On November 10, I entered the poem into a word document and began editing; the title then was “Jolt.” That document contains 27 revisions of the initial poem. In about the third revision, I started thinking about the term email and recalled that it was short for electronic mail.
And I thought, given that this poem explores the electricity of connection, wouldn’t that be evocative if the title was, instead, “Electric Mail.” On October 3, 2010, almost a full year later, I had a version of it that I felt was getting close to being realized. By July 1, 2011, I had added “Electric Mail” to a tentative compilation of Slide to Unlock. By November 2013, I was submitting the manuscript with “Electric Mail” included. The version is very similar to the final one that appears in the book.
In order to honor the ekphrastic roots of Slide to Unlock, and explore the idea of mis/dis/re-connection, the event is focused on showcasing a series of galleries, each incorporating tangible items that informed the creation of the collection.
“Electric Mail” has a gallery, and part of what it will contain are the 17 spiral-bound journals—all handwritten—where almost every poem in the manuscript came to be over the course of a decade. They will not be on view to flip through, but will merely be present.
There is something, I think, about seeing the tangible volume (quite literally) of ten years of work, all in one space. And it is a reminder too, about how much of our communication these days is ephemeral—our texts, emails, messages are lost to pixels, unable to be reclaimed or return to as a point of reflection, unless we intentionally choose to save them. ]
Certain poems from Slide to Unlock were composed and revised on my grandmother’s table—a piece of furniture my family behind when they sold the cottage when I was still a teenager. So to return to that once-home—and that surface so rife with memory—was an incomparable gift. I am absolutely convinced that some of the timbre of Slide to Unlock was informed by the sacred and rare experience of being able to return to a space—not just a room, but a table in that room—that I truly believed I might never see or experience again. I walked out of the cottage door when I was a teenager, thinking it was the last time. And by some miracle of generosity, twenty-some years later, I walked back in to find it in many ways much unchanged. It is as close to time travel as we can come.
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) In total, there were about 30 to 40 drafts, which is not unusual for the way that I write and edit. I will share a portion of part of the poem, in part because there is something captivating, I think, about seeing one’s handwriting—a signature on multiple levels. But I cannot share the whole poem, maybe because some of the lines I did not use might come into another poem. And, in a way, it feels like a bit of odd exposure. My notebooks are a compilation of poem drafts, journal entries, musings, ideas. I have glued in ephemera I hope to remember—plane tickets, wine labels, love notes, travel brochures, and much more that I won’t share here. So to even share this much of a poem in process is coming from a deep vault of privacy, a sacrosanct corridor.
What is so compelling to me now, answering these questions, is that those lines were offering the sensibility of Slide to Unlock, though I did not know it at the time. In a way, they were also guiding force. Part of what I always hoped Slide to Unlock might manifest was to be a book of healing and companioning, to ameliorate some of the loneliness and disconnection we feel in our supposedly highly connected world.
Keep in mind that I believe this firmly: I talk about the poems as entities because that is how they feel to me. I do not feel that I have written them so much as that they have come through me. My calling as an artist is to help the poems come into words as they would want to come into words, not as I see them needing to be. I am not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me but that is how I feel about it. I also thought I would share a line that morphed considerably by the final version, but that shows the initial architecture of the poem was there, even from the first draft:
Screens have become vital to our sense of community—calls, emails, texts, video, Facetime, live Zoom events have all now become the way we reach each other; they enable us to feel less alone in our social.
Note not in social media but in the new social phrases: social distancing and social isolation, and in our imposed quarantines. In the days of landlines we could “reach out and touch someone,” and now, as this poem said eleven years ago, we are experiencing “touch without touch,” kissing screens to be close those we love, pressing our hands to the surface of devices in solidarity, as Kai Coggin (Above Right) (https://www.kaicoggin.com/
It is a line that now haunts me, “touch without touch,” that I go back to, missing the physicality and energy exchange of embrace, of holding hands, of a kiss, a pat on the back, a hand on the shoulder, another human to hold our faces in their hands, look us in the eyes and say, I see you, I love you, I am here.
That conversation later became the basis for an interview on the intersection of poetry and screen culture, which ran in a later issue of Bridge Eight, now Bridge Eight Press. The link to the interview is here: https://www.bridgeeight.com/words-with-julie-bloemeke/
The Great Gatsby Anthology, The Sense of the Midlands, The Nancy Drew Anthology, The Southern Poetry Anthology Volume V: Georgia and the My Cruel Invention Anthology, among others.
She was the first place prize recipient in poetry competitions for both the Atlanta Writer’s Club and the Emory Poetry Council at Emory University and has been a finalist for the Arts & Letters Poetry Prize.
“Looking For Sunsets (In the Early Morning)”
by Cindy Hochman
“The Way Back”
“VAN GOGH TO HIS MISTRESS”
by Margo Taft Stever
“How To Befriend Uncertainty”
“Shostakovich: Five Pieces”
“Bouquet for Amy Clampitt”