Jenkins, Louis 1942-
JENKINS, Louis 1942-
PERSONAL: Born October 28, 1942, in Oklahoma City, OK; son of Burke (a painter) and Genevieve (Webring) Jenkins; married Sandra Brashear, December 7, 1963 (divorced, 1968); married Ann Jacobson (a librarian), December 26, 1970; children: Lars. Education: Attended Wichita State University, 1967-69.
ADDRESSES: Home—101 Clover St., Duluth, MN 55812. Office—Tweed Museum of Art, 201 Humanities, 1201 Ordean Court, Duluth, MN 55812. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., Enid, laborer, 1964-66; clerk, Wichita Public Library, Wichita, KS, 1967-69, and Jefferson County Library, Golden, CO, 1970; Knife River Press, Duluth, MN, owner and editor, 1971—. Marshall School, 1987-89, University of Minnesota Duluth, Tweed Museum, 1995—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bush Foundation fellowship for poetry, 1979, 1984; Loft-McKnight Award, 1987; Minnesota Book Award, 1995, for Nice Fish: New and Selected Poems; George Morrison Award, 2000.
The Well Digger's Wife (poems), Minnesota Writers Publishing House (Morris, MN), 1973.
The Wrong Tree (poems), Scopcraeft Press (Fargo, ND), 1980.
Water's Easy Reach: Prose Poems (reprint edition), White Pine Press (Buffalo, NY), 1985.
An Almost Human Gesture, Eighties Press/Ally Press (St. Paul, MN), 1987.
All Tangled Up with the Living, Nineties Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1991.
Nice Fish: New and Selected Poems, Holy Cow! Press (Duluth, MN), 1995.
Just above Water, Holy Cow! Press (Duluth, MN), 1997.
The Winter Road (poems), Holy Cow! Press (Duluth, MN), 2000.
Sea Smoke (poems), Holy Cow! Press (Duluth, MN), 2004.
Contributor to books including News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, edited by Robert Bly, Sierra Books, 1980; and The Best American Poetry, Scribner, 1999. Contributor of poems to Agni, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Poetry East, Seneca Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. Also recorded a CD titled Any Way in the World, Thousands Press, 2000. Editor of Steelhead, 1971-1985.
SIDELIGHTS: Poet Louis Jenkins has been publishing prose poems for more than thirty years, and while his poems are well-known and well-liked by many, he admits that he does not follow a particular model or form when composing his works. In an interview with Gina Temple posted on the News from Nowhere Web site, Jenkins said, "They don't teach prose poems in college by and large. There is no definition for prose poem. There are no rules except that it's in prose—so a prose poem can be anything. I write the kind of prose poem I write. I don't see them as necessarily a model for anyone to go by any more than I have been influenced by rules or other writers. It's just me, writing in prose, the way I'd write it. You try to create an atmosphere—there is not necessarily any point to what you are trying to say." Jenkins defined his goal when composing a prose poem, stating, "I want the language to sound as though someone were telling a story. You're not really paying attention to how it's told, you're interested in the story, you're interested in what's going on. Of course, there's a lot going on linguistically, but I don't want that to be obvious. It's like the scenery or props—you want that to become part of the actual fantasy, part of the play. So that those cardboard waves are somehow believable."
Jenkins has published his poems in both literary magazines and in books. His appeal partially stems from his ability to capture the extraordinary aspects of mundane, everyday activities. Whether writing on his youth, a severe weather warning, or a "fish out of water," Jenkins creates realistic situations and likable characters. Booklist's Elizabeth Gunderson, in a review of Nice Fish: New and Selected Poems, pointed out, "Jenkins captures small scenes and solitary people, making the typical become fascinating." Jenkins tries to make his poems pleasurable to readers, because he believes that poetry should not be a chore to read. He told Temple, "There is a certain thing about poetry that's off-putting and scary…. Part of that is the fault of poetry. A lot of poetry is boring, and stupid—self-indulgent. Robert Frost said, 'A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom.' A whole lot of poets try to jump right to wisdom and forget the delight…. Whether it ends in wisdom or not, it should at least begin with delight."
Jenkins told Temple that when he has an idea for a poem, he often goes for a walk to help clarify exactly what it is that he wants to say. He commented, "Usually, if I have the beginning of something, I walk and turn it over in my head until I think it's ready to go, then I go back and start typing." He continued, "Some [of my poems] come out very close to the way they are when they are published. But that doesn't mean that they're ever done…. You're never quite satisfied. You can look at things years later and say, 'I would have done that differently.' You do as much as you can, then you let it go."
Though Jenkins may not be satisfied with some of his poems, The Winter Road garnered much praise from critics. Temple, writing for RipSaw News, noted, "He tempts readers along on a winding journey through his brilliant, slightly off-kilter world of prose poetry." Temple continued, "These prose poems prompt the reader to imagine the greater scene or story that surrounds them, to speculate on the rich experience that exists on the unseen sides of the small gems we are offered." "Reading Louis Jenkins's prose poems is like taking an ice-cold shower after you've been in a sauna too long—jolting but refreshing," remarked Pamela Miller in the Star Tribune. "The Winter Road is funny, unpretentious, intelligent, surreal, and never dull," Miller declared. Booklist's Ray Olson pointed out that Jenkins uses "generally simple diction and syntax," but noted that the poems "teeter between wisdom and foolishness and between the mundane and the surreal." Miller explained that a "wry, lively skepticism permeates the poems," and noted that The Winter Road is "a welcome reminder that good poetry can also be fun." Temple pointed out that Jenkins "says much with what he does not say." To Jenkins, this may be the greatest compliment.
In the interview with Temple, Jenkins explained, "To write poetry, to paint, to write music, is to try to say the unsayable. If it isn't beyond you, then it isn't worth doing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Book Review, November, 1988, review of An Almost Human Gesture, p. 8.
Booklist, March 15, 1995, Elizabeth Gunderson, review of Nice Fish: New and Selected Poems, p. 1302; January 1, 2001, Ray Olson, review of The Winter Road, p. 902.
Library Journal, March 15, 1995, Rochelle Ratner, review of Nice Fish, p. 74.
Ohio Review, winter, 1991, Donald Revell, review of An Almost Human Gesture, pp. 113-131.
Parnassus: Poetry in Review, spring, 1989, Sven Birkerts, review of An Almost Human Gesture, pp. 163-183.
Small Press Book Review, July, 1988, review of An Almost Human Gesture, p. 6.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 11, 2001, Pamela Miller, "Poetry: Poets Explore Worlds That Are, in Turn, Rich and Refreshing," p. 14F.
News from Nowhere, http://www.newsfromnowhere.com/ (September 27, 2000), Gina Temple, "The Poetry Room: All Work and Some Plays, Interview with Louis Jenkins."
RipSaw News, http://www.ripsawnews.com/ (October 25, 2000), Gina Temple, "Sipping a Pepsi, Listening to Duane Eddy on 45s," review of The Winter Road.
Three Candles, http://www.threecandles.org/ (January 14, 2003), Archive: Louis Jenkins.