Jane Lunin Perel, a professor of English at Providence College, recently wrote her first book of prose poetry, Red Radio Heart (White Pine Press, 2012). Her fifth book, Red Radio Heart has been called “a brilliant collection,” “a gift,” and “a book informed of heart and a skeptical, wide-ranging, blazing mind” by leading poets.
Here, Lunin Perel discusses the book, her journey at Providence College, and her hopes for readers.
Tell people about Red Radio Heart
Red Radio Heart is a project I’ve been working on for about 10 years. Having a year’s sabbatical in 2008-09 allowed me to pull it together. I wanted to tell the story of a character I invented, Carnelia, whose name is red as a carnelian stone and carnal as a human heart. I wanted to follow her and articulate her great joy in living and her great sorrow; her family history; her personal history; her evolving spiritual, religious, political perspectives; her feminist beliefs concerning sex, gender, race, and religion; and her dark humor. It’s very imagistic, so the emphasis is on enacting the experience of the poems.
This is your fifth book of poetry, what makes it special?
Red Radio Heart is different because it spans many decades of womanhood. I wrote in verse poetry all my life up until the 1990s, but Peter Johnson’s award-winning book of prose poetry, Miracles and Mortifications, stunned me. I found a new sense of freedom in this genre. It’s the freest form of expression for me. So you can say I wrote it as an act of discovery — self-discovery and discovery of what the form of prose poetry allows the poet to accomplish. It is musical, lyrical, and colorful but does not require focusing on line-ends, as does verse poetry.
Why is Carnelia such an interesting character?
Carnelia has a “Red Radio Heart.” She listens to the sorrows and joys of the world, takes in their transmissions with her ‘radio heart.’ and transmits them with her poems. Carnelia is an extremist; when she’s inspired, she’s really inspired, and when she’s grieving, she’s beyond consoling. She’s honest and adores living, and she’s old enough to appreciate all the changes she has seen and personally experienced. There are poems that reconcile the joy of the here-and-now with aging and dying. She’s got an ironic sense of humor. She writes about joy of watching swans in the snow and the horrors of the Holocaust. She’s passionate and outspoken.
How does the book chronicle your story at PC?
When I arrived at PC, the College experienced its first year of co-education, there was no Women’s Studies Program, and inter-disciplinary studies were the responsibility of the Development of Western Civilization Program. I helped propose and organize the Women’s Studies Program and was its first director. All of us in the program steeped ourselves in this academic, interdisciplinary discipline together. Now, we have both a major and a minor. Carnelia’s knowledge of the world mirrors my own and is greatly influenced by how I developed scholarly and creatively through the combination of my involvement in the English department and Women’s Studies Program. Carnelia is continually aware of oppression and the complex relationships among human beings.
What are your hopes for readers of the book?
I hope my readers will rejoice with Carnelia and feel the ‘miraculous’ in life as she does. Also, I hope they will be moved by her grief and all the grief they experience. We all have a capacity to have ‘Red Radio Hearts,’ to be more open about how we feel and express ourselves, and to embrace the pain of others and develop our empathy further. I hope readers will find, in my visceral imagery and Carnelia’s expansive voice, a commentary on life that makes them appreciate the singularity of their own lives even more.
Note: Jane Lunin Perel will read from her new book of prose poems, Red Radio Heart (White Pine Press, 2012), on Thursday, November 8th, 6:30 p.m., in Aquinas Lounge. It is sponsored by the English Department's Poetry & Fiction Series and the Women's Studies Program.