Jeannine Hall Galley
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jeannine Hall Gailey, a poet I have long admired. Gailey recently served as the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and is the author of four books of poetry: Unexplained Fevers, Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and The Robot’s Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and was included in The Year’s Bet Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her website is webbish6.com.
You have written your fair share of persona poems in The Robot Scientist’s Daughter and in previous poetry collections. What is it about the persona poem that has charmed you so?
I’ve always loved the freedom that persona poems provide for the imagination—I love not being limited to my own story, background, body, but to imagine embodying something completely different—from a mech a girl to a rocket ship to a cyborg, in this book, for instance. When I started writing poetry, I think I really liked the tools of fiction writers—scene-setting, dialogue, character creation—and I wanted to figure out a way to use those in my poetry. I also like the idea of exploring female pop cultural creations, whether anime or super heroines or sci-fi characters, the way they reflect back our contemporary struggles and social mores.
The love of nature is explored throughout The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Any poetry books or other books out there you turn to again and again that are rooted in the natural world?
I’ve been a fan of Stephen Jay Gould’s writing since I was a little kid, and I think that was part of what inspired me to study biology for my first degree in college. Two of my professors at Pacific University, Sandra Alcosser and Pattiann Rogers, definitely helped me engage in conversation in poetry that dealt with the environment in a way that felt new, and both of them have books that really helped inspire me. Margaret Atwood’s environmental themes, more in her fiction than her poetry. There was also a lot of environmental-threat messaging going on in YA literature in the late seventies when I was a kid, so that probably influenced me as much an anything—I wrote my first poem about nuclear pollution when I was eight or nine. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up down the street from a gigantic nuclear lab!
In the author’s note for The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, you mention “lifelong health problems, including autoimmune thyroid issues, which may or may not be linked to growing up in an area known for nuclear contamination.” We live in a society that promotes a survival-of-the-fittest mentality and often misunderstands those who grapple with “invisible” illness. What advice do you have for poets who are ambivalent about broaching the subject of illness in their work?
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