Checking In With: Jacqueline Bourque

Jacqueline Bourque was a Rubies Tuesday poet at the same time I was. She was in If and Where There’s Fire, our 2013 workshop group anthology chapbooks. She has since come out with her first trade collection, Repointing the Bricks (Mansfield Press, 2021).

PP: So, what have you been reading lately that lit you up? Why or how?

JB: I recently found Matilde Battistini’s Symbols and Allegories in Art at a moment when I was searching for inspiration. A friend I met for coffee was carrying a bag of books that he planned to donate to the public library, and while we chatted he spread them out on the table and asked if I wanted to take any of them home. I immediately reached for the Battistini book. The next morning, I flipped through it, stopped at the section on ladders, and wrote a poem on Icon of the Allegorical Ladder of Saint-John Climacus. My interest has progressed from there. I am currently writing a series of ekphrastic poems based on the paintings in the book.

There’s also Helen Weinzweig’s Basic Black with Pearls, which has led me to question connection and order in my poems. Her editor, James Polk, said that Weinzweig’s manuscript was “a stack of quality bond paper, perfectly typed, with a note advising him to throw the pages into the air and arrange them as they fell”. The novel reads as if this is what happened. The poetic implications of that randomness has me focused on finding the right hook for the first line when I write, and then with rearranging the order of lines as I go. 

PP: The value of random chance can never be underestimated, like crossing paths with that Battistini book. What’s life’s focus these days, literary or otherwise?

JB: I am constantly examining my choices, re-considering edicts, coming to terms with self-discoveries, and modifying habits to serve my goals. As if turning the peg of a guitar string to get the right pitch. This process explains the title of my recent poetry collection: Repointing the Bricks.

Sometimes, life imposes its own changes—such as with COVID-19. Isolation provided me with hours of uninterrupted time for writing. The challenge now that the world has opened up again is to find the right balance between social and cultural activities, while preserving that quiet space for writing.

PP: Glad to hear that shelter in place has had good effects. What is underway or forthcoming?

JB: A film on Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers resonated with me when I was reading Catherine Graham’s Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects. She begins the book with a series of sonnet-like poems, so I began writing about Petit’s walk using the sonnet form. I completed fourteen poems in that series, and hope to publish it as a chapbook.

PP: Wow.

JB: After that, my grandmother appeared to me in a dream. As a child, I rarely heard her speak. Yet in my dream, she held the persona of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. At the time, I was reading The Next Wave. One of the poets in the anthology, Evan Jones, writes terrific prose poems and his introduction of mythology has a striking effect. I’ve since written fifteen prose poems about my grandmother, portraying her, at times, as Leto, the Greek goddess of motherhood.  

PP: Wow, super-generative dream. What work do you have out that people can read? 

JB: My chapbook, The Dune as Bookmark, was published in 2019 by Jim Johnstone at Anstruther Press. I then expanded those poems into a full manuscript, Repointing the Bricks (Mansfield Press, 2021).

Repointing the Bricks (Mansfield Press, 2021).

You can also find my poems in various Canadian journals and anthologies such as The Antigonish Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Fiddlehead, Queen’s Quarterly and I Found It at the Movies.

PP: Awesome. Thanks for your time, Jacqueline.