Ocean voyages, the 18th Century, family history and “The Tempest”... Lesley Jenike’s second collection of poems, “Holy Island,” is steeped in a rich and surprising combination of influences. Jenike, who is a professor at CCAD and the current Head of the English and Philosophy Department, is putting the finishing touches on her book (which will be released in early summer by Gold Wake Press). We spoke about how this collection came to be.
A lot of the poems in this book came from traveling. This book had so many references, and so much backstory.
This collection is basically two manuscripts combined into one. After I went to Monhegan Island in 2011, I started writing poems about that. I was writing about islands, which made me think about “The Tempest,” which made me think about fathers and daughters. This father character emerged, a Prospero type of character, and I was thinking about my dad, as a doctor, having his own kind of magical powers.
I started writing the earlier poems in this book in 2007 or 2008. Supposedly, I’m related to John Trumbull, who painted all the huge paintings in the Capitol Building in D.C. I started writing about him because that was when Obama was getting on the scene. I was really excited by what felt like a return to logic and reality, which made me think about the Enlightenment. Eventually, the poems about the ancestor went away, and I was left with all these European, 18th Century-inspired poems.
No artist I’ve liked, even musicians, does the same thing over and over again. Bob Dylan, he’s a changeling. David Bowie, he’s a changeling. Obsessions stay the same, maybe. But in terms of form and structure, I try to be conscious of changing it up.
I was listening to Benjamin Britten and classical music for this book. There’s nothing better than traveling, and being in a place, and touching it and smelling it and letting it wash over you. But if I can’t, if I’m going to be in my office in Columbus, Ohio, then I’m going to look at paintings and listen to music to that feels appropriate for the project.
Photo by Meghan Ralston