I believe in Literary Citizenship. I really do. I believe in it in caps, as you see. To me this term has meant writing and sharing my literature, as well as advocating for literature through attending and creating literary festivals/conferences/readings. Case in point, I’m part of an extremely active committee for the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival—happening May 13-14th right here in my little, slightly wackadoo but lovely nonetheless, tourist town of Salem, Mass.—and the organizing has really been kicking my butt. I co-direct a performance series as well (and adjunct, and mother two kidlings, and workout, and am a wifey to boot), and my co-director Melissa asked, “How do you do it all?” I think she was more worried than impressed. As well she should be—I’ve been fighting a spate of reoccurring illnesses. I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to enter the realm of too much info. But after a bit of a health scare I’m reconciled to the fact that I need to change the way am a Literary Citizen.
So yeah, I still believe in being a literary citizen (what happened to the caps?) but I’ve decided to take my health into consideration this year. Of course “this year” started for me on February 3rd which was the lunar New Year of the Rabbit—but, better late than never. Early to bed is at the top of the list and has had about a 70% success rate. I’m a work in progress, as are we all. Along with health considerations, I’ve decided to let my kids into my literary world and not covet it so much. We used to write poetry together—they’d pick a topic, start sharing, and I’d type it out and then let them hit enter for line breaks as we read it aloud together. Very silly turnout but very fun! I took a long break from this bonding time and have just now gotten back into it.
I’ve been testing out a few other ways to include them and so not always tuck them away with babysitters—or impinge on my long suffering hubby—while I do my literary thing. To this end, January O’Neil and Colleen Michaels (both Mom Egg contributors) met with me and all our kids at the local Monkey Joes to discuss the Mass Poetry Festival. Do you have a Monkey Joes where you live? It’s like Chuck E. Cheeses on crack with bouncy Cretan labyrinth type contraptions and surround-sound screaming 100% of the time. No lie. Did we get anything done? Sure! But I left with a buzzing headache and two flushed kidlings likely slathered in germs galore. We took home legions that day.
I also took my son Luc and daughter Chloe to a meeting for the re-launch of Art Throb, an arts and lifestyle journal I write features for. It was at a haut new eatery here in Salem so I checked to make sure I got the go ahead to bring them. Everyone was at the bar when we arrived late so I kicked into network mode right away and only off handedly told my kids to find stools next to my colleagues. The waitress had to remind me kids weren’t allowed at the bar—doh! I don’t drink and haven’t been in that kind of shi-shi place with them yet…but really I think I’m just not used to taking them into consideration in these kinds of circumstances. My lovely editor Dinah thankfully moved the whole shebang over to some tables which were small and round and high up off the ground with oddly tall chairs. My kids were great. Polite. Volume-appropriate. Of course Chloe toppled off the tall chair and I had to twist my face away from horror and into a smile of reassurance. “You’re fine.” And she believed me! You moms know how it is. We left soon after.
So, I guess my definition of literary citizenship now permanently includes the requisite passing on the love of literature to the next generation, especially to those with whom I’ve the most influence—my own poppinsfloo (that’s Jeanfamily for “children”). To continue with this process I’ve included here a picture of myself with Luc (he’s delighted about this) and a poem about me and my kids and about how much I can learn from them:
Damn lightning. Strobing
behind thin curtains.
I try not to see. I fitful twist
on the mattress, face down. But the bright
thrusts in, striking my eye.
I gotta get up
to pretend to comfort the children.
My way is lit. Damn windows.
Letting in every FRAK! FRAK!
FRAK! Why do we love
having too many windows?
Were we were made to expose ourselves
to breaking mornings
on a top floor target? FRAK!
My girl is in my boy’s room under her blankie.
She perks up when I bust in
trying to hide my hyper breath.
She giggle hops
on the bed with my son who stands, face on glass,
straining to see. He spools facts.
Summer bolt this. And, ball bolt that.
Struck ratios and burns and FRAK!
I lay down
with my heart—a pinball against rib bones, a dervish
without God. I am the only one
Jennifer Jean is the author of the poetry chapbook In the War (Big Table Publishing Co., 2010). Her poetry, essays, literary interviews, and reviews have been published in numerous journals, including North Dakota Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Awakenings Review, Santa Clara Review, Southern California Review, Caketrain, Relief Quarterly, The Wilderness House Review, The MOM Egg Journal, Art Throb and Megaera; as well, she is a feature writer for the arts and lifestyle magazine Art Throb and has received an Agnes Butler Award from the Academy of American Poets. Jennifer directs Thursday’s Theatre of Words & Music artist’s performance series and is the librettist for the Fishwife Music Project; she’s an active member of the committee producing the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival and she teaches writing and literature at Salem State University.
For more information visit: www.fishwifetales.com.