Local writer publishes new collection of poetry – Macomb Daily
Macomb Township author John Jeffire may be the only author to have an indoor book release party. His event at the Scarab Club in Detroit was scheduled for the night of July 16, when torrential rains flooded many streets and made travel unsafe. The event was canceled and Jeffire found himself with family and friends – including a college roommate who had traveled to Detroit for the occasion – having beers at the Bronx Bar.
âI call it my Armenian stupid luck,â Jeffire said.
His latest book, A Temple for Tomorrows, is a collection of poetry and prose that examines these unexpected turns in life and the courage and determination required to deal with them, along with the soul-searching and grieving required to process the change. A Temple for Tomorrows is divided into three sections: Hustle; What a rude beast, his hour has come; and Tomorrow.
âThe first section, Hustle, is meant to be very local to Detroit and tries to capture Detroit’s mindset and personality,â Jeffire said. âFrom there, it starts to branch out. “
The title of the next section, What Rough Beast, Its Hour Come Round, is taken from WB Yeats’s poem The Second Coming and extends the Detroit poet’s focus to the rest of the world.
âThis section examines the topic on a global level,â Jeffire said. “There will always be echoes of the first section, but the focus is not localized from the Motor City.”
After expanding into that big picture, the third section, Tomorrows, returns to an extremely focused and personal place, Jeffire said. The 16 poems in this chapter revolve around Jeffire’s terminally ill wife, Konnie, who has had multiple brain surgeries. A Temple for Tomorrows is full of the grain of Jeffire’s signature, but these poems about Konnie are perhaps the most grainy of all. He is able to capture the loneliness and helplessness of having a loved one die without becoming sappy or effusive.
âThere is a very conscious effort not to fall into sentimentalism,â Jeffire said. âI think every writer, especially poets, needs to control himself. They can’t give in to this impulse to get the emotion quick and easy. I compare him to a blues musician. Blues musicians are very sober and instead of playing 100 notes like Eddie VanHalen, your busts blues guitarists play five notes and stretch them out. It’s not always easy when you’re talking about a loved one, an incurable disease and all that range of things.
Much like his novels, Motown Burning and River Rouge, and his previous books of poetry, Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone and Shoveling Snow in a Snowstorm, Jeffire’s poems in his latest book required several revisions and a lot of polishing to become literary gems.
âThis is writing; it’s just a hell of a job, âJeffire said.
In addition to his recognition of Yeats with the title of his second chapter, Jeffire pays homage to another of his favorite authors, Raymond Carver, with his poem What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Carver’s short story of the same name explored the different things love means to different people while Jeffire’s poem explores how the meaning of love can change within a single relationship.
âIn poetry, the writer who spoke to me the most was Phil Levine, and in the short stories it was Carver and Alice Munro,â Jeffire said. âCarver can write some really heartbreaking stories where he never says ‘heart’, he never says ‘tears’ and those are absolutely devastating stories. He taught me a lot about economics and the use of simple words and sentences. Don’t go for a $ 10 word, whereas an easily entered word will do the same job.
Jeffire’s Poem Coming Home, Detroit 2015 pays homage to Levine’s poem, Coming Home, Detroit 1968,
“I think writers have to be original, writers have to be respectful of the people who shaped them and allowed them to learn to express themselves and there are many writers to whom I owe a great debt,” said said Jeffire.
Those familiar with Jeffire’s earlier work may notice an increased intensity in his latest collection. If the raw emotion seems to take it up a notch, Jeffire attributes it to his own life experiences in recent years. He quotes playwright August Wilson, who once said that to write is to walk the landscape of oneself.
âMy first poetry book was published 13 years ago, and if you’ve been working on something for 13 years and you’re not better, what have you done with yourself? Jeffire said. âI think I’ve improved and had a lot of experiences since, including my wife’s illness, my son’s going to war and my daughter struggling with drug addiction. The ego landscape for me has become quite rocky for a number of years and I think this naturally lends itself to a more intense level of expression.
The title poem from his previous chapbook, Shoveling Snow in a Snowstorm, is the final poem in the Hustle section of A Temple for Tomorrow and encompasses that hamster-in-a-wheel feeling, that universal feeling that you work as hard as you do. can but makes no progress.
âIt was the story of my life, the futility of my life back then,â Jeffire said of the poem. “What’s the point, you know?” We all walked out into that alley looking up and wondering “why am I doing this?” When it doesn’t make sense. But yet we continue and we will be there again, freezing our buttocks. Why are we doing this to ourselves? “
Jeffire’s book release event has been rescheduled to August 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the St. Clair Shores Public Library. The event is sponsored by the Detroit Writers Guild and musician Jackson Millsap (a Jeffire alumnus) along with writers Joy Gaines-Friedler, ML Leibler, Diane DeCillis and Linda Sienkiewicz will be on hand. This event is free and open to the public.
Jeffire teaches English at Chippewa Valley High School and is a part-time wrestling coach with the Roughnecks Wrestling Club.