Editor Jane Butkin Roth Discusses
We Used To Be Wives

Question: Won't I be more depressed after reading all these poems about divorce?

Editor Jane Butkin Roth: I don't think that reading about our collective experiences through divorce is going to make us more depressed; it may even give us courage. However, it may cause us to notice or feel what we've denied or avoided. The depressing situation of loss of love and failure of marriage is already there. And yes, it's a devastating reality. I cannot promise the reader that she won't be moved, touched or even deeply saddened as she reads some poignant writings that express the depth of sorrow that comes with divorce.

And though the subject of divorce is sad and serious—and the book doesn't shy away from the intensity of pain or hardship related to divorce—not every poem is gut-wrenchingly sorrowful. Many of the poems show tenderness, quiet reflection, faith, enthusiasm about change, or even surprising humor. There’s a balance and variety of emotional tone and content that help show the journey of divorce as more than a one-way ticket to hell.

We Used To Be Wives is an exploration of our humanity. The poems reflect our normal, human responses to trauma in divorce that so many of us go through. And taking a look at ourselves in all our humanity—including our flawed, frightened, and vulnerable components—allows us the freedom, without shame, to go on. This is a book about growth and empowerment, but to get there, you have to start at the lowliest of places.

Q: How did you find your contributors?

JBR: I placed a single call for submissions in a writers marketing magazine and to my surprise received several thousand submissions in response. As I read the submissions, I was astounded not only by the wealth of talent but also by the resurfacing of the same issues over and over. Sometimes as I read, I’d think, “Goodness. We’ve all been married to the same man.” There also seemed to be a clear demarcation of “stages” that these poems fell into. This made it easy to organize the book as the stages were apparent when viewing the body of the work as a whole. It wasn’t that I was imposing order on the poetry. It was more that the collection made me listen to its own intrinsic order.

Q: Why use poetry to discuss divorce?

JBR: First, I want to say something about that scary and often misunderstood word, “poetry.” It’s a shame that the word conjures such a negative response in so many; I think they feel that a poem must be something intangible, so obscure and literary that we can’t discern its meaning, or so sophisticated that a layperson reading it for the first time without at least three academic degrees would feel not only lost, but condescended to. This isn’t that kind of poetry. This is plain talk poetry. But that doesn’t mean it’s simple or superficial. Granted, some of it is funky or sophisticated and all of it is well-crafted, but I think this is straightforward poetry, and its meaning is accessible. It's intrinsically intense and sharp, which can add clarity to a confusing process.

So why poetry to explore divorce? Poetry is concise, brief, powerful. It’s like high-octane fuel compared to unleaded. You don’t have to work hard to “get” the poem or understand at least the sense of a progressive journey that the book reveals. Poetry seems like the perfect vehicle with which to explore divorce. Divorce manifests itself in so many ways, sometimes all at once, sometimes not. Sometimes it feels like a crazy ride, overpowering and overwhelming; at other times, the slowest, most stagnant kind of process; at other times a zig-zag kind of ride with gifts of promise and hope just beyond each unopened door. Because poetry literally leaves so much room on the page, it is accessible and yet breathes; it has a lot of open white space on the page where each reader can bring her own experience, put herself on that page, and pry memories or provoke thoughts. Because poems are creative works, they are not going to provide one with literal steps or proven "how-to-recover-from-divorce" methods. Rather, the poetry suggests a more dynamic and evolving process, one without strict guidelines or demarcations. The collection rather suggests phases one might travel through. These poems leave room in them, as in a song or painting, for us to bring our own personal experiences and to respond.

Q: How can humor help to get through a divorce, and is there humor in We Used To Be Wives?

JBR: Humor is a gift that can fall into our laps when we least expect it but most need it. When life is unbearably tragic, humor comes to the rescue, like a lifeboat. Or perhaps it’s created out of desperation, as one more tool for survival. We need to laugh—at ourselves and at the bizarre situations we find ourselves in. There is a humorous side to everything. One reader of the book said to me, “I didn’t know We Used To Be Wives was going to be so funny.” While I wouldn't characterize the book as comic, there is a lot of humor in it—some very sophisticated, some delightfully wicked, and some refreshingly silly.

We Used To Be Wives
Edited by Jane Butkin Roth

ISBN 1-56474-390-X
240 pages, paperback, $14.95
Publication Date: May 2002

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