Sunday, June 18, 2017

Songs After Memory Fractures: An Interview with Poet Allyson Jeffredo

Olga García Echeverría

What is memory? Is it made of smoke, water, fire, or flesh? Can it be broken or fractured like a bone?

In Allyson Jeffredo's debut poetry chapbook, Songs After Memory Fractures, there is a father's ghost that both lingers and fades. The realm is Loss. Longing. Love. The daughter/speaker in this collection grasps repeatedly at the elusive, at the No Longer Here, and there seems to be an urgency to weave.

Not unlike Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights who weaves stories to keep herself alive, Jeffredo weaves to keep memory alive. Throughout, Jeffredo proves herself an expert weaver who makes of her verses webs, nets full of hanging threads and gaps. This is one of Jeffredo's fortes—the unique brokenness in her poetic stitch. A poem may suddenly stop, like a heartbeat, and collapse in the middle of the page. Like memory, it may resurrect. It may be winged and iridescent one second, ashes with tiny piece of bone the next. And if and when a poem cannot breathe, it will ask to be water, so that it will not drown.

Songs After Memory Fractures is a beautiful collection that stretches to touch the untouchable and to flesh out that which is fading. Poet Juan Delgado describes Jeffredo's work as invoking "scattered memories among 'wet footprints' that vanish..." And writer Bolin Jue, calls it “a song with chase of loss as chorus, with disintegrating moments of beauty as backbeat..."

We're honored today to have Allyson Jeffredo at La Bloga answering a few questions about her work.

Bienvenida, Allyson! How did Songs After Memory Fractures begin to manifest for you on the page?

I started writing these poems to try to help me reconfigure some of the memories I have. Mainly, the good memories that are growing dimmer and dimmer. I set out to write this chapbook as an ode to our dependency on something so loose and ethereal as memory. I feel as if I am always at its whim and I wanted to capture this. A big part of this effort was for my father, but it’s also for my grandpa and tío. I just want to hold onto their laughs.

You write about your father, "you're the nopal molded from the summer sun / writing our history no one knew would be lost..." Since we are honoring fathers today, can you expand on who your father was?

My father was a hardworking man. There are very few days I remember him not working. His skin was burnt by the sun and his face was made scrunched by it—giving his face a permanent scowl, which made everyone think he was mad all the time. That may not have been far from the truth, but when he laughed, it was real: a full-mouth laugh from the chest. He was never very affectionate, I think his love language was “acts of service,” which may also be why people mistook him for being angry all the time. They didn’t realize that when he did things for them—fix their cars, repair their home, cook meals…etc.—this was the way he showed he cared. In regards to the nopal, he was, and still is, one of the most reliable people I know, and someone who could withstand the hard desert heat. In my head, the nopal is always this sturdy image. This image of a scarred toughness that is willing to give itself if you’re willing to risk being poked. In this way, that solitary image can really sum up my dad as a person.

You mentioned that these poems are also a tribute to your grandfather and tío. 

I was trying to think about loss and all the ways I’ve been hurt by it. So, naturally, my grandpa and tío came in. In many ways, a lot of the male figures in my life remind me of the nopal. They all had this attitude toward hard work and just doing what must be done, which is in complete opposition of the entitled generation I am a part of. So, when I’m writing about these men who are so different from me in so many ways, I’m trying to understand them. My dad worked in the ranches for like 25 years until he finally got a job doing irrigation work for the school district—which is how he ended up dying…. It was a similar story for my grandpa, but he ended up doing sprinkler work at a country club. My tío was a mechanic. My life is nothing like theirs. I imagine my dad making fun of how prissy my life is all the time haha, which also helps me stay humble.

I couldn't help but think of Martin Espada's poem "Haunt Me" several times when reading your poems. I think this is because I feel a deep haunting in your pieces. In his poem, Espada gathers all the remains of his father--fragments--and ends with an invitation, a plea to his deceased father to sit down, to tell him everything, to haunt him. It's this hunger that I see in your collection as well. 

Oh man, that Martín Espada poem is so perfect.,,there’s this almost perverse notion of wanting to be haunted, by memories, by dreams, that transcend into waking life, which also reminds me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the ghost of the baby. It speaks to the desperation I feel to hang onto the past that nothing physical does justice to. Maybe, for me, it’s the inadequate discussion we have about death and cycles. We repress this ending of ourselves and those around us so much that it felt refreshing to read that ending, “Haunt me,” because there’s been so many times I’ve wished as hard as I can for that same imperative.

The title of your chapbook really captures the structure and theme of your poems. The collection reads as one long poem in broken pieces, or "memory fragments." Did you write this as one poem and then divide? Or did it come to you in fragments that you then linked?

I moved between breaking up longer poems into fragments and linking fragments. I was thinking about gaps and breathing, like that pause between taking another breath after an exhale or breathing out after an inhale. Somehow this seemed like memory to me: we try to hang on to the let-go and try to postpone the new.

Allyson Jeffredo has published in Badlands, Tin Cannon, and Zocalo Public Square. She is a fellow of The Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship, which allows her to teach creative writing and the arts to Elementary School students of San Bernardino. Her chapbook, Songs After Memory Fractures, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. When she’s not writing, one might find her out in the woods playing airsoft.

To purchase Songs After Fractured Memory: