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An Interview with Jane Mead

The Lord and the General Din of the World, by Jane Mead
ISBN 0-9641151-1-5 $12.95/Paper

Philip Levine, in his foreword to your book, says: "The truths Mead tells have less to do with the sights, smells, and sounds of a place and far more to do with the taste of loss, grief, and madness in a community that has spun out of control." How is it that your poems can speak about pain without being blameful? How do you avoid sounding like a victim?

"Because I'm not a victim. In the end, I guess I feel the same way about the family I was born into as I do about the world I was born into. They are, each, a lot of things—difficult, complex, dangerous, seductive, badly functioning, stupid, intelligent, cruel, and kind. So, in the end, you have a lot of mixed feelings about them—and love is one of them. Maybe it's just that you love them because they are what you have—but I think it's more than that. Anyway, I think I do what everyone does—you try first to survive, then you try to go beyond surviving, to create some intelligent way to live. But negotiating what you've been handed doesn't make you a victim—I mean, I may not be thrilled to have been born human either, but I don't feel victimized by that fate."

I'm struck by how your poems avoid falling into the Amazing Grace category—by how the recovery they depict is not a typical recovery and how the movement is not from being lost to being found.

"What I think is that the minute one feels found, one's lost again—not just within the illusion of feeling found, but as someone else, someone slightly larger than the person who was lost previously. I mean, once you are found, then you get to be lost in another way. Many of my poems are written out of the dynamics of this process, so it's not surprising that they don't seem headed toward some absolute. And it's not just about the poems, this lost-found lost-found scenario, but one way to describe what I call my spiritual life. I also think that by going through this process one moves increasingly from personal conflict toward the more universal. It's funny—I know some writers who fear psychoanalysis because they perceive that their work is fueled by the discomforts of being lost or that its energy springs from the desire for greater understanding/knowledge/foundness. While I agree with them about where the work comes from, I don't share their faith-in/fear-of the possibility of not being lost. By the same token, I don't spend much time fretting that achieving happiness—strange word—might rob me of my creative energy. Such is my faith in life."

Jane Mead's work has been published widely in such places as: Best American Poetry of 1990, The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly, and The Antioch Review.

She grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Tesuque, New Mexico; Napa, California; and London, England, and was educated at Vassar College, Syracuse University, and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. She has taught at several schools in the San Francisco Bay area, at Colby College, and in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. In 1991, State Street Press published her long poem, "A Truck Marked Flammable" as a chapbook. In 1992, she received a Whiting Writers' Award.

She has worked on the fringes of the environmental movement for fifteen years—with particular interest in the potential ways in which economic and environmental concerns can be aligned. Currently, she lives in a cottage that looks out over the prairie between Hills, Iowa, and Iowa City, where she raises Small Munsterlander hunting dogs and teaches private poetry workshops. She's an avid walker and considers herself pretty sociable for a recluse.

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