Poetry Grrrowl: Amanda Jernigan + Years, Months, and Days

April 18, 2019

Named the Best Poetry of 2018 by The New York Times, Amanda Jernigan's Years, Months, and Days (Biblioasis) transforms Die Gemeinschaftliche Liedersammlung—a collection of Protestant hymns—into sparse, but evocative lyric poems that meditate on the connection between hymn and poem, and the universal experiences of life, death, hope, and love. Below Amanda tells us about how her collection came to be and how music plays into her poetry, and shares a poem from her book.

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Interview with the Poet

 

 

All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection.

Amanda Jernigan: Years, Months, and Days is a collection of lyric fragments, small meditations on lines or passages from hymns in Die Gemeinschaftliche Liedersammlung, a Mennonite hymnal published in rural Ontario in 1836.

 

ALU: What is your process for beginning a poem? Has it changed since you began writing?

AJ: I have no particular process for beginning a poem, and for this reason, when I feel a poem beginning in me, I try to stop everything and listen. If anything has changed, in this, since I began writing, it is that I have become less sure about where the poems come from, and whether there will ever be another one.

That said, sometimes one hits a vein, and this was the case with Years, Months, and Days. I began making these small poems almost in secret, without a sense of where I was going or what I was doing, but they continued to come — more and more of them. Eventually, Inter Arts Matrix, an organization in Waterloo, commissioned a series of them as words for music; fourteen of them make up the libretto for the choral piece Years, Months, and Days, by Colin Labadie. It was premiered by Menno Singers in 2017.

Despite my superstition about where poems come from, I do like an assignment. There’s something workmanlike and proper about making words for a particular audience and occasion — and I love writing words for music. Music is a superpower, I think (see below). When words put on music, it’s like they’re putting on a cape.

 

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

AJ: Hearing poetry read aloud, when I was a child.

 

ALU: Who are some of your fave women of poetry?

AJ: Jay Macpherson, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop.

 

ALU: What do you find most informs and inspires your writing?

AJ: Conversation, in the broadest sense.

 

ALU: If you had one superpower, what would it be? Could you describe it in a haiku?

AJ: 

To sing like my friend,

the countertenor Daniel

Cabena. And, yes.

 

 

* * *

 

A Poem from Years, Months, and Days

 

That I

who is

but clay

should feel

such joy.

 

 

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Amanda Jernigan photo 2016

Amanda Jernigan is the author of two previous books of poems, Groundwork (Biblioasis, 2011) and All the Daylight Hours (Cormorant, 2013), as well as of the monograph Living in the Orchard: The Poetry of Peter Sanger (Frog Hollow, 2014). She is the editor of The Essential Richard Outram (Porcupine’s Quill, 2011) and, with Evan Jones, of Earth and Heaven: An Anthology of Myth Poetry (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Parnassus, PN Review, The Dark Horse, Atlanta Review, and The Nation, as well as in numerous Canadian literaries, and have been set to music, notably by Colin Labadie, whose piece Years, Months, and Days was premiered by Menno Singers in May 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Amanda Jernigan, from Years, Months, and Days, Biblioasis, 2018)


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