Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.
Name: Jeff Newberry
Title of Piece Published in Sweet: “All My Possible Selves from Alternate Universes Meet in a Bar for a Drink,” “Failure is an Art,” “Teaching is an Art,” “Memory is Sequential Art,” and “Mosiac”
Issue: 5.1, 11.2, 11.3
Jeff can be found in teaching and grading mode at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, where he is core faculty in the Writing and Communication Program. You can learn more about Jeff at his website.
What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?
In July, WordTech Editions released my new book, Cross Country, a collaboration with the poet Justin Evans. Cross Country is a dialogue in epistolary letters. Written primarily in 2015 and 2016, the letters range from personal meditations to commentary on social and political issues. 2016 was a rough year. Trump was elected. The Pulse Nightclub shooting happened. I’d turned 40 in 2014 and was dealing with a lot of personal baggage, too. My daughter, Madi, was diagnosed in utero with Spina Bifida. Her birth in 2014 provides the backdrop for many of the poems, too.
Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?
I am working on a memoir of essays, including the ones published in Sweet. Tentatively titled The Daily Comics: A Memoir in Frames, the book is a collection of experimental essays. I’m fascinated by writers like Brian Oliu, Dinty W. Moore, Sarah Minor, and others who explore experimental forms in their writing.
Who is your favorite author?
You might as well ask me which is my favorite child! A few names pop to mind: Dinty W. Moore, Ira Sukrungruang, Jake Adam York, Seamus Heaney, Colson Whithead, and Erica Dawson all pop to mind immediately.
What is your favorite poem/essay/book?
It’s an anthology chestnut, but my favorite poem (at least lately) is probably Seamus Heaney’s “Digging.” I love the way he marries personal biography with aesthetic commentary. The poem exists in this weird liminal space between confession and critique. As a writer from a rural, blue collar background, I wholly understand the poem’s final lines:
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
What inspires you to write?
Hamlet says that the time is out of joint and that he was born to set it right. I don’t have such lofty ambition (perhaps secretly, I do); but I do think that my writing emerges from a need to explore and to set right or realign the world. Humans are the only storytelling creatures. Stories have power that we have yet to understand. For me, writing is an act of storytelling, even when I’m writing a lyric poem.
What is your favorite sweet?
I adore sweets of all kinds, but every Christmas, I take it upon myself to bake pecan pies, which I spike with bourbon. Pecan pie is definitely my favorite sweet (today).
Thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!