Interview with Featured Poet, Nancy-Jean Pément
By Leila Bejanpour
I sat down to interview Nancy-Jean over a thoughtful lunch at her beautiful, serene home. She is the author of "Morning at Meech Lake," "In the Gatineau Hills," and "Still Life with Grey Or To My First Husband Had He Died," three of her poems that are featured in the 2011 printed edition of The Moorpark Review. Find her poem, "Morning at Meech Lake," here online in a special section featuring contributors from the printed edition, and also in our spoken-word poetry library.
My experience with Nancy-Jean was joyful and light; she is intelligent, innovative and wise, not to mention a rare example of true modesty. It was delightful to have a chat with this inspiring woman and I am pleased to share what I learned with you. I am proud to feature her fine work in this compilation. Enjoy!
You're an alum of Moorpark College and currently enrolled at California Lutheran University. Please humor me with a bit of your history at Moorpark, what you are up to these days at CLU, and where you are headed.
When i went to Moorpark initially, I had been away from school and work for about 7 years, and I wanted some other kind of stimulation. I took a Creative Writing course. I had been an academic writer. I had written as part of my work as a criminologist for the Canadian government. I'd done, you know, speeches and policy work, legislative work, you know, research. I'd never tried anything other than academic writing. And, I thought, "I would love to try [poetry]."
Quite honestly, I expected the teacher to teach us how to write a poem. I would ask him all the time, "how do I do this?" He never indulged that question. And rightfully so, I realize now. And so, I started fiddling with language and started reading poetry… I went back and took another creative writing class...
At CLU I'm finishing a doctorate that I started 13 years ago before my son [Jackson] was born. And when he was born, I left my studies to care for him. So, here I am back at school, finally finishing up.
I am very interested in the possibilities of poetic transcription as a research tool. Poetic transcription can be done in many ways, there's no hard and fast. The goal of poetic transcription is to infuse the voices of the participants within the body of the work, and in my case, I'm doing a study of student mothers in doctoral studies. I would like to humanize the piece, the dissertation, by infusing their voices into my findings. It's important because, today, these women make up the majority of graduate students.
Eventually, I would like to go back to teaching. I was a lecturer in Canada at the University of Ottawa, and another local college on the Quebec side. I plan to go back to teaching and to continue doing the research work as well.
I want to live in your "green world!" I'm in love with that line, and the "we are collective torchlights" line from your poem "Morning at Meech Lake." What inspired you here?
[Smiles] Oh, me too [jumps up and retrieves a book of pictures]! Interestingly enough, all three poems that were chosen [for Moorpark Review] are linked to this place, Gatineau Park [shows pictures from the book]. I used to live here in my childhood and young adulthood.
I have never been so touched by a place. I like to travel, but when I think of my "home," this is what I think of when I think of being most at home [pointing to pictures]. I played in these hills--I ran… And the canopies, which we just don't have in Southern California!…
That line ["I want to live in a green world"]… I was thinking about green water. And the color [laughs]. The word "cosmos;" I thought about how green water is water full of life. We romanticize clear water, or jade-colored water, sapphire-colored water, the water of the Mediterranean… or the Caribbean… we think of it as, "ahhh." But, green water; dense, green, water, is just full of STUFF. All this tiny life got me thinking about how, in some ways, we are also this canopy--that's the "torchlights" line. We are stars, effectively, or derivative of stars--and in that way, interconnected.
Who, what, where, or, when, is your muse?
I would say, well… right off the top of my head, certainly having lived in the Gatineau Hills, for me. The natural world is very moving for me. And oftentimes, interactions with other human beings.
What gets you in the mood to write?
Usually homework! And that's because you're sitting--you've got something you've got to do… Sometimes a word will just emerge! Like the other day, I heard the word "singe," right? And I think, wow, when was the last time I heard the word "singe?" [laughs gleefully]… French too, because I hear French even less. But sometimes I'll hear a word, and oh, I haven't heard that word in so long... It's like I'm 12, or I'm 17; it will literally transport me back to a place.
What are your thoughts on the creative revision process? Are you a "re-visitor"?
I go back and reedit--even when it's far too late to make anything better [laughs]! So yes, I'm a "re-visitor!"
We at The Moorpark Review got quite a kick out of the title of "Still Life with Grey Or To My First Husband Had He Died." Any chance you'd elaborate on the title for some inquiring minds?
Oh, I giggled for days [laughs]. So, at first when I wrote this, I was thinking about winter; I was longing for a Quebec winter, just for the day, not three months [laughs]! It began with these ideas of gray and cold. I was writing about living in this post-and-beam home. I lived in Old Chelsea, Quebec. My first husband and I built this home. So when i was finished [writing the poem], I realized, wow, it's not just about winter, it's about this home.
It was, on some level, a very unhappy place, but I barely saw or recognized it because I was so content to be living in that green world. I only realized how freeing it was to not be in that relationship anymore after it had ruptured.
My partner was away for work reasons, so I lived alone in this place for many months. It was a very stressful thing to build this home--it cost lots of money, I had just started my job, married a man much older than myself. But, when he was gone, those months that i lived alone, the house became my friend--we made peace.
It felt like a gift, the title. The words came into my head and I had a huge belly laugh! I was imagining still living in the Chelsea house, but instead of experiencing that relationship rupturing, I was experiencing it as if he had just died.
Do you dabble in other mediums?
I studied music for many, many years--classical piano for 12 years. I also studied classical guitar. I love piano, and when i was younger, it was kind of a voice i didn't have; I could express myself through music. [Leila: Did you have many brothers and sisters?] Mm-hmm [laughs]!
Will you share a sneak-preview of your works-in-progress?
I have tons in the works [laughs]! I've been writing furiously. I'm very intrigued by the skirting around that we do [draws circles with an extended fingertip on the table]. How, our lives… how we come around and almost touch people sometimes… how we get close, but never quite touch. So I'm very interested in that and exploring that more; I've written a poem about… circles [laughs].
I spent a lot of time in Central and South America after i received my Master's--extended periods of time. I'm reflecting a lot and writing about some of my time in Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica… Right now I'm very much struggling with how to describe the call of the howler monkey [laughs].
As we have reached the end of our chat together, I must ask, have you any thoughts for aspiring poets?
Actively creating knowledge; that's what creative writing is. Creative writing honors that which we tacitly know. It's in complete opposition to the traditional mode of schooling--where students were recipients--where the only way you could know anything was to go outside yourself. And there is a movement in sociological and educational literature to bring these two worlds together, to acknowledge things like "multiple-positionalities," this idea that we are MANY things… And that these positionalities, these things that we are, inform EVERYTHING that we do. Creative writing opens a world up for you where you start inside and you work your way out. For me, it comes down to what we value as well.