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10 Questions for Jill McDonough

Before we brush our teeth and get dressed, before
I take two kinds of blood pressure pills and three
fiber gummies, put coffee in one kind of go-cup,
kale smoothie in another, get into the car, I say I want
to have one more cup of coffee in bed and read you
this Ellen Bass poem, but it’s short and then we’ll go.
I am always drinking 1% in my coffee and trying
to tell Josey we have plenty of time. Josey wakes up
saying We’re running out of time! Which makes
no sense. You can’t be running out when it just started!
from "The Good Work," Volume 65, Issue 1 (Spring 2024)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I kept a sketch book as a journal all through junior high and high school and would write poems and rewrite them with different line breaks over and over until I liked how it looked on the page in my kid handwriting. Which looked exactly like my grownup handwriting looks now.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Octavia Butler, Three's Company, and Mark Rothko.

What other professions have you worked in?
You mean besides being a poet? In America? LOL! I'm a full professor! Before I was tenure track I was adjunct. While I was adjunct I was a terrible bartender, and house cleaner, and house painter, dishwasher, chambermaid. . . before that I worked at Subway, I waited tables, I poached eggs, I cut fruit, I called people asking about their home health care aides, and I taught English in a Japanese high school and nuclear power plant. I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Are those professions?

What did you want to be when you were young?
Nellie Bly or an ice cream lady. I saw a Tampax ad one time in a magazine where a smiling white lady all dressed in white had a little ice cream cart she was wheeling around in parks, that looked like fun.

What inspired you to write this piece?
Ellen Bass! Getting old and still being in love! Being lucky enough to get old and safe enough to have a doctor keeping me from dying even though I make terrible decisions! I am actively drinking gin next to a sack of Oreos as I type this. Thanks, Dr. Shapiro!

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I really like the train between Boston and New York. The Northeast Regional influences my writing. Also the Orange Line, and the 41 bus.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I have listened to "Cuff It" by Beyoncé and "Vampire Empire" by Big Thief and "$20" by Boygenius an absurd number of times in the last year. I go in spurts where I have to hear the same song over and over until I don't. Other recent ones included Bill Withers' "Use Me" and Sly and the Family Stone's "If You Want Me to Stay."

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Wouldn't it be fun to be a painter? But, like, a really rich one? I remember reading this thing about Cy Twombly and how he married well and then he could afford "the good reds." Like, not fancy wines but Cadmium Whatever.

What are you working on currently?
Meh, I just had a book come out, so I'm just fucking around, writing individual poems for me and maybe they'll be a book someday. Liz Bradfield wants NATURE POEMS for some anthology and keeps rejecting mine because they aren't natural enough; she says I need to put an otter or a lady slipper in or something. Okay, Liz. Not a lot of those on Amtrak or the Orange Line but cool, cool, I'll keep an eye out.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Beautyland by Marie-Helene Bertino and it is BALLER and made me laugh out and also burst into tears. Go get it.


Three-time Pushcart Prize winner JILL MCDONOUGH is the recipient of Cullman Center, Fine Arts Work Center, NEA, and Stegner fellowships. She teaches in UMass-Boston’s MFA program.

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