Anyone familiar with my work knows that my poetry isn’t afraid to face darkness and dysfunction. When I wrote the poem, My Dark Horses, it instantly felt like I hit upon a theme central to the collection, so it wasn’t long after that I wanted to make it the title poem. I love the symbolism that the title portrays, and I feel that it prepares the reader for what’s to come.
Many of your poems have the subtitle of After Rimbaud. What is the significance of this?
During a wonderful residency in France, I started working on new book of poems that engage with and respond to Rimbaud’s collection, Illuminations. My translation of certain lines in Rimbaud’s work inspired a whole new series of ideas for me. At first, I thought this work would be part of a separate collection, but I found the ideas were grappling with similar themes as the poems in My Dark Horses. As I look at them now, I’m pleased with the different aesthetic that they bring to the book. I still hope to compile a collection made up exclusively of Rimbaud response poems.
Many of the poems contain references to classical music, whether it’s about classical instruments or specific pieces. How much of an influence has classical music had on your poetry? Do you think that music in important in writing poetry?
Music was everywhere during my childhood. My mother, father, sister and brother are all professional classical musicians, and a typical dinner conversation usually centered on the Bach Double Concerto, or the final movement of a Paganini piece. All three of us children were required to take classical music lessons. While my sister and brother quickly emerged as virtuoso talents, I found myself working twice as hard yet progressing at half their speed – so I convinced my parents to let me quit music lessons. This was a huge relief, but being the only non-musician in the family meant I was often left out of family discussions and music-centered events. I don’t think any of this was purposeful on the part of my family, they were all just infatuated with classical music, and I had other interests. Looking back on it now, I think this time was really when my poetic sensibility began to develop. I spent a lot of time alone, taking long walks or lying under the piano and observing the family practice sessions. These early observations stayed imprinted in my mind and later found their way into my poems.
To your second question, Duke Ellington said it best: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” I think music is the single most important element in writing good poems. In my mind, poetry exists somewhere in between music and prose. Good poetry is pleasing to the ear, and therefore, the music is part of the meaning of the poem. This is also why I love reading metrical poetry, and why I’m working on mastering the craft myself. Without music, I feel that a poem is just prose organized in a different way.
Family appears to be the main theme running throughout the collection. What has drawn you to write about family in your poetry?
So much happened to me during my childhood, that I felt I had a story that needed to be told. That being said, I don’t think we necessarily get to choose our subject matter. If I did have a choice I’d probably write about climate change or some hot political topic. Instead, I write about what’s on offer – what comes to me. I’m hoping that my next book will be about something different, but for me, the muse must approve.
Your poems confront difficult issues such as grief and loss but have been described as containing a ‘tough humour’ (Brackenbury). Why did you decide to include this underlying humour in many of your poems?
As Shakespeare and many other great artists have taught us, life is a mixture of both tragedy and comedy. I think the best works of art in any medium find a way to embrace both of these conditions. In my own poems, I often see the irony or even hypocrisy in many of the situations I describe, and sometimes that can be expressed through a kind of humour. I wish more contemporary poetry used humour, as I feel it’s a wonderful quality in poetry; it offsets some of the darkness, and really deepens the experience of the poem.
Below is ‘The Box’ from Jodie Hollander’s latest collection My Dark Horses.
All those years
of trying to understand
which of this is her,
which of this is me?
Getting at the truth
was always so confusing
amidst her craziness;
how to separate?
And though the shrink said
Put her in a box—
I never quite could
until that Saturday
when the doorbell rang:
and there stood a man
thin and bedraggled,
dripping in the rain.
He held a clipboard,
a small warped box,
containing my mother
or rather her remains.
Sign here, he said,
and handed me the box.
Funny how this came
though I’ve often wondered
if in a weak moment
I didn’t wish for this.
But now that it’s here
what am I to do
except to hold it close,
feel its roughness
up against my cheek,
smell that terrible smell
of factory cardboard
now finally between us.
Jodie Hollander was raised in a family of classical musicians. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Poetry Review, The Dark Horse, The Rialto, Verse Daily, The Warwick Review, The Manchester Review, Australia’s Best Poems, 2011, and Australia’s Best Poems of 2015. Her debut pamphlet, The Humane Society, was released with Tall-Lighthouse in 2012. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship in South Africa, and was awarded a MacDowell Colony fellowship in 2015.
You can find Jodie at the following events around the UK this May:
May 9: Pavilion Poetry Book Launch and reading with Nuar Alsadir and Marilyn Hacker
May 10: Reading and presentation at the Liverpool Athenaeum
May 11: Reading at York Central Library with Nuar Alasdir and Ruby Robinson
May 13: Reading at The Bookcase, Hebden Bridge Yorkshire
May 16: Reading at Albion Beatnik Bookstore, Oxford with Ben Parker and Harry Man
May 17: Lunchtime Reading at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford with Jane Spiro
May 18: Daunt Books, Cheapside, London with Sarah Westcott and Susan Wicks
May 21: Torriano Meeting House, London with Sarah Westcott and Sarah Corbett
May 23: CB1 Poetry, CB2 Cafe, Cambridge Reading with Sarah Howe
May 24: Pighog Poetry Reading, Nightingale Room, Brighton
May 25: Words and Ears, Swan Hotel, Bradford on Avon
May 26: Reading at Keats House, Hampstead, London
May 28: Reading at Octavo’s Books, Cardiff with Christina Thatcher