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10 Questions for Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

Five miles from Buchtel
              the snow has turned to rain,
                            the creek laps the edges of the road.

Tomorrow the ground
                will freeze again, flood
                              trapped, no place to go
—from "Rt. 13, Late May," Volume 62, Issue 4 (Winter 2021)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first poem I remember writing was one that went “Keep a fire burning/deep inside of your heart/let it shine without falter/let it burn a loving light.” I think it was more of a protection spell for myself than a poem, but that can be sort of a thin line. I took it to school to show my friends because I was just ridiculously proud of it and expected everyone else to just fawn all over it. They. . .did not.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I think right now Annie Finch is a huge influence on my poetry. I’m part of the online group she runs, the Poetry Witch Community, and have been taking classes in metrical poetry from her. I think she’s helped my writing get back to itself in a really intense and delightful way. I did graduate work at Ohio University and Florida State University, so my poetry is also heavily influenced by poets such as J. Allyn Rosser and Barbara Hamby with their ability to incorporate formal elements into their poems in a way that might slip past a person on first read. You know you’re vibing on something, but not quite sure what. I think the conversational narratives of David Kirby and Mark Halliday have also had a huge impact on my work. Now I tend to save my talky rambles for my fiction, but their work taught me how to tell a story quickly and clearly and helped me develop a good sense for what details will pack the most punch while still advancing the story. Other poets that have also influenced my writing are Rita Dove, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, David Trinidad, Lucia Perillo, and Anne Sexton (and the list really could just go on and on and on).

What other professions have you worked in?
I spent ten years working in higher education administration. I worked as the administrative assistant for a gender studies program, a residence hall director, an academic advisor for undecided students and later for prelaw students. I also worked in a student activities office helping plan events like the university’s homecoming parade and big concerts. After all that, I taught comp, creative writing, and critical theory for about ten years as a graduate student and then as a visiting professor.

Right now I edit confidential documents for the government. I like that it makes me sound like a spy, but really it’s all very boring, which has been amazing for my writing. Previously, I really bought into the idea of having a job that you’re passionate about, but having a job you have no emotional investment in can also be a boon. All my passion and drive gets to go into my writing and literary community work, but without the pressure on those things of being “good” enough so that I can still pay my rent.

What inspired you to write this piece?
“Rt. 13 Late May” came about twelve or thirteen years ago as I was driving home from my friend Kate’s house in Glouster, Ohio. It was late in the year for that kind of weather, but probably not as late as the title suggests. My mom always says that there’ll be three snows after the first forsythia blooms and it was a year where it was more like five or six. I lived in the country about twenty minutes outside of town and so did Kate, but in the other direction. So I had a pretty long drive and kept my mind from worrying about the weather by writing the poem in my head.

“The Flooding of Lake Ella” was written last fall in my first class with Annie Finch. It was all over Zoom and I’d look out over the top of my monitor and see my neighbor walking his dog when class was starting. It came out of an in-class exercise (or maybe I was just writing when I was supposed to be paying attention?). Lake Ella is not far from my neighborhood and when I first moved to Tallahassee it was a big event when it would flood over the surrounding roads, but now a decade later it seems to be almost expected and the floodings have even made it onto its Wikipedia page. And as time progresses that flooding may get worse and worse. The poem became part of a series of ones I wrote that fall processing my anxieties about climate change and living in North Florida (as a way to avoid my anxieties about the global pandemic). It also became a way of writing a future where my neighbor, who’s been living with advanced stage cancer for about a decade, is definitely still around and getting to do his thing for another forty years or so.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Much of my writing is influenced by Southern Ohio. I grew up in Central Ohio but spent summers with family in Scioto County and then lived 17 years in Athens County. Appalachian Ohio appears a lot in my work.

North Florida is also starting to pop up a lot now that I’ve lived here over a decade.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I read once that Rita Dove writes standing up at a secretary desk as the sun is setting (or at least did at the time of that interview). I wish I had a writing ritual that was that beautiful, but mine are much more practical. When I’m writing metrical I’ll do about ten minutes of entraining with the rhythm before I start to write. So, if I’m trying to work with dactyls I’ll read a bit of Longfellow’s “Evangeline” or if I want anapest I’ll read his “Paul Revere’s Ride” before I start trying to write so that it’s really in my ear and soul. And I usually write after I take my bath at night. But again, it’s for a very practical reason. It’s a time where most everything else I need to do for the day is done and I’m away from my computer.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband always gets to hear my work first, usually the day I write something new before it’s revised or mucked with at all. And when I’m done reading it to him he nods his head and gives an enthusiastic “nice” and then goes back to playing Minecraft. Never underestimate the power of a live-in cheerleader who is easily impressed.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’ve always wanted to be able to draw. My husband and I got Lynda Barry’s Making Comics and started working through the lessons together last winter. I’m still not any good at it, but we had fun.

What are you working on currently?
I’ve been working on a novel in metrical verse right now. The idea came about this spring when I uncovered a micro-cassette tape that I’d made of a conversation with my granny back in 2003. I had just decided to “get serious” about being a writer and asked to record her (because it seemed like a very professional thing to do?). On the tape she says “he was the only man I ever loved,” and she wasn’t talking about my grandfather. I’m running with the stories she told on the tape about her first love, but also just having a grand time making stuff up to fill in the gaps.

The other project I’ve been working on is a novel that I’ve been describing as “if William Wordsworth wrote Fried Green Tomatoes after reading Gravity’s Rainbow.” I wrote it by reading 100 lines from Wordsworth’s The Prelude and then writing whatever came to mind. I did this every night until I’d finished reading the whole thing, no revising, no thinking about what the plot was starting to look like, just going with it. During revisions I gave it a little more shape, though it’s still heavily influenced by Wordsworth’s style of sharing a story from his youth and then going off on a tangent about how great the powers of his own imagination and intellect are.

What are you reading right now?
In poetry, it’s Avni Vyas’s Little God which I’ve been enjoying because of the speaker’s ability to call themself on their shit while also giving solace and comfort. I’ve also been reading Keema Waterfield’s memoir Inside Passage. I grew up playing in a stringband with my parents, so I’m feeling really connected reading Waterfield’s stories about playing at folk festivals even though she grew up in a different part of the country and with a very different family situation. And, because I always have a lot of books going at once, I’m reading Alison Stine’s new novel Trashlands which is similar to her Road Out of Winter in that it’s CliFi and set in Appalachia, but there’s much more emphasis on how we retain our humanity in harsh and chaotic times.

JENNIFER SCHOMBURG KANKE, originally from Columbus, OH, lives in Tallahassee, FL, where she edits confidential documents for the government. Her work has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, and Salamander. Her chapbook Fine, Considering, about her experiences undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, is available from Rinky Dink Press. She serves on the board of directors for Anhinga Press.

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