broken ritual (Finishing Line Press, 2012)
What’s your chapbook about?
broken ritual is about loss and brokenness, the hard parts of life but how out of them we can find some beauty, if only in art. I talk about the death of my father, the loss of someone’s marriage, abuse. But also the strength in acknowledging pain and the beauty in moving forward.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I actually didn’t write with publishing a chapbook in mind. The chapbook came as a result of me looking through poems I had written and finding a theme. Once that happened, I edited certain pieces, but the book itself came together in what may be a backwards way. But today, I am working with a chapbook in mind. My writing process involves dedicating time to write and research, followed by editing sessions. I’ve also found having a critique partner important. At one time we sent new work once a week. This helped me stay focused and productive.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I wanted to start chronologically. Not by dates of when I wrote each piece but in a way that makes the collection read as a story. I started with a piece about childhood and ended with one about childhood as well, with pieces in between that span experiences that build upon the other.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Several poems in the chapbook have to do with weddings or marriage, and weddings are a ritual. So I knew I wanted to have a wedding picture on the cover. I looked around for photos and talked with photographers but when I came across a photo of my parents at their wedding (though the marriage poems do not have to do with them), I knew I had to use it. I asked my Mom for her blessing to and she immediately said yes. I believe my Dad, in spirit, gave me his blessing as well. That’s all the collaboration I did.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a collection based on visits to historical African American churches and cemeteries in the South. My father and grandfather were both pastors on churches in the South (and so is my brother currently), so I’m started by visiting churches they were assigned in the 1940-1960s.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Take your time. Don’t rush it because you want to be published by a certain time period. Once your chapbook is out there, there is no turning back. You want to publish something you’re proud of. Don’t procrastinate but don’t let a self-imposed deadline rush your work.
How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?
I involve research more. Before, my writing was just based on what I knew or experienced but now I take the back information farther. If I’m writing about something that’s happened recently in a particular place, I want to know the history of that place. It doesn’t mean what I discover will always make it in the poem but it informs the narrative better, I believe.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
I think and hope the world my chapbook creates is one that is safe and free from judgment when it comes to what is considered “negative emotions.” We are in a society where it’s difficult to say you’re hurting. We expect grief and loss to be temporary as in 24 hours but they’re not. I hope those who come into the world of broken ritual will find healing there and the courage to 1) acknowledge their pain and 2) sit with it and 3) let it go.
What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
“Ritual” was the poem I significantly revised. It challenged me to be clear with its message. And there was the shape (of a “broken heart”) so I had to work with word length and choice in that way. It was the most difficult poem to write so when it felt complete, I knew the collection was.
Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?
“The Polishing of Shoes” is about my father’s ritual of polishing his shoes on Saturday nights before preaching on Sunday mornings. I didn’t leave the backstory out of the poem but it has the most meaning for me because the poem is a ode to him and his ritual.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
I think “redemption” is the misfit in the collection. By theme it could fit but I consider it a misfit because it’s the poem I like the least. I don’t believe its message is as strong as the other poems.
If you could re-title your chapbook, what would the new title be?
I wouldn’t retitle it but I would use my last name instead of my middle name. At the time of publishing, I wanted to not be associated with my father as the poems are pretty heavy and graphic. With him being a prominent minister, I didn’t want to tarnish any images. But that was crazy. I think he would be proud of my work, and if not, my name is still my name.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
I wish I knew.
To what degree is your work with writing about binding to form? To what degree is it about freeing ________from form? Is there writing, for you, without the work of writing being a form-married requirement? If so, what does (or could) that look like?
I appreciate forms but write more free-verse. I do have a sestina in this chapbook, as it fit the narrative of the poem (about a journey). I’m not one who believes you must write in form to be considered a poet but one must know (and to some degree love) the rules before being able to break them.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
Newspaper articles, historical documents.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
How we process or avoid pain. History. Lineages.
Jacinta V. White is the founder & director of The Word Project – a company dedicated to using poetry and art as a catalyst for self-discovery and healing. As a poet, she won the Press 53 Open Award in Poetry, is widely published, and serves as the publisher and poetry editor of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing. Jacinta resides in North Carolina and is a NC Arts Council Teaching Artist.
The Polishing of Shoes
(William Milton White, Sr. 1942-1996)
It was a two part ritual — Dad polishing his shoes after dinner
on Saturday nights while exalting unusually high
pitched into the air what would be Sunday’s sermon.
His onion-skin thin paged Bible opened next to him,
Dad’s large hand would slide inside the sole
of one shoe then the other as he would lift each to the space right
between his nose and eyes — an inspection involving precise angling —
into fainting light. The following mornings, after kneeling
before the sunrise, and rising with it, it was customary for Dad
to put on his armor, sealed with his freshly polished black shoes
that waited for him at his bedside.
It was a Saturday when Dad walked into freshly fallen snow.
Who knew later that night he would not make his shoes shinier
than stars in a darkened sky, or that the house would grow silent
without his high-pitched preparation piercing air; no thin pages turning
like leaves in the breeze? And that following morning, Dad would not go
down on his knees nor rise as the sun. He would not put on his clothes
and collar, tie his spaghetti-thin laces tight. No, his black wingtips
would not be waiting for him, but instead, for me to take them home