…a closer look at Stronger Than Cleopatra

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at Stronger Than Cleopatra, a poetry collection by Jacqueline Jules

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Ian Bodkin

April:

Did you have a favorite poem? What are your over all thoughts to this collection?

Ian:

If I were to pick a particular poem in this collection it would be “Tail.” I think one of the most interesting aspects of this work is how Jacqueline weaves a sense of myth into her poems when they are all in some way trying to deal with such a real loss. And what I mean by myth is in the legend building akin to folklore. So often the world seem to delineate our lives into a Wikipedia entry or bullet points for today’s 24-hour news cycle, when those ventures are void of the most interesting point of being alive; our humanity. In “Tail” Jacqueline creates a sense of humanity by turning her-story into a physical manifestation. By creating a sense of myth, she doesn’t pull us away from the realities of her loss, but instead offers an embodiment her humanity, allowing the reader to easily relate to the poems.

April:

As a poet I can completely appreciate how hard it can be to write a poem like “911,” and you can certainly feel the intense emotion, the panic, the disorientation. Even though at times, for me, there seemed to be an imbalance between the amount of detail and emotional rawness, I really enjoyed the craft elements. The poem looks attractive and effective. The use of a long stanza helps to slow down the poem, almost mimicking the slow down in time. The short sentences and line breaks are really effective, especially with the lines, “alone.” and “disbelief.”

Ian:

I can understand how you would feel a bit of imbalance in this piece, but there’s certainly something in the refrain and the particulars of the detail. How does one relay a sense of chaos? This does pose a tricky balance. However, I think the structure of the poem delivers details while still conveying the abstract thoughts and emotions the narrator is wrestling with in the moment of panic and disorientation.

April:

“Four Days After Your Funeral” is very powerful. I feel the comparison of grief to a thunderstorm is really lovely, her inner anger being answered by nature and tying her to where she buried her loved one. The image of the sky howling and her joining in is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. The ending is very heart wrenching, the final goodbye, the acceptance of being alone.

Ian:

I enjoyed “Four Days After Your Funeral” for the same reasons. In this poem, we immediately get the mind trying to put image to feeling, something we can only do in the quiet or after. With great loss, we all come to the moment when we know it is appropriate to grieve or be melancholy but the heart, the soul, the mind, none of them give a damn about our knowledge or ability to reason. They strike out. They howl much like the images in this poem.

April:

I’m happy this collection includes “Wings From Chrysalis,” a poem about change and growth. After walking with the narrator through her loss and grief, as a reader I felt prepared for the rebirth of the narrator. The loss of her spouse seemingly rips her in half, and even with a new husband she still feels lost. But in this poem the reader gets the sense she’s going to fly rather than cower. The line, “Your death reduced me to larva.” is striking. She mentions in other poems that she never thought she’d be a widow, that it’s thrown her for a loop, but in this line the reader is able to understand just how much his death has meant to her. She not only lost herself, but her sense of life. The narrator goes on to say, “and some creatures are destined/ to live their lives in stages,” and we understand that while she sees her potential again, she’s also hesitant that life could always change in a way that is unexpected.

Ian:

I love the opening of this poem as well. The detail of the tie and the stain is striking, especially in that sense of myth making I mentioned earlier. The speaker is not remarking on some great character flaw of her late husband, instead it’s simple, small and only something she could find. It’s intimate and ridiculous in the way that great love can be between two people. But when we lose people we tend to idolize them, we forget their faults, we obsess over who they ought to be not who they were and you’re right, that’s why the valediction of “your death reduced me to larva” is poignant as it is hopeful, it’s a prayer of thanksgiving.

April:

Overall, I feel it’s a lovely collection about loss and finding oneself after the death of a spouse. Each poem shows us the narrator’s growth, and in the end, they show us her potential. The symmetry between her loss and second marriage offer the reader a realistic picture of what it means to say goodbye too soon. This collection is a heart-wrenching read for anyone who has someone to lose or has lost someone before. It’s also a beautiful picture of the hope that can blossom out of heartbreak.

Ian:

As a poet and editor, I often turn toward Berryman when he said that poetry is the “riot of the nerve within the bone.” With this collection, Jules lays her body of grief upon the table pulling out each detail and moment to her readers like a surgeon in the theater of an autopsy. She confesses the journey of her loss detail by detail and in the end leaves us with a collection of poems that both laments and celebrates life. Jacqueline Jules’s Stronger Than Cleopatra is a riot of humanity.

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