Interview with Jill Egland, First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s, January 6, 2023

A large group of poetry-lovers met to welcome in the New Year together at Dagny’s on January 6, 2023.  We were thrilled by Jill Egland’s reading of her epistolary poems – and her hilarious rejection letters! 

When the Open Mic commenced, the following people shared their original works:  Eric Warnock, Suzanne Weller, Carla Joy Martin, Samuel Rain Benjamin, Thomas Brill, Shelley Evans, Tami Becht, Chris Craddock, Heather Ponek and Portia Choi.

We also introduced Karen Shuett – the artist who created the striking graphic paintings displayed in Dagny’s.  She is a retired Kern County educator and gains inspiration for her works from Japanese calligraphy.  Her jewelry can be viewed at the Art Association across the street from Dagny’s.

Our interview with Jill Egland:

A.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their backstories? 

Q.  I see something—the sky right before a storm, for instance—and a phrase will come to me. I’ll send myself a text. Sometimes those texts turn into poems. Sometimes not. Another thing I do a lot of is automatic writing, where you just turn off the rational side of the brain and just let words flow. A few days later, I’ll re-read what I’ve written and see if anything inspires me. On Holding a Box in a Public Place started out as an automatic writing exercise that turned itself into a poem.

On Holding a Box in a Public Place

You should put that down
the man told me. He meant
the box I held. I didn’t mind
the feel of it in my arms but
I put it down on the counter
because he sounded so very
alarmed and I didn’t want to
scare him right there in the
post office and that’s when I
realized I must look so very
old to people like that man

who didn’t seem that young
but perhaps he was merely
younger than me which could
still make him quite ancient.
He was looking at my broken
toe all wrapped up in gauze and
sticking out of the blue moon
boot and I thought what does
holding a box in two perfectly
healthy arms have to do with
a broken toe? And then I had

another thought: young people’s
Injuries look heroic. Injuries on
old people look terrifying because
they say to the world that yes you
too will eventually come to this.
You will be hurt and pitiful and
you will hobble through the post
office line and spend your final
days frail and most likely alone.
And then you will die.

So that’s why I put down the
box. I didn’t want him or anyone
else at the post office thinking
I was going to die right then
and there like my friend’s uncle
who died at the Walmart. Yup
just like that.
Heart attack.
And boom.
Nothing heroic about that.

Q.  I believe you recently attended a half-marathon poetry seminar that lasted for 12 hours!  What were some of the prompts you found most helpful in creating your own new poems?  If you like, describe the whole experience.  Would you recommend it to others?

A. organized the event. It was a great way to generate new work. I loved the imposed time limit—12 poems in 12 hours. And I loved the prompts. One assignment was to create a funny poem without using any humor-related words. Another provided an image—an ekphrastic challenge. I think our third prompt was to build our poems around a line from Robert Frost’s Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. We wove together five arbitrary words into another piece. We were assigned various poetic forms to use.  Next year, I’m shooting for the whole 24 hours!

Q.  What advice would you give to other poets about rejection letters?  Do they help in any way? What are some of the ways you view them and learn from them?  What are some steps poets can take to increase their chance of being accepted?  Or is it just a crap shot?  How do you deal with these unfortunate, dispiriting aspects of the publishing process?

A.  A poet told me recently that it’s important to sit on your work—let it stew awhile before you start submitting it for publication. I would agree with her… and I have the rejection letters to prove it.

Of course, it’s not always a matter of whether the poem is good enough. It can be good, but thematically wrong for that quarter’s publication. Or good, but they’ve filled their quota of material they’ll accept from older white Californian women.

Getting published is a crapshoot. Rejection letters are little bittersweet badges of honor. They prove you’re courageous, open to criticism, and wanting to grow.