Jennifer Militello is the author of Knock Wood, winner of the Dzanc Nonfiction Prize (Dzanc Books, 2019), as well as four previous collections of poetry: A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments (Tupelo Press, 2016), called “positively bewitching” by Publishers Weekly, Body Thesaurus (Tupelo Press, 2013), named one of the top books of 2013 by Best American Poetry, Flinch of Song, winner of the Tupelo Press First Book Award, and the chapbook Anchor Chain, Open Sail. Her work has appeared widely in such journals as American Poetry Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review, POETRY, and Tin House, and been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Best New Poets, and Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion. Militello teaches in the MFA program at New England College.
Metaphor is my mathematics. I now see things and they ring with all their possibilities, with all of their significance, and I write down the words with which I will represent these connections to others—recognizing that Magritte-like fate of the letters making small musics on the tongue of the mind—and, yes, as you suggest, allow the intellectual reality of the words to resonate with a deeper beat-of-the-heart instinctive sense that gives an immediate meaning, like paintings do, and music, to ease the translation through language and shoot the arrow of what is being said more directly to the heart. A thing needs to be opened up, gutted, uncased, rosined like a bow or string-tuned like a violin—so that it can be seen for its facets instead of for the one blank face it normally shows the world.
Excerpt from Rachel Inez Lane’s interview with Jennifer Militello in the Southeast Review Online:
Q: Your lyricism is dreamy, and nature plays many characters within The Finch of Song. The poem “Living Where the Halyard Can Be Hard” I feel best describes your speaker’s voice by saying, “The only identity I know is alone in the sighs/ bright wilderness.” Your poetry has an aura of solitude about it, and Kathy Fagan bestows quite the compliment about your work by saying that “Dickinson is [your] poetic ancestor.” What has been your relationship with Emily Dickinson’s work?
A: Without Dickinson, I don’t know that I’d be writing poetry. I stumbled across her poems when I was very young, and reading them changed my life. I was a child. I didn’t know that others were feeling or seeing or thinking what I was, and I certainly didn’t know that all that mixed up mess that defined me could be expressed. Those poems were electric. They were inside me already waiting to be recognized. They knocked me right down, and when I got up again, I said to myself, I want to do this. I want to recreate this interior labyrinth with an alive, vital order of images and sounds, with this kind of half object, half animal, the poem, that worms right into you like a parasite and feeds you and keeps you starving at once.
And yes, there is much solitude in the poems in Flinch of Song. I wrote most of them while living alone in a little apartment in Nashua, New Hampshire. I didn’t know anyone in the town; it was a kind of self-imposed exile. I used to just wander around among these old brick factories and churches on Main Street and look at people living their lives and observe and be quiet and then go back to my desk in this little back room. It forced me to work in a way that interruption doesn’t allow for, and it was wonderful. And so that leaked through to this speaker who I think of as an offspring of ghosts, a sibling to loss, victim of a variety of predators, someone very aware that the second part of that phrase you quote from “Living Where the Halyards Can Be Heard” is the fact that you can take apart the workings and still not understanding them; you can break that pocket watch of existing down into its particular and interesting pieces to see how they move and fit and gleam but still be left with the mystery of the whole.