Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Joanne Zarrillo Cherefko

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

A Consecration of the wind

Joanne Zarrillo Cherefko

A New Jersey native now living in Virginia, she honed her skill as a poet in college and created her most complex poetry following the death of her mother.  Her earlier poems are lyrical and expressionistic, while her more recent poetry is narrative in style.She is currently a visiting poet and poetry teacher at three high schools in her area. She loves music, photography, poetry, her Cavaliers, and the love of her life, her husband Bud.

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

Writing a poem or burying myself in a novel were methods of coping with the anxiety my parents’ dysfunctional marriage and arguing caused me.  I would escape the tension in the house by going outside to play or by going up to my room to externalize my emotions through writing.  With the exception of one short story I wrote at the age of 12, all of my creative written expression has taken the form of poetry.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother had a literature anthology in the house, and I read a few of the poems in the collection.  The only poem that remained in my memory long after I read it in that particular book was “Razors Pain You” by Dorothy Parker.  I am not sure if my preoccupation with death had its roots in that poem, in my sadness and anxiety about the emotional instability in our home, or in my mother’s sudden death when I was 24, but my poems tend to reflect the darker side of self-exploration and life’s journey.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I did not become aware of the dominating presence of older poets until a high school classmate of mine quoted Ezra Pound’s “In a Station at the Metro” in our literary magazine.  He had used the Imagist poem to illustrate a pen and ink drawing of his.  I don’t remember what his drawing looked like, but I was immediately fascinated by the poem, though I would not understand the meaning of “first intensity” until decades later when I incorporated the poem into my American Poetry seminar.

My full immersion in the works of older poets occurred when I majored in English Education in college.   I fell in love with the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the British Romanticists and the French Symbolists, and I studied other dominating poets of the Modernist movement, such as Stevens and Yeats.  I studied Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, but I was not fond of the style of the beat poets.  I cannot recall when I began to read the works of Sylvia Plath, but I was drawn to her from the start.  In my American Poetry seminar, I love comparing Plath’s “Rabbit Catcher” to her husband’s poem of the same name.  My favorite poem to teach, however, is Wallace Stevens’ “The Snowman,” the discussion of which caused some students to experience an existential crisis.  When a poem is capable of engendering such a powerful philosophical and metaphysical reaction among high school seniors, it is a poem that must be taught!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I do not write poems on a daily basis, but I do edit poems and my second manuscript on a regular basis.  When I force the writing process on myself, I am not satisfied with the result.

5. What motivates you to write?

Loss, pain, sorrow, death, reflection of past and present experiences, and the mysteries of the mind and soul motivate me to write, but last winter, I was provided with a great motivator.  After reading my more lyrical poetry, GenZ requested that I provide them with some narrative poems, so after a lengthy creative drought, I began writing again.  Since that time,  I have written over 60 poems – both narrative and lyrical, though I am trying to avoid the obfuscation that is present in some of the poems in the Art of Darkness section of my collection A Consecration of the Wind.  Several of those poems wrote themselves in the middle of nights of sporadic sleep and anxiety in the early 80s, and many of them are the remnants of dreams.

6. What is your work ethic?

My work ethic has improved greatly since I first learned that my debut collection of poems would be published.  Since that time, I have worked very diligently to produce poems that I believe will blend the lyrical and narrative types smoothly in my second collection.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

T.S. Eliot is my favorite poet, and I believe my style of writing blends the Modernist style with the Post-Modernist style of Plath and Bishop.  Eliot’s works have become such an intrinsic part of my poetic consciousness that when any of my words or images remind me of his poems, I sift through his Complete Poems and Plays  to make sure I have not unconsciously plagiarized him.
My poetry is usually not straight-forward or easily interpreted by most people.  Though the Modernists purposefully wrote obscure poetry, my intent is not to confuse people, but it is to bury the core truth beneath layers of meaning.  Although I liken sharing my poetry with the world to unzipping my skin and letting people see inside, I nevertheless keep my most private realities hidden.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

For the most part, I enjoy reading and teaching the poetry of the early twentieth century.  I have, however, more recently enjoyed the poetry of Olu Oguibe, a Nigerian artist/poet; Claudia Emerson, Pulitzer Prize Winner; Rich Follett, the poet laureate of Strasburg, VA; Billy Collins; and Dr. Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, former poet laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The reason that I admire the aforementioned modern poets has to do first and foremost with their facility and manipulation of the English language.  Individually, I enjoy and respect Collins’ juxtaposition of comedy and grief; Follett’s literary allusions; Oguibe’s passion and pain; Kriter-Foronda’s focus on art, and Emerson’s narrative style and vivid imagery.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I believe that I have a facility with language and that I have stories and metaphysical ideas to share with family, friends, and any poetry aficionados who are willing to invest some time and thought to understand poetry that is not simple or straightforward.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would recommend that the aspiring writer attend a workshop or class and read as much literature as possible in the genre of choice.  I do believe, though, that the person should have an innate ability to express in writing his/her truths, whether they be full truths or partially hidden truths.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am presently working on my second manuscript, which I intend to submit to GenZ this fall.  The title is Fragmented Roots, and, unlike my debut collection, this book contains over forty poems that I have written in recent years.  I wrote the majority of the poems in my first book during the 70s and 80s.  The title of my second book is taken from one of the poems in the new collection, just as A Consecration of the Wind is a phrase from one of my poems in that collection.  Each time I read the Fragmented Roots manuscript, I am intrigued by threads of imagery that appear throughout older and more recent poems.

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