Jennifer Givhan has created an imaginative roadmap of survival within Rosa’s Einstein. She was kind enough to answer some interview questions about her newest poetry collection.

           JH: What first struck you with Rosa’s Einstein?

          JG: Survival. The heartbeat of my writing. This book called me to find ever more imaginative ways to create survival and healing from trauma. While my other books lean toward a blurring of surrealism and realism, this book asked me to run away with the desert circus, alongside my protagonist/speaker Rosa, her ghosted sister Nieve, and Einstein’s lost daughter Lieserl, who become the heroes of the collection. I was dealing with a particularly threatening bout of depression and PTSD while writing Landscape with Headless Mama, and found solace and escape, joy and wonder, in a documentary show narrated by Morgan Freeman called Through the Wormhole, which my husband had recorded for me because he knew I was researching scientific explanations for our cultural/religious mythos as well as sci-fi concepts such as time travel for my novel Trinity Sight. I’d binge-watch the show while nursing my baby daughter, fascinated by the analogies that the theoretical physicists and other scientists would make between their hypotheses and the world around us, and I thought, These scientists are poets. Science and poetry are the same.

          I could go on and on, truly, but the heart of this collection is survival via connection–uncovering and (re)discovering the bridges between everything–realizing that not only is everything connected, but, at our core of cores, we are all made of the same stuff. Matter is energy. Time is space. Girl-children are powerful. We shape worlds.

           JH: Was your first instinct to turn these characters/stories into poems?

          JG: In many ways, I think of Rosa’s Einstein as a novel-in-verse, with a clear narrative arc. It follows the hero’s journey at its structural core. When I began thinking about the pilgrimage my heroines would undertake across the desert world of theoretical physics, trauma and understanding and forgiveness, circus performers and street magicians, religion, and personal/cultural healing, I imagined a novel. But when I sat down to write, what came out was lyric. The collection’s opening poem, its origin story “Rosa Roja,” came out as poetry. And I knew the Muse had lit my path. All I could do was close my eyes and follow.

           JH: Several of the poems talk about “the bomb,” recently I went to Santé Fe, where a few museums seem particularly proud of the history, how did living in New Mexico inform your research?

          JG: My goal in both Rosa’s Einstein and Trinity Sight is to consider the history and effects of the atomic bomb from the perspective of the peoples of color whose home this land has been for thousands of years. I don’t personally know any indigenous people proud of the bomb, though, yes, I do agree with you that there is certainly an atmosphere in parts of New Mexico that would support the interpretation you experienced. I’ve visited on several occasions both Los Alamos where the bomb was created and Trinity Site in White Sands where the bomb was first launched/tested. My experience was at once surreal, frightening, and yet, there’s an air of excitement, an air of historical importance. The indigenous experience is represented at the museums and historical markers, yes, but their perspective is not centered by any means. My work aims to re-evaluate this, what I see as a glaring oversight/misrepresentation.

           JH: Your work with form is fantastic in the book, was it important for you to utilize form poetry in this particular collection? Can you elaborate a little on this?

          JG: Form often calls to me, challenging me–what shapes will hold, what shapes must break? I’m ever searching for the best containers to hold my truths. Form sometimes acts as a colander, a strainer, and I can see where the magic is sifting through. In this way, form is also a teacher, showing me what I can let go… in the next poems… which are vital organs, which is skin, which are tattoos adorning the skin…

           JH: What was organizing the collection like? Each section is particularly stunning and well placed, I’m always curious as to what drives a poet to place their work in a particular order.

          JG: As I mentioned earlier, I shaped this collection using the hero’s journey as guidepost: the call to adventure, meeting the mentor, crossing the threshold, approaching the innermost cave, the road back, resurrection. This is a structure that many fiction writers follow for their novels, and I’d been studying it for Trinity Sight, so it had become a part of my craft toolkit that worked out perfectly for the melding of narrative arc with magical real poetry. I encourage poets to borrow tools from fiction writers all the time. It’s so fun.

           JH: Your first poem, “Rosa Roja,” really moved me. Specifically, the line: “God sometimes comes in the form of a scientist – bandit/of time.” It’s relatable for me, as it speaks to grief. Whether that’s of the self, or of something outside of self. Can you tell me a little about why this was the first poem in the collection?

