Spotlight series #78 : Jennifer Baker
Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.
I might describe much of my poetry as confessional imagist lyric, most of the time, but I also have an interest in experimental poetic forms, like erasure poetry. I try to choose the form that best suits the context and intent of the project.
The process of writing confessional lyrics, at least, best matches the impulses that usually bring me to poetry, as embarrassing as they are. I work through things in poems: knotty feelings, difficult ideas, discoveries, philosophical positions. It’s a baldly personal process.
Form matters, though.
A successful poem, for me, is a poem that can be nothing other than itself; it’s not a diary entry, or a story (even if there is occasionally an element of narrative).
Emotional truths reside in the body & the senses. I know a poem has reached something that matters in me and is working for me when it resonates a certain way. It’ll shake something out into the open. It doesn’t have to make sense.
A poem will resonate differently for each reader, but I haven’t yet pinned down the mysteries of the distribution of affect at poetry readings. I just hope it resonates at all!
These three poems come from a suite of ten elegies I wrote in the days after our beloved dog, Mishka, died suddenly. These are dog poems. They contain my grief, but they also contain her gestures, her poetics, and her joy — I wanted to capture the miraculous moment of understanding her across the gulf of species difference, the wholeness she brought to our little family, the thrill of watching her develop a friendship with our cat, another triumph over otherness. I wanted to capture the joy she brought us, the importance of the way of being she taught me, and the pain of losing her in a way for which we were not prepared.
And, more broadly, I wanted to celebrate the miracles of our cross-species friendships as an ancient and vital part of living. I think our relationships with the animals we live with are often trivialized, but in forming emotional bonds with them, they open us to the overwhelming richness, depth, and variety of gestural communication that surrounds us, even when we aren’t part of the conversation. This way of being in the world is valuable, I think, because it reminds us that we are not the centre of the universe. Human utterances and gestures are only part of billions of utterances and gestures, and the relationships being built and broken, on this planet every second. And all those experiences are singular, and all are valuable.
Jennifer Baker lives as an uninvited guest on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people, otherwise known as Ottawa. She is the author of two chapbooks, Groundling (Trainwreck Press, 2021), and Abject Lessons (above/ground press, 2014), and her poetry, reviews, and interviews have been published in a variety of literary magazines and journals, including Canthius, Canadian Literature, and the Journal of Canadian Poetry.