Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Jilly Dybka - "Express Yourself"

When I decided a while back to take a break form my top five blogs of the week list, I did so with the thought in mind of featuring a few select interviews with individuals whom write with special emphasis given to those writing poetry.

The first interview with Katey Nicosia went over so well, I no longer questioned if I made the right decision. It was only natural to move to the next person on my list. I was fortunate enough to once again select a willing participant.

My feature interview is with Jilly Dybka. She is a most intriguing suspect for an interview. This very balanced woman who has a career that is technical, yet has the expressive ability to write poetry. Grew up in a diner and has been exposed to people all over the world via ham radio communications, yet is right at home in an American ballpark. Folks, this is culture!

Jilly caught my eye with her occasional references to baseball on her blog along with of course poetry. This told me we were dealing with my kind of person. Her blog The Poetry Hut continually offers a wide variety of informational links that feed my incredible hunger of odd stuff related to poetry.

While Jilly seldom features her own poetry directly on her blog, I have also had an opportunity to see some of Jilly’s baseball sonnets. Let’s say they are like therapy to a fan in an off season crisis mode. Fortunately April is fast approaching. Perhaps that makes this interview all the more fitting. I hope you will enjoy learning a little more about Jilly Dybka, just as I have.

Interview Of Jilly Dybka by Michael Wells – March 2004

SP: Jill, Tell me a little about what you do for a living. I'm under the impression you are in the technology field. Am I right?

JILLY: Yep. I work as the computer systems administrator and webmaster for a non-profit honorific scientific organization. The members of the organization study the brain and invent things like Prozac. Ironic kind of, because I'm a consumer of those drugs since I have schizoaffective disorder.

SP: You have a MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, N.C. I'm interested in how well you feel the program there prepared you for writing?

JILLY: I just began the program but so far it has really helped my editorial/revision process a lot. I can self-edit better already. I have a much more critical eye. I was reluctant to do an MFA because I was afraid it might change my voice or turn me into a cookie-cutter overly workshopped writer. Vanilla. My fears were unjustified. I have another year to go. I picked that program because of the low-residency requirements and price. But I have been overwhelmed by the quality of the instructors and of my peers.

SP: I see that your works have been published or in some cases are about to be in a number of literary reviews. Two notably in issues Spitball and another in Elysian Fields Quarterly. Being a baseball fan and historian of sorts myself, I was interested in your selection of baseball as a topic. Are you an avid fan yourself?

JILLY: Yes, I love baseball. I root for the local minor league team (the Nashville Sounds--first in our division last year!) and try to see as many games as possible at the ballpark. Just a couple more weeks until opening day! I love baseball literature and those 2 literary magazines in particular. My baseball sonnet chapbook is currently in revision mode. When it's done I'll try to foist it on a publisher. I have no interest in any other sport, strangely enough. Baseball is so lyrical.

SP: You grew up in a family that owned a Drive-in Restaurant. Did you carhop?

JILLY: By the time I came along (I'll be 37 this year) the drive-up part was not happening anymore but the inside portion of the restaurant with the counter and booths was still operational. So I started working there when I was a kid, like the rest of my siblings.

SP: How has the family Drive-in influenced you life?

JILLY: I had a public childhood with all kinds of unique characters who were our regular customers. It was kind of a hang out for horse track people. Betters, bookies, etc. My mom used to have all-night poker games. So it gave me a real affinity for the odd I think. At least that's the best explanation I can come up with for my strong affinity for the odd.

SP: Has this given you any opportunity in your writing to develop characters from such real life experiences?

JILLY: That is a good question because I've written a couple poems about some of the people and the poems came out kind of flat. :( But I think my experiences will always be there to draw upon whenever I am ready.

SP: You are into ham radio. What is that all about? Tell me a little about how that got started and what it means to you. Have you written anything that has been inspired by this?

JILLY: I'm fairly obsessed with radio. I'm a ham radio operator and fluent in morse code, which I send with an old WWII telegraph key. My husband's former boss, Chet Atkins, taught me morse code. Chet was an amateur radio operator and had a ham radio in his kitchen. I think it is so cool that you can communicate with the other side of the world with like 50 watts of power and a piece of wire, bouncing your signals off of the sky. I've written a couple radio villanelles. My call sign is KF4ZEO.

SP: Great quote in your blog the other day... "My husband is a jazz musician. I write poetry. The average American could care less about jazz. The average American could care less about poetry. I think we are screwed. But we are having fun." Is fun what you wanted or do you feel you have to settle for it?

JILLY: I think a creative life is what I wanted and the fun is in the creating. And it is a shame that the end result--be it a jazz song or a poem--is not appreciated by the average American. It's about the process for me, the writing. Self-expression. Playing with words. It's neat that you get a poem or a song at the end though. Too bad only a few other poets will read it and that’s it.

SP: What's it like having two artists in the same household? Tell me about how each of you impact the other's work.

JILLY: We stay out of each other's hair. My husband Darryl is not into words. That's fine. He is purely instrumental. I was a musician too when we met but after we married I decided to go into the computer field. I didn't want to be struggling the rest of my life. No regrets. My day job gives me the security and leisure time to write and my genius musician hubby can do music all the time. :)

SP: Outside of your family, who has had the most influence on your writing and in what way?

JILLY: Dr. Seuss taught me exuberance for language, rhyme and the unusual.

SP: So this passion came at a pretty early age?

JILLY: My first word was book. So, yeah.

SP: Your AIM name is DetroitHaiku. You live in the south. Were educated in the south. That seems like a story just begging to be told.

JILLY: I grew up in Dearborn Heights Michigan and moved to Nashville after I married in 1990. My mom is from Chattanooga TN so I'm only 1/2 yankee though. I love the South. The people, the food, the pace, the language. I do miss snow though.

