Obsession and Resistance in Poetry: An Interview with Jehanne DuBrow
Interview conducted by Sebastian Paramo

Jehanne Dubrow is a prolific poet whose work is visceral and rich with the language of the senses. Her sixth book of poems, Dots & Dashes, won the 2016 Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry Open Competition Award and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2017. In her work, what lingers in absence becomes something obsessed over. “For weeks, I breathed his body in the sheet. / He was bitter incense paired with something sweet,” she writes in the villanelle titled “The Long Deployment.” These lines are emblematic of her work in their meditation on how one reconciles longing with the physical memory of the beloved.

In the past eight years, Dubrow has published five poetry collections, two anthologies, directed a writing center, and founded the journal Cherry Tree.  Both Stateside, her third book, and The Arranged Marriage, her fifth, meditate on the problem of communication in marriage and relationships. Stateside delves into the mythic history of women longing for their beloveds in war time. The Arranged Marriage examines, instead, the tyranny of a marriage. These threads weave their way into her newest book, Dots and Dashes, a sequel to Stateside. 

Dubrow recently joined the faculty at the University of North Texas. This past fall, I took her poetry workshop and thoroughly enjoyed our discussions on craft, composing a manuscript, and contemporary poetry. In our interview, we discuss the role of the poet in the current political landscape, our obsessions, and what inspires us, as well as how she has managed to stay prolific.

SEBASTIAN PARAMO: Before accepting your new professorship at the University of North Texas, you had a role as an arts administrator, editor, professor, and poet—all roles that participate in the literary community. Did these roles inform your writing process?

JEHANNE DUBROW: Absolutely. Every decision I made in running a literary center—which included a reading series, a press, a journal, and internships in writing, editing, and arts administration— reflected my hopes for what my students might learn as well as my own literary interests.

I think one of my tasks in the classroom is to break the complex into small, simple components. I’ve found if I can explain an element of craft with language that is transparent and accessible, then my students can begin to replicate such techniques in their writing. Inevitably, I’m also explaining these ideas to myself, and the classroom then changes how I engage with my own poems.

A tiny example of what I mean: in the process of explaining how one might draft a villanelle, I have become more attentive to the tension between end-stopped and enjambed lines in this form; teaching students about the relationship between syntax and line, within the constraints of a fixed form, has led me to write (what I hope are) better, more successful villanelles.

SP: I like that you use form and/or play with form often in your work. Do you have a favorite form? A least favorite form?

JD: I always come back to the sonnet. When I first decided that I wanted to be a poet, I spent a year writing a sonnet a day (all of them about characters from Greek mythology—I still remember the one about Daphne, which ended with this couplet: “It’s not that I