by Alison Wagener
If there’s one thing you need to know about Jeannie Roberts, it’s that she lives on the bright side of life. But the local poet understands that everything exists in balance and moderation.
Jeannie’s soon-to-be-released collection of poetry, Romp and Ceremony, highlights this blend of realistic optimism with a voice that’s lyric, lilting, and full of soundplay. Poet Bill Yarrow said the collection presents “A book for all those who admire the sobriety of ceremony and appreciate the intoxication of a romp.”
Romp and Ceremony was slated to be released Nov. 11, but publishing setbacks have pushed that date out several weeks. Jeannie said she hopes for it to be available by January. There is, of course, a silver lining to this delay: Jeannie has promised to donate $2 per book sold during its presale to the Confluence Project in Eau Claire. A longer presale means more money will be given back to the project.
Jeannie was born in Minneapolis and, in her words, has since lived a hybrid Wisconsin-Minnesota life. In 2007, she served as the interim director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center (ECRAC). She's also worked as a house manager for ECRAC and been a member of the visual arts committee. When she’s not writing, she volunteers her time for Motionpoems in Minneapolis and also runs her own freelance creative company. She’s recently moved to Eau Claire after living in the Chippewa Falls area.
When we sat down to chat, she explained that the photo featured on the cover of Romp and Ceremony is of a yard neighboring her old home near Chippewa Falls. The yard is full of unorthodox lawn ornaments, trinkets that Jeannie said her clean-yard-loving father nicknamed “putterbellies.” In a poem of the same name, she offers a humorous take on the different assortment of items people use to decorate their yards.
Are all of the poems in this collection more lighthearted, more humorous, like “Putterbellies”?
“There are six sections within my book, and the heaviest humor section is titled ‘Romp It Up!’ It’s lighthearted, there's much whimsy interwoven within the poems. The remaining sections include: ‘Seasonal Disorders,’ ‘Brighter Days Ahead,’ ‘Signs of Life,’ ‘Food and Other Phenomena,’ ‘All Life Shines,’ with the final section being ‘Romp It Up!.’ Each section builds to the more concentrated humor at the end. It’s fairly seasonal… In most of my poetry, I intersperse the light and the dark—which is life, right? It’s a combination. We have spring where there’s life and light, and then winter where we have the darker parts.”
So how does the poetry in this collection speak to you? Why is this something that you were drawn towards, this tone that blends the light and dark?
I enjoy humor. When I look at things, I see numerous sides to life’s situations. I like looking at the brighter, more humorous aspects of life. In this collection, I guess what speaks to me the most is its lightheartedness.
Is that what you want your readers to take away, to focus more on the lighter side of life?
You know, I do… In the beginning of my book, I include a quote by Hugh Sidey, an American journalist who died in 2005. For me, his words encapsulate my book in a sentence or two: “Above all else, go out with a sense of humor. It is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” That pretty much sums it up. If we can look at the brighter side, see the positive elements of things, that’s the takeaway.
I hear you’re donating part of the proceeds from presales of the book towards the Confluence Arts Center. Why did you choose to do that?
The Eau Claire Regional Arts Center/State Theatre has always been dear to my heart. It feels like part of my essence. When I was the interim director in 2007, we discussed expansion of the Arts Center or the possibility of building a new one. Way back, the seeds of renewal had been planted. I find it really exciting to see the progress of the Confluence Project, to have watched them break ground. Eau Claire is such a beautiful city, a river town. The Confluence Project, along with the new Confluence Arts Center, will bring revitalization and will showcase the area's beauty and rich history.
So I know this is a bit premature to ask because you’re still in the publishing stage of this book, but do you already have an idea of what you’d like to do next?
I am shopping around a new children’s book. Recently, a small Minnesota press rejected it. The editors were so gracious. They said they wished they could publish it, but with full-color illustrations it wasn't cost-effective for them. They also suggested other publishers I might pursue for my manuscript. I thought that was pretty nice, because not all publishers do that. And I do have two new chapbooks that I have out to editors for possible publication, so yeah, I’m always working on something, and it never stops.
What does that feel like – always putting your work out there and never really knowing what’s going to stick? How do you deal with that as a writer?
I guess it’s just a process. Rejections are part of being a writer, and I’ve just become so immune to them. You don’t always get acceptances. When rejections arrive, ‘Oh, okay, they rejected me, on to the next.’ I always have that mindset… I’m always writing poetry, and sending my individual poems to editors, and online journals, and to anthologies. Usually, I send out ten or more poems a month to different journals and magazines. There’s always activity, you know? And sometimes I’d like to stop the activity and just take a break, but that’s just not part of my personality… I live in the moment, but I would be living more in the moment if I didn’t have so many projects on my plate! But when you’re creative, as writers and artists know, that’s just how it is. You’ve got a bouquet of ideas in your head, and you have to figure out how to piece them all together.
Is there a big dream project that you’ve always wanted to take on, that you’re working towards? Or do you just take your projects as they come to you?
That’s a good question… It would be nice to have a big-name publisher pick up my poetry manuscripts. Though, the bigger publishers are usually more interested in writers with an MFA degree in creative writing, those who are creative writing professors. I have an MA and have taught, but have not instructed at the university level. Beyond the big dream project, I guess I've always wanted to go back to school to further my education, to earn an MFA and even a PhD, to teach in a university, to be able to promote my books nationally, and to do poetry readings at larger venues. However, at my age, I don’t see that happening because I’m realistic that way… But you asked about a dream, and that’s usually pie in the sky stuff, right? So that’s what it would be for me.