Karisma J. Tobin interviews Texas Review Press author Jack B. Bedell
Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and coordinator of the programs in Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he also serves as editor of Louisiana Literature and director of Louisiana Literature Press. His latest collections are Elliptic (Yellow Flag Press, 2016), Revenant (Blue Horse Press, 2016), and No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018).
What books are you reading now?
Currently, I am reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland. I just finished guest editing a special two-volume issue of Black Bough Poetry, which will release later this summer, focused on Macfarlane’s notion of Deep Time. Truly fascinating stuff!
How are you keeping yourself busy during social distancing?
I’m really enjoying all of this unexpected time with my family. Usually, we are all engaged in separate activities, schoolwork, and jobs. These last several weeks together have been a blessing. I am also doing my best to get on my mountain bike every day for a quick ride. Reading and writing are fundamental to my life, so those habits haven’t changed a bit for me.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
Reading Macfarlane’s Underland, I was enthralled learning about the “wood-wide web” theory of forest inter-species connection and community. There are some truly ancient lessons we could all follow from this concept of interrelations.
What are some of your ‘comfort food’ books, the books you keep coming back to when you need encouragement or escape?
Two books I return to over and over are James Dickey’s Poems: 1957-1967 and Leon Stokesbury’s anthology of southern poetry from the University of Arkansas Press, The Made Thing. Every time I open these books, I learn something new.
What does your typical writing process look like?
I do my best to stay open to life, to find the good in the day, so I am always receptive to poems life hands me. I am constantly taking notes toward poems and trying to organize my thoughts in that direction. Before all of this isolation and quarantine started, my standard writing process involved meeting friends in a public space, like a park, museum, or coffee shop, to write and share work. I’m a huge proponent of collaboration and community when it comes to writing. It’s just so easy to draw energy and inspiration from other writers when you are working in a group. If everyone else is getting the work in, I can’t just sit there and stare off into space or waste time checking email! Since I’ve been at home these past several weeks, though, I’ve had to discipline myself to set aside time every day to work on drafts.
I always work within the concept of a collection when writing poems, no random tangents. That helps me maintain momentum and focus. I also work exclusively on laptop or iPad in a software called Scrivener to write poems. Scrivener helps organize my poems inside the structure of a collection. It also allows me to keep notes and research available inside the collection binder.
Did you like to read as a child? Were there any childhood books and authors that were your favorites?
I read like a fiend as a child, all science and history, though! My favorite books were Audubon Field Guides, especially the editions about snakes, birds, and fishes. I also carried around a copy of Jacques Cousteau’s The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Seas book for years. Still have it on my shelf now!
Which new authors are you excited about?
This list grows by the hour! Not sure they are new, but I’m loving Joan Naviyuk Kane, Joe Wilkins, and Rose McLarney lately.
Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?
I’m an emotional person by nature, not an intellectual, so my favorite poems are those that reach me on a level beyond understanding. Language, particularly poetic language, holds magic for me, and I love being swept away by a poem’s line movement, vocabulary, and energy to the point where I forget I’m even reading.
What books are on your nightstand?
Had to go look to be sure, but currently there’s David Bottoms’ Otherworld, Underworld, Prayer Porch; Stacey Balkun and Catherine Moore’s anthology, Fiolet & Wing; and Michael Garrigan’s Robbing the Pillars.
What’s your all-time favorite book?
Tough call, but I’d roll with James Dickey’s Deliverance.
Karisma J. Tobin grew up in the mountains of New Mexico and Alaska. She is an MFA and MA candidate at Sam Houston State University. Her work appears in Plainsongs (forthcoming), THAT Literary Review, Beacon, and Leonardo. She is currently Assistant to the Managing Editor at Texas Review Press.