Rhyme and reason
For Navy wife Jehanne Dubrow, writing poetry is both art and coping skill. Jehanne is the author of “Stateside,” a collection of poems about life as a military spouse. The book came out this spring, fittingly, while her husband was at sea.
“Poetry is the way I think problems onto the page. It helps me to order the universe if I can put a difficult problem into fourteen lines and call it a sonnet,” she said.
“To hear the music that poems create is incredibly reassuring to me.”
Sonnets, she said, are “like these beautiful perfect machines that contain terrible, difficult things and make them a little bit beautiful.”
“That’s really powerful to have a tiny bit of control over my small corner of the world.”
A Navy wife of five years, Jehanne is an assistant professor of English at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and the author of several books of poetry.
Her poems are about her own personal struggles, but she said she wrote “Stateside” with other military spouses in mind.
“What’s been especially important to me is how other milspouses feel about the book, because that’s who I was writing the book for,” she said.
“I was really nervous when I wrote the book, because I know that military wives are encouraged to keep a stiff upper lip.”
“I didn’t want to sound like I was whining, but I did want to be able to speak honestly about how difficult it is to be married to someone in the military and how hard it is to cope with distance, emotional distance and physical distance,” said Jehanne.
“So far the reactions have been very positive.”
The news that her husband might be deployed to a combat zone early in her married life provided the impetus for the book.
“All of the sudden it dawned on me that my husband is in the military, and that could mean danger. I don’t know how that escaped my notice in the first year and half of our marriage.”
“In the end, he didn’t end up going to Iraq or Afghanistan, but I was so suddenly aware of what might happen that it’s never left me since,” she said.
“I can handle the long Navy deployments, but to imagine him in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq is really terrifying to me.”
Poetry was her means of working through her fear, and Jehanne realized that military spouse life had not been addressed poetically in a long time.
“There’s a long tradition in poetry of the soldier poet,” she said, “but there are no representations of the military wife in poetry. The only example is Penelope in the Odyssey – pretty old book.”
A lifelong lover of poetry, Jehanne sought to convince likeminded readers that “this story of being a military wife is worthy of examination and consideration, precisely because it’s being treated with the seriousness that poems bring to subjects.”
Jehanne said she also wanted her story to reach the civilian world.
“There are a lot of people who are untouched by the military experience because none of their immediate family members are in the military,” she said.
“The more books there are that treat the experience of the military spouse in a serious and literary way, the more people are likely to imagine how difficult this experience might be.”
“That’s what literature does, it forces readers to put themselves in the place of the character in the work of literature. That act of imagination is so important, to ask readers to imagine what this might be like.”
By Jehanne Dubrow
On Jones Street every house is painted white,
each door is white and every yard adheres
to certain rules: the grass at crew-cut height,
an apple blossom tree bent toward the sun,
a single bush trimmed squat and round and so
symmetrically it seems man-made. No one
can deviate from others in the row.
How easily I lose myself out here.
Even the dog can barely sniff his way
back from the park. Was it a left we took?
A right? Perhaps it’s safer just to stay
indoors than go off course again. Oh, look –
another flag, another garden gnome,
another sign proclaiming HOME, SWEET HOME.
From "Stateside" by Jehanne Dubrow
Copyright © 2010 by Jehanne Dubrow. Foreword copyright © 2010 by Ted Kooser.
Published 2010 by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission
Hear Jehanne read her poetry on NPR's Fresh Air ...