In Jeffrey Tucker’s new collection of poetry, Kill February, he explores how the environment affects us, creating a sense of the here and now.
PROVO, Utah (Mar. 16, 2016)—As a newlywed, Jeffrey Tucker spent six months unexplainably sick. He recalls thinking, “This winter is never going to end; it’s February, and it’s so cold and snowy—and it just came to me: Either I’m going to kill February or it’s going to kill me. I felt like it was a living breathing thing that had it in for me.”
The cause of the mysterious illness was later found to be mold growing in the Tuckers’ apartment. But the thought of “Kill February” stayed with him as he moved from Utah to the South. The phrase became the title of Tucker’s newly published book of poetry.
Experiences living in Southern California, Utah, and the South have caused Tucker to keenly aware of the changing seasons and the differences that come with place. “I was blown away by the difference . . . because I [went] into these places and the weather and the culture and everything would almost be overwhelming,” he said. “And so the poetry reflects that feeling of . . . being thrust into a new situation, a completely new environment, and trying to grasp that sense of place.”
He described striving to translate into words experiences such as the whipping winds of a tornado surrounding him as he stood in the parking lot of his apartment in Mississippi. The distinct differences between the environments of Southern California, Utah and the South influenced what reviewers of the new poetry collection have called a sense of living in the now, and what Tucker refers to as “a very strong sense of place.” In fact, he is not sure if the collection would have happened had he not moved to the South.
Before moving to teach at universities in the South, Tucker earned a master’s degree at BYU, where a class on writing theory with Kimberly Johnson changed the form he wrote in. Tucker originally started out writing fiction. During the class, he started to become conscious of why he wrote in a certain form over another. “I started looking at how form in poetry literally makes the reader’s body react. If there’s a form that emphasizes a rhyme, it activates your ear and whatever part of your brain that registers rhyme. When you have jumpy line or stanza breaks, it gets the eye involved. And you wouldn’t think that moving your eye just a millimeter down the page would have much impact, but it does,” he said. “Ultimately, it helped me write more the way I think . . . I don’t really think in paragraphs – I think more in poetry.”
Beyond a strong sense of place, Tucker’s poetry also has a distinct sense of voice. “You become a character as the writer,” he explained. “I don’t think you can ever get away from that. There’s always going to be a voice, there’s always going to be a character in anything you write, so you’d better be aware of it.” That character, he believes, contemplates how the immediacy of the moment is impacted by the surroundings.
Those surroundings and the experience of finding connection with the world around us is truly at the core of the poetry. Through the changing weather, cold Februarys, the constant temperatures of Orange County or the brilliant vegetation viewable from an airplane above the Southern states, the places we are become our reality in the moment, the essence of now. “I see myself in the world, in the environment,” Tucker said. “I find that, as I look at it, I think I’m talking about the environment, but I end up talking about myself.”
–Alison Siggard (English Education ’17)
Alison covers the English department for the College of Humanities. She is a senior studying English teaching with a minor in music.
Photo courtesy of BYU English Department