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Interview with Beverly Jackson

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Lily - An Online Literary Review

Volume 1, Issue 8, July 2004

beverlyjackson.jpg

The road that leads to the freeway...
Beverly Jackson: A Life of Prose

by Patricia Gomes

 

Renowned poet, writer, publisher, and former actress, Beverly Jackson's flash fiction "The Dead" has recently been nominated by Vestal Review for BASS (Best American Short Stories) 2004. Ms. Jackson's work has appeared in some of the most prestigious and respected electronic journals known to writers: Zoetrope's All Story Extra, Melic Review, In Posse Review, Pig Iron Malt, Tattoo Highway, and countless others. 

 

Her print publications include Rattle, Saturday Afternoon Journal, Spillway, Night Train, NEO, The Lucid Stone, and Buzzwords.  Editor and Publisher of Ink Pot, she is also the founder of Lit Pot Press, Inc., a non-profit press.

 

Jackson's standard bio reads reticently: "Beverly Jackson, a poet and short fiction writer lives in Fallbrook, CA among the arroyos and avocado orchards with her two dogs and her 85-year old mother.  When she’s not busy with the independent press, or the literary e-zine, you can find her in the hot tub gazing wistfully at the road that leads to the freeway.  Check out Ink Pot and Lit Pot."

 

PG: Your father, Andrew Lexington Jackson, a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps, was shot down over France in World War II.  You've written of war many times before; does the current war with Iraq renew your feelings of loss and do you plan to write of it?

 

BJ:  Yes, every kid shot in Iraq makes me think of my young, dead father.  I think war is the most repugnant expression of human failing. It’s not a subject I often write about at all.  It’s a stupid and cruel undertaking.  I was raised in the military and found the whole institution to be official insanity.

 

PG: You've lived in North Africa, The British West Indies, Spain, and the United States.  In which country have you been most prolific? 

 

BJ: We all have geography in our head . . . terrain we travel every day; that’s the creative country for writers, I think.  I remember a log in the middle of a red clearing in a forest in Maryland that was conducive to poems, as were walks along the Mad River in Blue Lake, Northern California— but you can write anywhere, no? 
 
PG: Your first publishing credit came at the age of twelve with a poem in the US Military's newspaper, Stars and Stripes.  Was that the moment you first thought, "Hey—I could make a living from this!"? 

 

BJ: I never thought I could make living from this.  I still don’t.

 

PG: An "army brat," you attended 21 schools prior to college.  Truthfully—were you an overachiever or an average student?  And who were your poets of choice then? 
 
BJ: Edna St. Vincent Millay, mostly.  I was an overachiever until I reached college, and then I found booze and boys—without supervision.  It was an epiphany that deeply affected my love of life. 
 
PG: After college, you moved to New York City.  Was the experience everything you'd ever dreamed it would be or were you disappointed? 
 
BJ: Funny, I didn’t have expectations on N.Y.C.  It was the hometown of my roommate . . . and I lived there, miserably, for a year, until I finally tuned in to what it was all about.  My gawd, I’m in NEW YORK CITY! I didn’t have a clue about so much when I was young. 
 
PG: Who are your favorite poets now, and do you think your reading taste has changed over the years? 
 
BJ: Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, Bob Hickok, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kim Adonizio, Billy Collins, Sharon Olds; contemporary poets interest me greatly. And, yes— I’ve gotten more sophisticated in my tastes in terms of quality work, but less interested in the classical forms. I read more flash fiction and short stories than I used to.  I’m more finicky about novels.  I’ve fallen in love with people like Crace and Maso who take risks with language and concepts in ways that thrill me.  I am easily bored by many books on the market, I’m sorry to say. 
 
PG: How has your writing changed over the last decade and are you pleased with the change? 
 
BJ: It improves with age.  I think everyone’s does.  And it is true that young writers often don’t have enough life experience to have something to say.  It seems like I have a lot more to say these days.  But I’m struck by how much good work comes out of the young these days.  It’s a more complex world than in my youth, so the young today frequently say profound and astonishing things.  It is both a curse (to think how they came by it) and a blessing (that they do it so well). 
 
PG: What are you most proud of having written and why? 
 
BJ: I’m never satisfied with anything I write.  It can always be improved.  I’m grateful for the whole experience of writing and the writer’s world of editing and publishing.  I’m proud of being true to the idea of keeping writing alive in as many ways as I know how, and of nurturing myself with my work and others by supporting their work. 

 

PG: Are you a disciplined writer—do schedule your writing time à la Stephen King, or do you sit down to write only when inspiration strikes? 
 
BJ: With my job, I’m lucky if I find time to sit down at all.  I have to force myself to sit down, and usually I’ve been noodling on a piece in my head for a long time prior to committing it to paper. 
 
I am a disciplined thinker, in that regard.  Every day I think about it.  I write in my head.  It feels incessant. 
 
