Academic journal article Chicago Review

An Interview with Hettie Jones

Academic journal article Chicago Review

An Interview with Hettie Jones

Article excerpt

SA: I had a little bit of a hard time coming up with questions because your memoir, How I Became Hettie Jones, does such a wonderful job of describing your role in the publishing of Yugen and Totem Press. So I thought I would start with a really simple question, which is: what was your favorite part of the magazine production process?

HJ: Let's see, what was my favorite part. Being alone with the poems, and typing and retyping the poems so that they were perfect on the page. Because everything-as you can tell, everything was done by hand, and it was done by me by hand. So the poems were very personal to me. I can recall Frank O'Hara's "Personal Poem"-I don't know whether you know that poem-do you?


Oh, okay. So I eventually in my later life wrote a sort of rejoinder to that poem, about my own process in it. It goes:

Over and over the mind returns

to the bent shoulders of the young woman

who types, over and over, the poem

until it is perfectly placed

on the page, the name

of her husband, the name

ofher lover

the guilty thrill

of juxtaposition

as each gives

to the poet

what he keeps

in his pocket

in her arms she holds them

over and over.

The only reason I remember that by heart-I'm not reading it from a book-is that I just read it at a tribute to Frank O'Hara at the St. Mark's Church. We read all of the poems that were published in Lunch Poems, and I read "Personal Poem" from that, and then I read my rejoinder.... I talked about what it meant to me. Anyhow, it wasn't only that-that was the most personal-but it was just the act of typing and retyping. I got the rhythms of everyone's poems in my head, and I believe that's how I learned to simplify my own lines and absorb what it meant to write a good poem. Because I was really just out of college, only a year or two, before we started Yugen, and I was what they call "wet behind the ears." [laughing] I was very young and very green and hadn't had much exposure-I was a drama major; I hadn't studied the history of poetry or anything. But I learned so much. And that was my favorite part.

I love that typing influenced you both as a reader and a writer, and I'm wondering about the other physical work that was involved with producing the magazine. In another interview, you said, "I did all the work. I did the real physical work. "

Well, not only did I type and retype, but in the early issues of the magazine I cut stencils, which were very laborious. And then I remember doing work over a light box so that everything was precise. So it was a matter of not only typing but designing. Then of course when we got the early issues they were just in pages, so we had parties-stapling parties, [laughing] You know, both LeRoi and I really organized those parties-set people up so that they would pass pages to one another and then somebody did the stapling on the spine-we got a long stapler. It was all of that.

You talk about one of those collating parties in your autobiography, which is another scene I absolutely love.

Yep, that was exactly the way it was. And we got drunker as the night went along. But it's amazing, those little magazines-they survived! Which is quite amazing to me.

Did it help engender a sense of community, having so many people's hands on the physical objects?

Oh, of course. That was the very idea. You know, we were all young, we were all used to living communally in some fashion because a lot of our friends had been at Black Mountain College, where everything was done communally, and we were no strangers to cooking communally and having people sleep over when they got too drunk to go home-things like that. When you're young and haven't got very many responsibilities that's just fun. I'm sure it still goes on in many places.

Yeah, we sometimes have sewing parties when we're putting together a chapbook.

[laughing] Of course, of course! …

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