Logen Cure in conversation with poet, Jenny Molberg. She’ll be performing on March 11th at Inner Moonlight, our poetry reading series.
LSU Press (2020)
Logen Cure: Refusal is such an evocative title. How did you go about choosing it?
Jenny Molberg: Thank you! It took me a long time to come up with the right title for the collection, because I wanted to capture the spirit of the collection in a single word. I went through the book and circled all the words and phrases that I felt captured a sense of a collective empowerment against abuse, the notion of healing from patriarchal oppression and the ways in which addiction can injure a family, and “refusal” stood out to me as a word that captured my intended purpose. I was reading Adrienne Rich’s essays at the time, and came across her powerful use of the word in “When We Dead Awaken.” I wanted to supplement that with a reference in literature that investigates female agency and thought Jane Eyre captured a character similar to my speaker. I was delighted to find that Brontë uses the word “refusal” in a passage where Jane is fighting for her own autonomy, so these two quotations became my epigraphs. I think the word “refusal” also captures the way I wanted to represent my modern-day Ophelia speaker, who refuses to be gaslighted by Hamlet or to succumb to the narrative Shakespeare enforced upon her.
LC: What was the final poem you wrote or revised for the book, and how did that affect your sense that the book was complete?
JM: The final poems I wrote for the book are the collection of poems in which Ophelia encounters and subsequently destroys the Demogorgon. “Loving Ophelia Is” is, I think, the last poem I wrote for the book. When I was at a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, I set out to transcribe all of Ophelia’s lines from the play to illuminate her story, after I read a critic who argued that “Ophelia has no story without Hamlet.” Read alone, her lines tell a story of gaslighting. I spent hours each day inventing a world in which she and the Demogorgon would interact. These poems were probably the most fun poems I wrote for the book.
LC: In an author’s note for your poem “Different Kinds of Sadness” at the Missouri Review, you describe the piece as a “love letter to a friend” and said you’re “interested in challenging the traditional canon of heterosexual love poems by focusing on the often unshakeable and quantifiably more stable relationship that can occur between two women.” I love the idea of love letters to friends. Why did you choose the epistle, versus some other form associated with love poems (sonnet, etc.)?
JM: That’s a great question—thank you. I’ve always been interested in the epistolary form, especially as an address rather than a dedication, wherein the “you” can be in a more direct conversation with the speaker, versus a more removed beloved you might find in a form like the sonnet. I think of this collection as an embodiment of a collective voice, and as a conversation with my friends and other women and men who have suffered abuse, trauma, and gaslighting. I wanted to leave space for dialogue, for the reader to feel like they were actively engaged in a conversation and could respond. After my divorce, I was talking with a friend and said something like, “I wish there were a hospital for this, where the other patients would also be recovering from a similar kind of invisible struggle or trauma,” and she said, “write that poem!” I imagined the speaker sending epistles out from the ward of her hospital for cheaters, and then I just kept writing these poems until the collection took shape as a kind of box of unsent letters.
LC: How do your teaching, editing, and writing lives intersect? To be clear, I don’t mean time management/balance. I’m curious how the different pursuits influence each other for you.
JM: This is such an important question. I find that I grow and learn so much from my teaching and editing. In crafting prompts and exercises for my students, I often work alongside them. In a recent course, I took my students on a Text Quest (thanks to Traci Brimhall for the idea!), in which they were each tasked with cultivating an obsession with a topic other than poetry. Then, they write poems in response to that obsession, engaging in persona, cento, erasures, and research-driven poems. I did this exercise along with my students, and that Text Quest has begun to shape itself into a third manuscript. Editing, for me, is also quite inspiring—I find in reading and selecting work for Pleiades: Literature in Context and Pleiades Press that I am fortunate enough to encounter some of the best poetry being written today, poetry that challenges and excites me, and so much of that work resonates with me as I craft my own poems. Being an editor also helps me to be more forgiving to myself when I send out work: I realize that when we must reject work submitted to Pleiades and Pleiades Press, that, because of space and a focus on a particular issue, we must say no to work that is eminently publishable, so it gives me comfort to recognize that when my own work is rejected, it can be for many reasons other than “it’s not good enough.” As an editor, I have the privilege of engaging in a literary dialogue, and to help usher work into the world that I believe in, and I am very grateful for that opportunity.
LC: What’s next? What are you looking forward to right now?
JM: Right now, I’m looking forward to AWP and my subsequent book tour (see you in Dallas!). I’m also looking forward to being a fellow at the Longleaf Writers Conference in Florida this coming May, to getting married to the love of my life in May, and to spending the summer on a much-needed hiatus from teaching to work on my third book manuscript.
Jenny Molberg will perform on March 11th with also poet Kathryn Nuernberger , at Inner Moonlight, The Wild Detectives monthly poetry reading series. More info here.
Logen Cure is a queer poet and professor. She curates Inner Moonlight, the monthly podcast reading series for The Wild Detectives in Dallas. She's an editor for Voicemail Poems. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her debut full-length poetry collection, Welcome to Midland (Deep Vellum Publishing, 2021) was shortlisted for the Reading the West Book Awards. She lives in Dallas-Fort Worth. Learn more at www.logencure.com.