PG: Finish this sentence: "The only creative activity as vital to me as writing is …."  
 
BJ: Painting.  I haven’t lifted a brush for five years, but I love it—all of it: abstracts, portraits, or doing collages from found objects, mixed media.  But no, not quite as vital as writing—nothing is.

 

PG: You are the publisher of Lit Pot Press; I've heard you refer to the venture as "my baby."  Is it safe to say publishing might possibly be a stronger love than writing?  And what prompted you to take the leap into publishing?  
 
BJ: No—that would be inaccurate.  Publishing is just a natural offshoot of the love of the written word, but I would give it all up in a New York second if it meant I had to stop writing altogether.  My challenge here is to balance the two, or get the publishing gig to a level where it is self-supporting and will allow me to continue to write. It’s a privilege to work with good writers and to try to get their work into the world, in even some small way.  This is satisfying and challenging, and I’m obsessive.  But writing is for me, all for me and I write every single day in my head.

 

PG: In the 1950's, you practiced bull fighting in Madrid with a live bull.  The 60's found you teaching macramé, and dancing on television in the Ed Sullivan Show.  The 70's had you doing EST under its founder, Werner Erhard, acting, dating actors (no names mentioned!), and teaching accounting classes. You took up white water rafting in the 90's and have been busily penning a huge body of writing since then.  Tell me about the 80's—was it a creative writing period for you? 
 
BJ: No.  Like most of Americans, I was busy making money in the 80’s.  I formed my own consultant’s business supporting computer software and charged outrageous hourly fees…and got them.  I bought a penthouse condo, a Miata and wore power suits and three-inch heels.  I ate at five star restaurants and played tournament backgammon for money.  I loathed myself and everyone else, for the most part. 
 
But I got to feel what it was like to be a little rich.  I didn’t think it was worth the emptiness in my solar plexus (caused not by the money but by what I had to give up in order to earn the money.).  I moved to a logging town in northern California along the Mad River and regained my “Lucky Pauper” status, my sense of humor, and ultimately, my inner peace of mind.

 

PG: Name one thing you're sorry you've never mastered. 
 
BJ: I have always been sorry that I never learned to cha-cha on the two beat, instead of the old 1,2—1,2,3. It was the hippest thing out there and I just couldn’t do it.  I’m also sorry that I never mastered a two inch high spaghetti frittata, nor ran a marathon. 
 
PG: Name a skill that you have, or a thing you do quite well that no one knows about.

 

BJ: Probably only my closest friends really know how obsessive and compulsive I am about things I put my mind to, whether it’s writing, painting, backgammon, acting, needlepoint, decorating, cooking, or whatever; I go into a flurry of learning and studying and practicing until I feel I can conquer the skills. 
 
Some come easier than others, but I always believe there is more to learn, more, more, more to be known about everything.  What a world.  Never enough time to do it all. 
 
PG: You've become your mother's caregiver—what effect has this had on your writing?  Has the reversal of your roles become fodder for your work?

 

BJ: Not yet, but I’m storing, storing, storing those nuts for future winters.  I do have a couple of pieces already that please me.  My mother and I were estranged for many years and this is a wild journey—stranger than fiction.  That fact alone pleases me, but the reality of dealing with the aged, the ill, the helpless, and the estranged family member has brought me to a new found self-respect.  We are all much stronger and larger than we think we are, given the right circumstance.

 

I am left incredulous that anyone as selfish as I could do this.  Life is truly unpredictable if you allow the cards to fall, and not grasp them too tightly in your fist.

 

PG: Your sense of humor leaps off the page in so many of your poems; have you ever written a limerick?  If yes, could we read it, please?  If no, why not and can we look forward to one in the future?

 

BJ: Oh, I’ve written many, but I saved none of them.  It’s the kind of thing you toss off in chat rooms or celebrating someone’s birthday or divorce.   
 
PG: We know you're a dog lover, and I've read of cats in your poems.  Name the one animal you would not so much as consider adopting as a house pet.

 

BJ: A hippopotamus.

 

PG: Your bio concludes with you " … gazing wistfully at the road that leads to the freeway …" where is it you dream of going and what will you do when you get there?   
 
BJ: It does?  Could I see what I sent you?  Seriously, I have always been a nomad; I grew up moving every two years.  Even though I stayed in NYC for 25 years, I moved apartments almost every year.  I needed change, and in New York, each neighborhood was a new country.  I still need change, and I want to travel back to Europe and see many places I missed including Greece and Italy.  I want to buy a house on the Costa Brava and entertain the bullfighters on warm nights with pitchers of Sangria and the jazz of America.  I dream, I dream. 
 
And like Henderson, The Rain King (one of my favorite novels), “I want, I want.”

 

 

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To read interviews with Janice Kelley, Jeffrey Spahr-Summers, Donna Kuhn, and others, or to read book reviews, go to the Publishing Credits page and click on the appropriate links.

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