          JG: This poem is about meeting our protagonist in her ordinary world, before the call to action. We learn her concerns as a neglected daughter, an aspiring Latina scientist without role models, and begin to glean the first inklings of her mental health state as a result of girlhood trauma and her need to latch onto the story of Lieserl, Einstein’s lost daughter. The result is fragmented for that is the way of memory, especially PTSD-influenced memory. I wanted to show Lieserl through Rosa’s perspective, to show how these girls come together to survive, as Rosa says:

          “Lieserl is another flora
          they say was fever
          dream but I’ve seen her, sister

          in the flower-fisted
          garden behind the coned firs”

          To mix fairytale analogies, we can think of this opening as Rosa spotting the white rabbit (Nieve white as snow, ghosted sister & flower-fisted lost daughter) and deciding to follow her down the hole (that green glass impression, bomb-scarred in the desert).

           JH: What’s your writing process like? Do you plan ahead, or do ideas just spill out of you? Your ability to write and publish so much has me quite envious. I’m curious as to how you manage a writing career on top of being a mother and educator. Where do you find the time?

          JG: Both, yes, all of this, ha! I’m constantly hypothesizing and synthesizing and planning, whether I’m getting anything onto the page or not. Everything around me is poem & story fodder, everything around me is survival & beauty & darkness transforming into light. The goal is always to get it onto the page, but this often requires abandoned Word docs and files and physical journals at the bottom of my book bags and purses and in the glove compartment of my car and even, TMI, in the bathroom cabinet beside the extra rolls of toilet paper. As a mama writer, I’ve had to steal every opportunity, every moment. I’m getting a little tired, honestly. I’m always juggling. With six poetry books out now and two novels on the way (Trinity Sight will be released this October from Blackstone Publishing, woot!) and the kids home all summer while I’m teaching several online classes and workshops, I’ve felt the need to take a little hiatus from writing. I’m halfway through the first draft of another novel, a psychological thriller that centers the survival magick of peoples of color in a white supremacist society, and I’m very, very excited about it, but, sometimes with so many balls in the air, a few have to drop, so I’m taking this moment to live and breathe and keep my children safe, and I’m trusting that the magick & Muse will be there when the kids go back to school in the fall.

           JH: You just completed another book, Trinity Sight. I’m excited to read it. Do you feel like working with fiction, dystopia, and fantasy translate easily over to your poetry or vice versa? How do these genres create, if any, parallels in your work?

          JG: Oh, absolutely. Someone asked me the other day, tongue in cheek, if writing novels was cheating on my poetry. The truth is that everything I write–whether creative nonfiction (I have an essay from the memoir I’m working on up at Salon, “Quinceañera with Baby Fever”), novels, or poetry–these all spring from the same force, and what form they take never feels completely up to me but the spirit that drives me. The duende. The underbelly. The necessity to survive. The call to pass on that which I’ve learned.

          I also believe that all these genres share so much craft wise. Even lyric poetry blurs narrative elements, and desire or its sister necessity are at the heart of every poem and story and essay I love–so I don’t see the genres as all that different at their hearts.

           JH: What writerly advice would you give to someone {probably me} who struggles to find the right writing/life balance?

          JG: There is no right balance. Take care of yourself & what/those you love. I’m trying to go through life absorbing only that which makes me more powerful and leaving the rest right on the ground where maybe it can grow into strength and power for someone else but I know it’s not for me. Learn to claim and wield your own magic and light. It’s there for you. In terms of balance though, I truly have no idea. Breathe when you can. Scream when you need to. Write every chance you get. Know your worth. Never, ever, ever give up. Ever.

           JH: Where can the universe learn more about you?

          JG: Jennifergivhan.com, Jenn Givhan on FB and Twitter, JennGivhan1111 on Insta. Or, in a deck of tarot cards,

           JH: What’s next for Jenn Givhan?

          JG: A nap! <3
Then soon, very soon, casting a few protection spells. Lighting candles. Getting back to
the work that must be done.

          Thank you so much for your energy and love reading my work. I’m sending you all the light.
          Xo
          Jenn

*          *          *          *          *
          From “Rosa Roja:”
          “I call out to the mad:
          Papa!
          —God sometimes comes in the form of a scientist—bandit
of time.”

          This collection flows seamlessly between narrative structure and the imaginary. Reading Givhan’s work is life affirming and will change the way you understand your own survival. It connects in a way that is paramount to any healing spell, any a road that must be traveled in order to find your way through trauma, to your truest nature. That of a human being, deserving of tenderness.
– Jennifer E. Hudgens
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