Catching up with Jehanne Dubrow

Well, a lot has happened since MilspoFAN interviewed me two years ago. I’ve had two new books come out: American Samizdat (Diode, 2019), a collection of poetry about our current political moment, and throughsmoke (New Rivers Press, 2019), a book-length essay about how I came to fall in love with perfume. I also have another collection of poems, Simple Machines, which won the Richard Wilbur Poetry Award and will be published this year by the University of Evansville Press. And, yet another book of poems, Wild Kindgom, will be published by Louisiana State University Press in 2021. You can find some of my recent poetry and creative nonfiction at POETRY, The Colorado Review, Poetry Northwest, and Poetry Daily. Finally, in my life as an academic, I was promoted to Professor at the University of North Texas!

As much as all of these forms of validation fill me with confidence and gratitude, what really matters is the work. I’m currently writing two new books. The first is a collection of essays about art, tentatively titled Exhibitions. My parents were American Foreign Service Officers, and I grew up in houses that were filled with the art they collected during all of our postings abroad. At its heart, Exhibitions is a book about the problems of beauty, about intergenerational trauma, about the intersection of personal and global histories. Exhibitions asks: how, in looking outward at beautiful, artful objects and the contexts that made them—war, displacement, trauma—can we learn about ourselves? The book begins with an epigraph from the poet Mark Doty, “[a]ll those painters, all their lives looking at reality with such scrupulous attention, attention pouring out and out, and what does it give us back but ourselves?” 

My second in-progress manuscript is a collection of poems. Civilians will function as the final book in the trilogy that I began with Stateside (Northwestern UP, 2010) and Dots & Dashes (Southern Illinois UP, 2017). When Stateside first came out, it was one of the first poetry collections to explore what it means to be “married to the military,” looking at the before, during, and after of a deployment. By the time Dots & Dashes was released, seven years later, there were many more literary representations of the military spouse, and I felt like I was no longer so alone in the conversation about how our perspectives might be elevated to art. Dots & Dashes considered my role as someone who has part of two very different communities—the military and academia—which often speak in opposing, even hostile ways about one another. By addressing that gap, I hoped to find places of connection and opportunities for introspection, self-reflection. 

And now, I’m writing poems for Civilians, which examines a new stage in my marriage. Last summer, my husband retired, after 20-year career in the Navy. With Civilians, I’m trying to make sense of what it means to go from being a military officer to being a civilian. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a civilian as “a person who is not professionally employed in the armed forces; a non-military person.” So, what does it mean to go from a life of uniforms and regulations, to suddenly being defined by negation, “not professionally employed in the armed forces; a non-military person?” I don’t have the answer yet. It’s the writing of the poems that will teach me how to understand this new moment. And, as I always hope when working on a new book, perhaps my poems will then offer others insights. In this case, I want these poems to address the relationship between civilians and military personnel, bridging the distance between these two kinds of lives.

Instagram: @the_professor_is_wearing
–Jehanne Dubrow

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