Jennifer Denrow is the author of two chapbooks: A Knee for a Life (Horse Less Press, 2010) and From California, On (Brave Men Press, 2010). She currently lives in Colorado where she recently finished a PhD program at Denver University.
Whitney DeVos: Being a CA native, [your thoughts on your most recent collection California are] what I’m most interested in hearing about—the disembodied place and the poetic voice of the 21st century—and how California (or California) speaks to both.
Jennifer Denrow: I had to write something before about California and I said this: California is about the role of California in the contemporary imagination, as an imaginative trope within a dislocated psyche. The escape here has to do with the inability to make things mean—it feels like if I try hard enough there can be a resolution via the imagination. But sometimes when we make things they overcome us. It’s difficult to know the appropriate boundary for imagination—at what point it moves from an attempt to decipher the world into a construction of the reality of the world. I can’t ever tell the difference but I continue to try.
When you say “disembodied place”, I think that’s right—dislocation feels prevalent, necessary (for me, anyway). I think it’s important to stay inside uncertainty, to think about place and imagination as inseparable—I feel like I’m always trying to determine what place is, how it works. Fanny Howe says in “Bewilderment”: “Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability.” Maybe when you say the “voice of the 21st century” this is the voice . . . .
WD: As regards bewilderment and imagination—how do you see these relating to our position in history, our collective consciousness, etc.? Also, poetry? Any advice for a young contemporary writer?
JD: I think imagination and bewilderment are tops—wonder, for me, is the most important emotion—to be able to maintain wonder and be in the world (in order to be in the world, maybe). I can never know what anything means. It feels like I want to—like the correspondence I try to create with everything that’s outside of me is purposed to result in meaning, but I don’t think that’s it—I think it’s more like trying to understand how everything can mean so much and wandering around inside the suggestion that it does. It feels like an invitation I have to remain attentive to.
In terms of how this relates to our position in history, or in poetry, I’m not sure. There is something in the way things are made—or in the way they are made to be to one another: I was standing in a hole the other day, a hole in the beach, the sand had been moved, etc, and this couple walking by (it was dark) approaches, very suspiciously, and the woman says what’s going on here. And the man says, hey, you’re standing in a hole, why are you standing in that hole, and I said because it’s something i do—and then he said, so you know you’re in a hole and I said yes, I love holes. This was all very mysterious for the couple but for me it felt regular. I don’t know why thinking about wonder and our place within history and poetry made me think of this story but it did.
It feels necessary to always make things mean—maybe that’s what that story was about. they had probably narrativized my hole-standing to equate to some great act of faith, or maybe they thought I was stuck, or maybe they thought I had fallen into the hole and didn’t know and they were going to help me by telling me I was there. I don’t know. Maybe they were just drunk.
When it comes to advice, I’m not sure of that either. I know what’s important for me—that I continue to look at things, past the point of seeing them, and then past that, into not seeing them, and then staying out there, as far as I can inside of them, for as long as possible and seeing what that feels like and what can happen inside of that. Maybe other people have to do different things. Maybe obsession. I think that’s good advice.
WD: It feels necessary to always make things mean—I can definitely relate to this… sometimes it is so hard! But necessary, of course, in the face of everything that asks us to find things meaningless or—everyone who tells “us” (poets/artists/English majors) that we are “just overthinking everything”. as humans, we are people of stories and meaning (ceremony seems relevant—and our loss of meaning within, lack of rights of passage, connection with nature, self reliance, commercialization of holidays (“holy days”)…
JD: Meaning, it seems, comes from reference. And that’s why it’s so hard. Because everything feels like hypertext. One thing means not only itself, but it also means what happens when you click on it and when you click on it, you have all of the information of the new thing which is also the old thing and that of course means something else as well. There’s the thing about Stein making a rose mean a rose again, but then what happened—between then and now? Everything means so much. That’s why indefinite and demonstrative pronouns are so important. They are words dependent on external reference, some relation is indicated—to say this is here means nothing unless you can see or have some other reference to this and here. But now, these words feel complete without information outside of themselves because nothing is one thing anymore.
I don’t know. Maybe that’s not right. Maybe nothing has ever been just one thing . . .
WD: What is at stake for us today, as “Californians,” Americans, humans, citizens of planet earth, attempting to make meaning etc.?
JD: What’s at stake: is it loss of wonder?
WD: I wonder, how we can court/cultivate wonder in a world in which we may Google everything, or in which places we’ve never been look exactly how they looked on “Planet Earth” or in some movie, etc., What can things mean in a world in which the survival of wonder is at stake? How do we create worlds in which meaning is integral? Is the point of art to create a mirror/a two way mirror/a different mode of being?
JD: I know. Wonder is so hard to keep. I was reading this article about David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who thinks about time. He says when we’re young, the world is unfamiliar so time takes forever to pass because we’re learning about the world, but as we age, time speeds up because we’re familiar with what’s here. That’s why it’s so hard—familiarity: it can mess everything up. His research was centered on near-death experiences or moments of fear when everything slows down. The best thing he says is that we’re in a time lapse—that our brains need time to figure things out and then what is figured out is revealed to us. That the brain is constantly making decisions about the information that’s important/necessary for us to have is something I like to think about. What else is really happening? What gets censored? How can anyone tell if what we get is the right stuff—it’s necessary for survival, I’m sure, but is it the right stuff?
There’s a book. It’s called The Truth About Stories and in it is written that “the truth about stories is that’s all we are.” That feels right to me.
WD: But if dislocation is prevalent, how does this speak to place? Where might we locate ourselves? Within language itself? Within the wor(l)ds of others?
JD: My estimation of place is very porous. I think everything is a place. I think people are places and I think my arm is. it seems like we locate ourselves in relation to the material around us or in relation to an emotional state or a psychological one. I’m here is one of my favorite declarations because it feels so true. And I don’t know what it means. I’m always wanting to say to people, maybe I do say it, we’re here. I like that there is something we can agree on–that we can know, momentarily, one thing that unifies our experience. I don’t know how to determine place, but I feel like I’m always in it. In something. Here. I always feel like I’m here and that seems important.
WD: I’m here. I have a good friend, and one of his favorite things to do is overhear people on their cell phones telling the people on the other line where they are. I like when people explain their jokes.
JD: That’s so funny—listening to where other people are. Isn’t it weird that everyone is somewhere. I love it when people explain jokes—but that’s mostly because I’m so slow at jokes. Sometimes it takes me so long to understand it and then I have a hard time figuring out how it’s funny. This is my favorite joke: what did the zero say to the eight?
You should just make that joke the interview.
Whitney DeVos currently lives & writes in Tucson, Arizona.