
that heaven will have its way below.

Whatever power we think we own
is blasted by skies hard as stone.
We’re humbled by what we can’t know.

Bullying clouds with angry fists
prove some old women optimists
searching for spectrums arced in blue.

Old women know that broken plants
survive the direst circumstance.
Storms break, and sun shines through.


Where are you located?

I live in a village a few miles north of Durham, NC

Who are your favorite poets?

My tastes in poetry are eclectic, a sort of revolving favoritism based on whoever has my attention at the moment. (You might be interested to know I’ve been Solving the World’s Problems lately with some young guy from Georgia). Sometimes I’ll see something that recalls a line from Wordsworth or Whitman, Rilke or Keats, Tu Fu or Hopkins or Frost or Kooser.

I read widely and so appreciate widely. Teaching poetry and literature for so many years helped me read with an ear for form but a heart for truth. Reading fellow writers on my favorite blogs and in magazines has added to my list of poets to watch.

As a reader, what do you like most in poems?

I like beautiful language that is at once precise, clear, meaningful, and jagged—words that in their utter simplicity are dazzling and touching, that ring true to human experience. I want a phrase or line to snag me like a good fish hook, make me read again, make me wish I’d written that.

Sometimes, I feel compelled to say, “Damn, that’s a good poem” because it is. Naturally, what I love in poetry is not necessarily what I do every time, but poems that get my attention and reel me in are good models to consider as I write.

What were your goals for 2013 Poetry Challenge?

On blogs like Poetic Asides, I’ve paid heed to what my fellows find worthwhile in my poetry. Southerner to the bone, I cannot avoid story. I’ve been encouraged by comments about my narrative work, a particular character, event, or slice of life that engaged me.

During the April challenge, I decided to see if it would be possible to write mostly narrative poems, to explore a character’s plight using the prompts. While I was not always able to do that well, I did manage 27 days to do so, some days writing more than one poem for a prompt. I have a growing village of narrative poems, like Robinson’s Tilbury Town or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.

What is next for you?

My mother believed that whatever a person learned was to be used for the benefit of others. With writing as well as with playing piano, she would chide me if I wanted to learn a thing just for myself. I guess I could say I’ve been raised to find a use for things, including the poems I write every day.

Words are written to be read, so I’m tinkering with a collection, still sending out a few poems to magazines now and then, entering challenges and contests sometimes. Maybe all these little narrative lives will coalesce into a volume.

Nancy Posey and I are flirting with a joint project we’ve discussed for a while.

What’s next? Like West Side Story’s song, “Something’s Coming,” “…I don’t know what it is but it is gonna be great.”  Or, at least, I hope so.


To read a little more about Jane, check out this Poetic Creative Bloomings interview.


Write better poetry!

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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16 thoughts on “Jane Shlensky: Poet Interview

  1. Hannah

    I love this poem, Jane!!! The idea of reading the skies…my favorite!! It’s so wonderful to see you here, your poetic voice is one I’ve always enjoyed and always am thrilled to see…such a joy to be in your poeming presence, Jane, truly! 🙂

  2. PressOn

    It interests me that Jane’s poem speaks of the resilience and wisdom of old women, because I think her poetry combines the grace of youth with the wisdom of the Crone. Her ability to tell stories often leaves me with feelings akin to awe, and the music in her words and rhymes is soothing, even when she is sneaky fast. She’s a wonder, and nothing less.

  3. PKP

    “with an ear for form but a heart for truth” stated with regard to your reading – yet a perfect description of your poetry – it is a wonderful accomplishment when someone achieves for herself what she seeks in others –
    “I like beautiful language that is at once precise, clear, meaningful, and jagged—words that in their utter simplicity are dazzling and touching, that ring true to human experience. I want a phrase or line to snag me like a good fish hook, make me read again, make me wish I’d written that.” Well, m’dear you have, over and over again. (additionally Jane is a fine and exacting editor who offered invaluable help to me!)… Thank you RLB for the interview and Jane you have a thirsty audience awaiting a deep drink from your fountain. Bravo!

  4. drwasy

    Wonderful poem, and more wonderful interview. I’ve been a fan of yours since I’ve participated in the April PAD, which must make it 5 or 6 years. Love your positive attitude. And very much intrigued with the idea of a joint venture with Nancy. Peace…

  5. Marie Elena

    I don’t know what to say to Jane that I haven’t already made crystal clear to her. She is one of my top 5 fave poets, who never ceases to grab and hold my attention and admiration. I’m so happy to see her get the consistent recognition here that she so deserves, Robert. 🙂

    Jane, I’m so glad you are getting out a collection! Can’t wait!

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Thanks so much for these generous and lovely comments. I’ve been a follower of some of you for years and never fail to leech you for inspiration and skills. I so appreciate PA and Creative Bloomings for availing me of supportive friends and a first-rate education in poetry writing. Love y’all.


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