This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Jones LaMon’s book Last Seen (University of Wisconsin Press).
H. L. Hix: Near the end of “Preface” (11), you speak of the children’s “collective voice” as what you strain to hear. Yet the poems themselves seem especially attentive to individual voices. What for you is the relationship between individual voices and collective voices, in these poems and in relation to the children?
Jacqueline Jones LaMon: First of all, thank you so very much for taking the time to read the collection with such attention and care. And thank you for your question. Last Seen was inspired by the hundreds of long-term missing African American children who have historically been overlooked by our national media. It is a collection that evolved in focus and definition, from being a collection about those missing children to being a broader exploration of what it means to be missing or lost in our society and how that void is experienced by all those who remain present and connected to each other.
I still strain to hear that collective voice of what the missing and lost could have contributed to our existence. I still wonder what the excised portions of our selves could produce in this world, if only allowed the space and opportunity to do so. Sometimes, we censure ourselves for self-preservation or other seemingly rational reasons. If we do this enough, parts of ourselves “go missing,” and all of us experience the aftermath of this disconnection.
I made a decision to not try to replicate the voices of the missing children. All of the persona poems in the collection are from the perspective of some other voice in the world of the missing: the parents or other relatives, the officers working on the case, the suicide jumper who is depicted as the person to last see a missing child, a seagull. . .The voices that one hears in this collection (the individual voices) are there to emphasize the great void that one does not—the collective missing, the portions of our histories that remain unknown to us and the stories that remain hidden and untold.
Jacqueline Jones LaMon is the author of two collections, Last Seen, a Felix Pollak Poetry Prize selection, and Gravity, U.S.A., recipient of the Quercus Review Press Poetry Series Book Award; and the novel, In the Arms of One Who Loves Me. She lives in New York City and teaches at Adelphi University.