Rebecca Macijeski holds a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has attended artist residencies with The Ragdale Foundation, The Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and Art Farm Nebraska. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Nominee, her poems have appeared in The Missouri Review, Poet Lore, Barrow Street, Nimrod, The Journal, Sycamore Review, The Cincinnati Review, Fairy Tale Review, Puerto del Sol, and many others. Rebecca is Creative Writing Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor at Northwestern State University. Her chapbook, Autobiography, will come out with Split Rock Press later this year. Visit her online at www.rebeccamacijeski.com.
You can read her poem The Girl’s Dream Journal in the July 2022 issue of Pinhole Poetry.
Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?
These poems are part of a book-length project I’m working on that explores girlhood, especially the disruptions that come with the transition from girlhood to womanhood. I’m entering a new phase of life that’s been prompting a lot of thought work and self-reflection around what ideas of self I want to discard. Re-imagining and re-visiting the self I was when I was younger (targeting around age 9 or so) has been reconnecting me to a sense of imagination I had felt was lost. I’m breaking rules again. I’m allowing my poems to be mischievous. I’m allowing them not to have to defend themselves to standards I disagree with. These poems in particular aim toward a kind of psychological honesty I’ve been struggling with. Sometimes I need to make things up to tell something true. That’s where the dream format comes in. I get to experiment with the tension between what’s playful and what’s uncomfortable.
Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar?
I think A LOT about Jack Gilbert’s poem The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart. There’s that brilliant phrase at the beginning:
“How astonishing it is that language can almost mean/ and frightening that it does not quite.”
I first read this poem early in my time getting my MFA, and it unlocked something in me. I’m always thinking about how the poems we write are only part of what we’re doing, and how the poetry we live gestures at something more complete or whole that we can’t quite ever say. That paradox, I think, is what drives my writing.
I also think a lot about all of Emily Dickinson’s poems that explore the brain. I first read the line my Brain is wider than the sky in a high school English class as the weird girl who loved words and sat in the back corner of the classroom while all the other kids always seemed to be winning soccer championships or laughing or perpetually going to prom. Dickinson showed me that it was okay sometimes for the worlds we live in to be inside us rather than outside us. She also showed me that our own thinking could be the stuff we write about, that it was okay to be fascinated by how my brain seemed to be so different from other brains.
If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?
If I didn’t write poems, I like to think I would be a chef or a photographer—a chef because I think there’s something analogous between a meal and a poem, how they’re both a product of careful presence and an offering of exchange. Or I’d be a photographer because I like to imagine my poems are always at least a little bit about how I’m framing how I’m looking at myself or the world. A poem gets to be a window the same way a photo gets to be a window. I also like the thought of a lifetime of meals or photos accumulating the way my poems accumulate.
How or where or with what does a poem begin?
This changes all the time for me depending on what larger project I’m working on. Lately, my poems are tending to begin with an idea for an image that transforms something small from my memory into something strange. I’m finding myself drawn to prose poems for their ability to recast some of our more mundane experiences or truths into something surreal. I’m very interested in that fine line between disclosure and invention. I’m more at home sharing something deeply real about myself when it’s somewhat hidden inside an imaginative world.
Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?
I can’t remember who first told me some version of this, but it’s been important to me to remind myself that I’m a poet even when I’m not writing. As much as we like to think we’re not, we’re all susceptible to the comparison game of judging our process by what we see of others’ process. I’ve had to really learn for myself what systems of writing, production, research, experience, etc. work to sustain my sense of fulfillment as a creative person. There are times when poems come and times when they don’t. There are times when we feel creatively energized and times when we don’t. I’m a poet when I’m writing or revising poems, but I’m also a poet when I’m buying bananas. I’m also a poet when I’m stressed out by inflation, hate, and any number of things plaguing the world right now. I’m also a poet when I’m unsure what the day will bring, trying to hold onto a brief respite before breakfast. It’s about building a relationship with my creative self that’s based on trust. Trust requires patience, which is something I’m not great at holding for myself. I remind myself that poems are not the only proof that I’m a poet. My poetry is in the life I build. When I remember that, it becomes easier to feel like I’m enough. I know this is something I’ll be working on my entire life.