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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  Julie R. Enszer


about the author


Julie R. Enszer’s first book of poetry, Handmade Love, was published in 2010 by A Midsummer Night’s Press. Her chapbook, Sisterhood, was published in 2010 by Seven Kitchens Press. She has her MFA from the University of Maryland and currently is enrolled in the PhD program in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. Her poetry has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. She is a regular book reviewer for Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.


about the work


I didn’t have a U.S. passport until I was thirty-five years old. Then, I decided that instead of just being a broad, I wanted to be a broad abroad. I took my wife to Paris for her fortieth birthday. Now, traveling to other countries is an itch that I must scratch every few years.

I had the good fortune of traveling to Asia two times for work. During the second trip, I tacked on four days in Bangkok. It was magical; I want to go back (though there are many other places I want to see first!) The genesis of “One Explanation” was the time in Bangkok, but as a poem it searched around for a while to find experiences besides the telephone call to give it a larger framework. The opening story about my friend and the confrontations with interracial couples on campus is a story that I’ve repeated often. I think about the story because it reminds me that one of the things I want to write about in my poetry is race and racism, and I want to find ways to do write about race and racism responsibly as a white woman.

Writing about race and racism are themes that I both struggle with and reach for in my writing. I believe that white people in the United States have to talk about race more, be accountable for racism and the systems of privileges that we get by being labeled white, and take accountability for the invisibility of whiteness, for whiteness being an unmarked category. So I have a political motivation in wanting to write about these issues, but a political motivation isn’t enough for poetry. It needs art and craft as well.

Much of the revision work of this poem stems from thinking about how to take on this issue artfully and employ the craft of poetry. For me part of the answer came from the answer of the town name in the final lines of the poem. I struggled with this poem on many levels, though. How do I tell the narrative in a way that it makes sense to readers? How do I compress the poem so that it isn’t overwhelmed by narrative and musicality can emerge? How do I deal with the very strong feelings in the poems about race and racism? The most difficult part of completing this poem was deciding to use “the N word” in it. It’s a word that makes me uncomfortable in every context that I hear it. For this reason, I don’t read this poem aloud when I do readings. I’m uncomfortable saying the word aloud and still have a degree of concern in using it in a poem, but it is authentic to me and so while I hold to the discomfort, I am also trying to reach for emotional intensity in the poem.

Elizabeth Bishop is a favorite poet of mine, though I don’t have her degree of emotional distance and remove in my own work. Still, particularly in a poem like “One Explanation,” I think about Bishop and her poems about travel in developing and revising my own work. I also return to the work of Adrienne Rich often for how she expresses her political commitments in her work; her continuous commitment to her political consciousness in her writing is inspiring, particularly now when one can read volumes and volumes of her poetic output over the course of her lifetime. Rich’s recent essay “Poetry and Commitment” is always on my mind; I try to emulate her poetic sensibilities. Other poet’s whose work I look to for the attentions of art and craft are Jay Wright, Robert Hayden, C.K. Williams, and Audre Lorde. I know that I may never achieve the transcendence of Bishop, Rich, Wright, Hayden, Williams, and Lorde, but when I read them, I revel in being in their presence, and I want to honor their lives and their work.


Julie R. Enszer on the web









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