"I find myself drawn to places were myth was once born." (An Interview With Tamara Jobe)

Half Mystic Press’ latest poetry collection, Hag by Tamara Jobe, is released from Half Mystic Press on August 24. Tamara lives in the South, tending horses and writing poems. You can find her on Twitter and Tumblr. To kick off the blog tour of Hag, Tamara joins us on the Half Mystic blog for an interview on the creation process of the book...

HM: Throughout Hag there exists a focus on place, such as the description of California in the poem “Holy.” What role does location play in your writing? Are there specific settings you find yourself drawn to?

TJ: Certain places are intrinsically tied to memory for me; they hold deep meaning and power. The ideas of “space” and “place,” both in terms of an actual physical location and the spaces our bodies occupy, are intermingled within the poems as a way to orient voice and the reader’s perception. These places offer footholds, in a sense. I find myself drawn to places of power on the earth: the ethereal, the mystical, the liminal. Places were myth was once born. The sea plays an important role in my writing, as well as the shrouded mystery of the mountains, such as the Ozarks. I’m hoping each place connects and crosses over each other in some way in these poems.

One of the most striking motifs in Hag is the relationship between womanhood and magic. What are you hoping to accomplish through your images of the divine feminine?

Women are magic to me. I’m forever in awe of their power and the ways in which they express their own definitions of femininity—in my experience, it’s the marriage between an unstoppable force and an openness and gentleness of heart. That’s what intrigues me, and that’s where the magic lives for me. Throughout folklore, I can usually find some connection between women in their power and their connectedness to the earth—for instance, the link between the moon, the tides, and so on. The divine feminine offers me a grounding place from which I can begin to explore and reclaim the power and magic in myself—that same connected force that I feel society has always tried to separate from women. I’d love for someone reading this book to find some glimmer of recognition in that, to realize how amazingly strong they are despite everything, how capable they are of living unapologetically.

Witchcraft has historically held many misogynistic implications. What significance do you see in reclaiming this history?

The term “witch” has always provided a convenient label for women, and really anyone who simply doesn’t fit the mold. Again, it’s been a method to demonize and vilify women who were deemed too powerful in an inexplicable way, a way too uncanny and dangerous to accept into a narrow society. By reclaiming that demonizing language, we can eradicate its dark hold. At the very least, we can mold it into something that provides power rather than steals it away. Words are simply words, with all of their innocuous and wild connotations, and I have to remember that I’m a conductor of language the same as anyone better at staying inside the lines. That’s important to me as a writer and a woman. 

Poems like “Heft” discuss the role of the body, and the social implications of appearance and weight. What have you uncovered about these topics through the process of writing Hag?

Women so often bear the heaviest weight of standards of beauty because they’re seen as objects of desire. As girls they are told, subliminally or otherwise, that their value lies in how others perceive their physical bodies, and from a young age, that’s incredibly damaging. Through these poems I’m exploring and subverting those ideas—what would happen if we actively claimed the space we occupy in the world rather than trying to hide behind our bodies? What if we encountered our bodies the way they are and said, “this is good enough”? Our bodies carry us through life, and we’re in it for the long haul. Every day I’m trying to honor that, to say “thank you” to the body that has brought me through so much and will bring me through so much to come.

What narrative arcs stretch across the collection? What role does numbering separate sections, both between and inside of poems, play into this unspooling story? 

While composing the collection, the sections felt naturally separate to me. The first focuses on creation and ethereality. It’s a bit like trying to describe smoke or hold water: it flows and ekes out and follows its own path, not entirely solid. The second deals with more human themes: occupying a body, hunger, our need for love and connection. The third plays with, subverts, redefines topics of morality and truth and religion. And there’s an elevation in the fourth section, tying everything together and dealing with more mystical and cerebral themes. The tone also shifts: the voice of the poems tends toward fury and power. The fourth section is about challenging expectations of and staking claim over what has already been said. 

Depictions of animals and other feral beings are central to the collection. What connections do you see between the ferocity of the natural world and the power of women?

It’s like that Elana Dykewomon quote: “Almost every woman I have ever met has a secret belief that she is just on the edge of madness, that there is some deep, crazy part within her, that she must be on guard constantly against ‘losing control’.” We’re expected to fit within the rigid confines of expected behavior, and if we don’t, something is wrong with us. Everyone experiences this to a certain degree, but I think women are given even stricter societal expectations. It’s as if there’s a wildness about them that needs to be restrained and controlled. So I’m turning that idea on its head by exploring a woman’s intensity and depth in relation to the natural world, which simply cannot be controlled no matter what constraints are put in place. It will always be wild and free. 

What is the relationship between religion and witchcraft? How do you find they work in conjunction or opposition to one another?

Religion by definition has a mysticism to it. No matter what creed or denomination or belief system, it all has to do with the human and supernatural exchange. There’s something otherworldly about it, as with witchcraft, so the two are necessarily linked in my mind. I think people balk at the idea that a belief system like Christianity has anything to do with mysticism or magic, but in my mind it absolutely does. Witchcraft has historically been viewed as the wrong side of the coin, something sinister and dark, but the two work in tandem, and that’s always intrigued me. 

How does Hag relate to the experience of song in its exploration of identity?

Music is at the pulse and heart of human experience. It has always been connected with ritual and ceremony; it’s raw human expression. Music is never far removed from my writing process—it always helps to narrow my focus. I think the arrangement of language is, in itself, very lyrical. The music is in everything.  

What roles do nostalgia and the past play in your writing?

Memory occupies a huge part of our identities. Poetry so often calls on memory as a crucial device, whether to help us process our experiences or to redefine them entirely. Our memories are so romanticized and altered in our minds that going through them is very much like the experience of writing a poem. It’s not necessarily about what the words mean as much as it is about how we live the poem or memory. That’s how we tell our stories, and that’s also how we shape our futures.