Joanne Dominique Dwyer was born in Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. She has lived in New Mexico for most of her adult life. Dwyer has been published in various journals, such as The American Poetry Review, Conduit, The Florida Review, Gulf Coast, The Massachusetts Review, The New England Review, Poetry, TriQuarterly and others. She received a Rona Jaffe award and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson. Her first book of poems, Belle Laide, was published by Sarabande in 2013.
J. Dee Cochran:Belle Laide, your debut book of poems, celebrates wild associations and varying themes. And yet, the book feels very cohesive. Could you talk a bit about how the book came about and how the poems were ordered? Did you anticipate each poem coming together in one book as you were writing them?
Joanne Dominique Dwyer: I appreciate your saying that Belle Laide feels cohesive. I suppose it is because of the writing style and the repetitive obsessive themes. But the poems in Belle Laide were not penned collectively; they were not written with the thought of a book in mind. They were not construed consciously to become cohabitating members of a club or tribe, to live together communally sharing gardens and kitchen duty someday within the tenement walls of a book. They were written as urgent orphans eking out a living by foraging on roadside herbs in the Diaspora of both desiccated and jungle terrains, and in the overcrowded refugee camps of dream borderlands. Absolve me the playful overwriting and the melodrama – the key here is urgent – each poem was written in a moment or a day – and revised the next day and subsequent day and sometimes years. But at the moment of conception to write a poem, providing we are privileged, the impulse is always present on varying levels – to write or die. The writer feels this exigency to make poems or perish.
Writing that is truly worth reading – let’s say, more than once, is usually written by a writer for whom writing is a vocation, rather than an occupation. But what I wanted to comment on here is my use above of the wordprivileged. While great writing comes from the urgency of vocation (and not all of us writing from urgency are therefore great writers), I believe it is a privilege to have the time to write. So many of the world’s population are living in conditions in which there are no real opportunities to write; life is at a survival level of having the basic human needs met. So it feels a privilege to me that I have food, shelter, safety, and time in which to pacify the urgency and that my urgency is not one of quelling physical hunger, but creative and psychological hunger.
For me, writing poems is a way to make sense of what might simply be construed as nonsense. So often there is an overabundance of information and sensory stimulation circulating and pelleting down all around us, like the type of hail that cracks our windshields. I write to calm down the ecstasy-taking rave goers inside me. I write poems to convert the feelings coursing through the container of my body into something concrete.
It is difficult to make a statement and find any permanent or lasting truth in that statement. No sooner is something uttered, than the opposite arises, like a clown at a funeral to convince you life is not sad, but comedic – or the reverse. For example, I stated moments ago that I write to make random coursing feelings concrete. And immediately it occurs to ask, Can anything be concrete, especially a work of art such as a poem, which is created by an individual? And furthermore, is there any such entity as an individual? Meaning a poem is written by a certain someone and comes from within their field of feeling, their field of thought. But who among us has an original feeling or thought? We are so interwoven and interconnected; so full of incestuous relationships; so influenced by everything we have ever read and by the myriad molecules of ancestral and collective matter bombarding us relentlessly. So what makes any author seem/appear original? Does it just come down to the way we string the 26 letters of the alphabet together?
But I was speaking of the impossibility to make something concrete: actual, tangible, solid. The poem in its form on the page is a concrete thing. Its intangible quality comes through the limitless interpretations a poem elicits as read through the lens of the multifarious individual readers.
And to answer your question about ordering the poems in Belle Laide: sequencing was very difficult for me. Though I believe as we mature as writers, the more detached from our writing we become. That detachment allows us to cut loose the poems that are not up to snuff. At first the poems are all our precious beauties that we want to cling to, but we must fearlessly reject and send home the contestants that are not going to do well in all three categories: bathing suit, talent and evening gown. That detachment allows us to be better revisionists of our poems. It took me many, many tries to get Belle Laide in the shape that Sarabande Books received it.
J. Dee Cochran: This book is a crowded house of arresting personalities.Belle Laide offers cameos from Marvin Gaye, Freud, Carl Jung, St. Augustine, Nick Drake, Kahil Gibran’s Jesus, Don Quixote, Billie Holiday, St. Teresa, to name a few. The narrator also refers to lovers, a brother and son.