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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.

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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.

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

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Write better poetry!

Click here to learn how.

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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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