An Interview with Jeanette Lynes

Clarise Foster: I understand you have a new book about to be released. What is the title? When will it be released? Where does this new work go that your previous work has not?

Jeanette Lynes: My new poetry book, Archive of the Undressed, will be released by Wolsak and Wynn this fall, 2012. This collection explores spectacles of embodiment — the body as spectacle within popular culture. Specifically, the project involved repurposing Playboy magazines from the 1960s and ’70s as poetic material. A fascination with the art of pin-up also nudged me toward burlesque; I followed the impulse. Bodies exist within historical contexts. With respect to women’s bodies, certain body parts have been fetishized at different times. Sometimes necks were the “hot” part. Sometimes legs. I’m also interested in simultaneity — what things are happening at the same time as other things? This led me to situate embodiment within a more personal context. What sense of my own body did I have while someone in Texas, or Toronto, was reading the March, 1972 (or whatever) issue of Playboy? The collection also spins out into my usual preoccupations: celebrity, nation, rural culture — in the case of this book continues exploring with the notion of erotics of pioneering, desire and the land, pioneer history as spectacle.

CF: The emphasis of your new collection reminds me of the fine work by poet Tanis MacDonald — incidentally, a former Winnipegger — who continues to explore the relationship of the body and lyric in verse that, like yours, utilizes humour and cultural-historical contextuality to talk about the restriction of women. Throughout your work, there is an ongoing analysis of difficult life lessons and physical obstructions that continue to exist for women. How did you become interested in the art of pin-up and how does the portrayal of women in Playboy relate to a poetic examination of pioneer history as spectacle?

JL: I admire Tanis MacDonald’s work very much. I so look forward to her next book of poetry! The female body is spectacle. We can’t escape it. Women’s bodies are seen as public property; I am always struck and, I confess, shocked, when I see someone come up to a pregnant woman and, without asking permission, touch her stomach. I have seen this more than once. I’m interested in the aesthetic of the pin-up, its irony. Its “wink wink” quality. Its tease. However, after a certain point in time, around mid-1970, nothing was left hidden and hence all the irony disappeared. There’s so much one could say about the women who posed for Playboy; the American quest for celebrity knows no bounds. One could discuss their complicity. I was just as interested in the feature stories written about the Playboy centrefolds as the centrefolds themselves, the way the women were constructed in these stories featured in the 1960s and ’70s — often they were presented as outdoorswomen who liked to hunt with guns and play sports. Or college sophomores who just happened to pose nearly naked for a glossy magazine between writing essays. Often they were depicted as adventurous, travellers. They were ethnically “marked” as well; for example, there was hoopla around the first African-American Playmate, the first Native American Playmate. Hefner prided himself on his social liberalism. As a Canadian I’m haunted by Dorothy Stratten, the Playmate who was murdered by her husband. I’m interested, too, in what happened to these women after their Playboy days, and a few poems explore that. The only awareness I had of Playboy, as a farm kid in the ’70s, was once when my girlfriend and I discovered a Playboy under the sofa cushions at her house (she had an older brother). We were scandalized — but we looked through it! You asked about the link between Playboy and women’s bodies as spectacle, and pioneer life as spectacle. I re-read some popular history, specifically a book titled The Queen’s Bush. I remember it from growing up in the area about which it’s written. That book was extremely popular. It romanticized the rugged, lawless period of settlement in that part of Ontario and, I thought, eroticized it. That led me to thinking about the erotics of the rural space in Robert Kroetsch’s poetry. When other people were reading Playboy, we were bringing in hay, traveling across Canada (travel, too, has an erotic side), longing for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I wondered if there was something earthy and sexy about breaking soil, things like that I’d never wondered about before. Also, there was a sort of subtext of S&M, I thought, in The Queen’s Bush, leather whips and men lashed and hog-tied and that kind of thing. No wonder it was a bestseller!

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Jeanette Lynes’ poetry books include The New Blue Distance (Wolsak and Wynn, 2009) and It’s Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems (Freehand, 2008). Archive of the Undressed (Wolsak and Wynn, 2012) is her sixth collection of poetry. Most recently, Jeanette’s poems were shortlisted for the 2012 Matrix Litpop Award. Her novel The Factory Voice (Coteau, 2009) was longlisted for The Scotiabank Giller Prize and a ReLit Award. Jeanette is coordinator of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan.