Monday, January 30, 2012

TALK I Louis Jenkins

Louis Jenkins, author of Before You Know It and Nice Fish

Colin talks to Louis Jenkins about what to eat in Minnesota and dress up in overseas.

CGB: As I was reading European Shoes, it occurred to me that interspersing poetry with notebook entries, as a form, felt suddenly brand new.

LJ: Well, I got the idea when I was in Wales. I’d been, you know, writing things, taking notes, and working on poems all the time. I talked with a class, and they had been working with a form called Haibun, which if you know the Japanese poet Basho… he did a book called something like… they translated it as, The Narrow Road to the North, or something like that, and that’s the form. He goes and he has a little travel entry, and then he writes a little haiku poem. So I thought, ‘Well, I could use that, and just write prose poems instead of Haiku.’ And so that’s kind of how I put the book together.

It’s an exciting form, in part because we seem to do less writing in notebooks, in the age of social media. Have you worked through other forms?

No. Garrison wanted me to hook all of these poems together and turn them into a novel. But I tried that and it didn’t work out very well.

If you were assigned to write a Minnesotan version of your poem, “The Full English Breakfast,” with a list of Minnesotan fare, what would that poem be?

I don’t know. Of course, everybody would immediately write about Lutefisk. I think I’d have to think about something else. And, of course, there’s the proverbial hot-dish, church basement fare. But I don’t know. If I were gonna write about food of Minnesota, I’d have to think about that awhile. Because, you know, you could do those kinds of things, but they’ve been done and been done well. I’d have to think of something new. And at the moment, I have no idea.

If you did the hot-dish, I could see that getting pretty wordy, too. What with all of the preheating…

I discovered that the traditional green bean casserole… you know that?

Yea, with the stuff on top? 

Yea, the canned, fried onion rings. I discovered, by looking on the web… I thought, ‘Well, there must be an alternative, better recipe’…Very difficult to find. Almost every one of them called for Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and canned green beans.

There's not something more up-to-date?

I found one or two, and I even tried one, but frankly, I didn’t think it was as good as the old one.

So, Campbell’s has a monopoly on the green bean casserole, unfortunately.

I guess so.

I haven’t lived in Minnesota long, but as a boy, during visits to Duluth, I and everybody else was captivated by the raising of the lift bridge. And as soon as it began to rise, everybody came to the shore there to start looking out for ships. Is that how it is in Duluth? Are people in awe of it still? Still taking time to watch the ships?

Well, in the summer you get a lot of tourists, and, of course, it's all new to them. For people who live on Park Point it can sometimes be an annoyance. You get trapped. You're supposed to be at work or the dentist or something. So, it sort of behooves you to know the schedule.

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