SP: I'm curious about your fascination with Anna Akmatova. A friend gave me a book of her poems in 1988. The marvelous Jane Kenyon translations. I was hooked by her clean, clear verse. Then I read about her life and became kind of obsessed for a while. I studied Russian one summer with a refugee so I could try to read Akhmatova in the original. I did manage to get through one simple Akhmatova poem in Russian and I was thrilled.

SP: Who in your view, are the five most significant poets of the last fifty years? Why?

JILLY: I don't think I'm well-read or smart enough to answer this question properly. I'm not very scholarly about the craft, sorry. In fact, I'm pretty stupid about things like that. I hate reviewing. I hate theory. THAT is the part of the craft that gives me angst. Blah. That’s why I don’t want to teach after I get my MFA. Why is writing in form the Reaganomics of poetry? Why is writing in form misogynistic and patriarchal? It’s all just a bunch of puffed-up crap. The actual writing part is all I’m about haha. I’m not at all antsy when I write and it isn’t just because I’m medicated haha. It’s not at all discomforting or painful. It’s very liberating and fun. That’s why I like writing in form. It’s fun like doing a puzzle.

SP: Let me take this a little different direction then. Who are some of your favorite poets to read?

JILLY: Akhmatova, RS Gwynn, Gwendolyn Brooks, Wislawa Szymborska, and Dr. Seuss.

SP: What has blogging meant to you as a writer? What impact do you think blogging has had on traditional print venues?

JILLY: I think blogging has loosened me up. When I post poems on the blog they are usually first drafts. My ego wouldn't have allowed that before. There's less of an attachment there. Also, Mike Snider at the Sonnetarium recommended R.S. Gwynn to me. I picked up some of his books and Gwynn is now my favorite living poet. That’s pretty strong blogging stuff. Well, the New Criterion has a blog. That tells you something right there.

SP: Your best written work... tell me about it. What is it and what do you think makes it your best? Tell me about your writing style. What do you think best describes it?

JILLY: Well hopefully my best written work is still ahead of me. But I like my sideshow sonnets. And judging from the number of rejections that the book manuscript has gotten so far (28), I am one of the few, haha. I do irony and humor and form well, from what I've been told. I've only been writing seriously for about 3 years. I dabbled before that. Then when I came down with mental illness and got put on medication pow! I couldn't stop writing. I’m studying with Cathy Smith Bowers this semester and she says my poems are quirky.

SP: Quirky? How so?

JILLY: I think it is because I write about unusual subjects. I guess this is an example. I have a poem coming out in Michigan Quarterly Review called "The Retired Vietnam Munitions Loader Attempts to Open a Can of Biscuits."

SP: As to the medication, I take it you believe it impacts your writing... more prolific? Better? How do you see it impacting your work?

JILLY: Well more prolific for sure. The medication really calms my mind so I can have clear thoughts instead just a jumble of many thoughts swirling around. So that helps me write.

SP: Your recent blogging link to The Atlantic online book review by Christina Nehring on Sylvia Plath caught my eye. Plath has been in the news a great deal lately, I suppose mainly in the aftermath of the movie Sylvia. In your opinion, how do you think Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes would be viewed today had Sylvia not chosen to end her life?

JILLY: It's funny, when I went to England in '92 to see my brother graduate from Oxford I went to a bookstore to see what they had in the "American Literature" section and it seemed like half was Mark Twain and half was Sylvia Plath. I found that to be peculiar. Sylvia would be on Zoloft. She’d be a happy blue dot.

SP: Are poets really screwed? Is there hope for us? If we are, why should we trudge on, doing what we do?

JILLY: I think poets are screwed in a way because we don’t have much of an audience. And most of our audience is made up of fellow poets. The average person at Wal-Mart doesn’t subscribe to a literary magazine. My neighbors here in Kingston Springs Tennessee probably don’t subscribe. (Though my mailman has written a couple novels and given me the drafts!) It’s mostly other writers from what I can see. But so what? Have fun with your writing. Play your jazz. Express yourself. Just don’t expect to make any money from it haha.

SP: You are a member of the National Writer's Union and the Tennessee Writers Alliance. How have you benefited from these organizations. What would you tell other writers who might be curious about their value to the trade.

JILLY: Well frankly, these organizations don’t do much for me, unfortunately. I’m a member of the Writer’s Union because I’m into the labor movement and think that’s important to do. It’s just a personal ideology. Probably growing up in Detroit had something to do with this. The Tennessee Writers Alliance is trying hard I think, but also hasn’t offered much for me personally. They do have a good poetry contest every year. I probably won’t renew my membership to the latter. 16. How do you feel about poets addressing social or political concerns with their work? I’m all for it, if that’s their thing. I’m political, I will be in the big March 20 antiwar demonstration but I haven’t written much political poetry. I guess I don’t think I have anything unique to say about it.

SP: Where would you like to see yourself and your work in five years?

JILLY: 5 years from now I hope to have a book or 2 published.

SP: Fifteen?

JILLY: 15 years from now I hope to be retired early, mortgage paid off, writing, writing, writing.

SP: One last question… I'm always interested in what people are reading these days. What have you read lately (or are reading now) and tell us if you would or would not recommend it and why?

JILLY: I'm reading a bunch of stuff for school right now and I recommend it all, really. Haven't got to any clunkers yet. A lot of anthologies. One in particular shows the processes our poems go through once we send them off with a SASE. It's called Spreading the Word: Editors on Poetry. A book I've read recently not for school is American Western Song by Victor W. Pearn. I really like his poems.

SP: That wraps up our interview with Jilly Dykka. Jilly, thanks again for the opportunity to interview you.

JILLY: Thank you Michael. I visit your blog all the time. :)

Interview by Michael A Wells / Stickpoetsuperhero
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