Poetry Express: Jessi MacEachern+ A Number of Stunning Attacks

April 12, 2021

In her debut  A Number of Stunning Attacks (Invisible Publishing), Jessi MacEachern delivers a collection of poems about gendered existence and dream that contribute to the ongoing association of fragmented forms and women's writing. Evocative of the styles of Nicole Brossard and Anne Michaels, the poems make use of space on the page to elicit a sense of fragmentation; there is poetry within the sparseness. In a collection that feels like a series of dreams, readers will wonder: Which city is this? Which woman is this? Which reader am I?

We chat with Jessi about how the abstract was the right container for her debut collection, the way poetry is "always changing the way we experience emotion," and being impossibly tired in a year of isolation. We also share the poem "The Moat Around Her Home" from the book, below.

 

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During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout. Or you can find it at your  local independent bookstore.

 

 

 

 

 

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?

Jessi MacEachern: A Number of Stunning Attacks is a long poem, or a series of poems, about gender and dream. The book is divided into six parts, which vary in style, but something like a story evolves from the fragments. Those fragments describe intimate exchanges between lovers, friends, and strangers in imagery that is simultaneously violent and erotic. In these poems, intimacy is a dangerous proposition, but by the final pages of the book, it is a welcome one.

The book began as a series of lyric poems, written in workshops alongside teachers and peers whose clever sightings are still embedded here. For more than fifteen years, I have been writing and re-writing these poems: in the ice house at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, in the sixth-floor classrooms of Concordia University in Montreal, and in the study rooms of Université de Montréal where I was meant to be writing my doctoral dissertation. 

I guess from that institutional trajectory it’s clear I am both an academic and a poet, both a critic and a writer. That may explain the book’s movement away from the lyric and into more abstract or theoretical territory. I love the lyric, but it was not a sufficient container for the index of strange sensations this book became.

 

 

 

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Photo of Jessi MacEachern
[Image Description: A front-facing photo of the author smiling into the camera that is cut off at her chest. She is standing outdoors; there are trees behind her. She is light-skinned with chin-length red-brown hair, parted to the side, and is wearing red lipstick, a grey-brown shirt, and navy blue sweater. 

 

 

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?

JM: Finishing the book! I have been writing daily since the final manuscript went to the printer. I am not yet thinking of the next book, the next project, but I am discovering new words to write in the wake of this, my first book. I worried it would be otherwise—that the book would enter the world and I would stop writing. Entirely. So far, that has not been the case and I’m allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic the new writing will continue.

This sudden burst of inspiration is made further unlikely by the isolating forces of our current moment, so I have had to dredge up old sensations for these new words to drape over. This has led to a more autobiographical direction in my writing, something I am not terribly comfortable with, but, for the moment, I’m pursuing this change with abandon. If I may, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to my writing group, who will be reading drafts tinged with childhood and adolescent yearning.

 

ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?

JM: My idea of what poetry is changes with every new piece of poetry I read. If I’m reading Ocean Vuong or fellow Montreal poet Lauren Turner, I begin to think poetry demands cutting directly into the vein of feeling. If I’m reading Erín Moure, Harryette Mullen, or my dear friend Sarah Burgoyne, I begin to think poetry demands a strange little dance with the material of language. This is the beauty of the form, I think, that it’s always changing the way we experience emotion and thought.

 

ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?

JM: I have developed a recent interest in science fiction, so I am in the middle of N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became and I am about to begin the third installment of Doris Lessing’s five-volume “space fiction” Canopus in Argos: Archives. I am also rereading Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, as well as reading her Positions of the Sun for the first time. These are the two poetic texts accompanying my new writing’s embrace of the “autobiofictionalography” (to quote the great comics artist/writer Lynda Barry). Finally, as I respond to this question, my hand is also itching to open up the most recent poetry collection on my desk, Larissa Lai’s Iron Goddess of Mercy.

 

ALU: Describe your ideal escape.

JM: It’s summertime. I’m in Prince Edward Island lying on the sand of Lakeside Beach. It’s hot and sunny. It’s not yet noon and the afternoon promises to be endless. At hand is a cooler of cold beer and a good novel, too, for the moments you grow tired (but who could?) of listening to the ocean waves.

Can returning home count as an escape? I think so, if you’ve left your laptop and your phone and maybe even your partner in Montreal. It’ll all be there when you return, and that’s nice to know, but for now there’s just the summertime.

I hope a return to the island will be possible this summer. Like everyone, a year into this pandemic, I’m feeling impossibly tired. In fact, my partner has been subconsciously sighing aloud “I am so tired” as he walks through our apartment. I’ve pointed this out to him and he’s been surprised to learn he is thinking this, never mind uttering it aloud, but he nevertheless continues the chant, “I am so tired.” I would like a sun-soaked escape, outside the city, from our shared pandemic slogan.

 

 

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A poem from A Number of Stunning Attacks

 

The Moat Around Her Home 

She keeps a notebook labelled dreams to have in which

 

She is careless in the sunshine

 

She flirts with car doors
the city is quick

  

If quickness is a synonym for wit
she has arranged a parade

  

It is proper that the women should remain indoors
See:

 

Some creature has gotten in
the sauce                                 cremini

 

Blackened garlic                     her carpet
a feast for the ceiling eyes

 

Male bodies flush
                       with squealing

  

Unclean lives
are best suited to indoor rain

 

Best considered against a wall against
which the only mirror

 

 

Has fallen

  

 

Tattered remnants                       paper-made fixtures
an altar for the grasshopper carcass
                                                                              fine

 

 

Scribbled contact promises
instant acquaintances

 

 

The women are learning

                                                             concrete stains

handwritten alterations

 

 

A white splinter in her gum

 

 

She grins                                             she wallows
where fallen leaves                            are falling still                        

 

 

            Who brought the outside in?

 

 

 

 

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Jessi MacEachern lives in Montréal, QC. Her poetry has been published in Poetry Is DeadVallumMuseMedusaCanthiusPRISM, and CV2. You can read her chapbook Ravishing the Sex Into the Hold online at  MODEL PRESS. Her first full-length poetry collection is A Number of Stunning Attacks (Invisible Publishing, 2021). She is currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Concordia University. (Twitter:  @jessisays / Instagram: @jessisaying)

 

 

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During the month of April, you can buy A Number of Stunning Attacks and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress. Or find them at your  local independent bookstore

Keep up with us all month on  Twitter,   Instagram, and  Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryExpress.

 

 

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