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Trafford spouses look at human condition through poetry, memoir

| Sunday, June 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
David Newman and Lori Jakiela pose for a portrait on June 16, 2013 in Trafford.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
David Newman and Lori Jakiela pose for a portrait on June 16, 2013 in Trafford.

They have so much in common now — two children, a home in Trafford, a marriage — that it's hard to believe there once was a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between them. The woman said “no,” again and again, to the mere idea of sharing her life with another writer. The man put up a similar resistance to marriage itself because he thought a writer's life required an unstinting intensity and focus on work that would not lend itself to the institution.

But after 13 years of marriage, Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman are happy and thriving, proof that two writers can share an intimacy that transcends the written word.

“It had to be Newman,” Jakiela says. “I kept my life pretty compartmentalized. My writing life was separate from other aspects of my life. I sort of kept these things in little boxes, and I didn't think you could have all of those things happening in your life at the same time where you could be in a relationship, be in love with someone and share writing, too.”

Jakiela and Newman will hold a joint book release party on June 29 at the East End Book Exchange in Bloomfield. Jakiela's new book is a memoir, “The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious” (C&R Books). Newman is publishing “The Slaughterhouse Poems” (White Gorilla Press), his first full-length book of poetry.

There are shared qualities in the couple's work. Both are writing about events decades old, distance being essential.

“The further you get away from people and relationships and environments, the more you can write about them truthfully,” Newman says. “We always joke that everybody writes ‘This Boy's Life' (the 1989 memoir by Tobias Wolff) about growing up. Everybody talks about their parents and growing up, but how do you talk about your spouse?”

“The closer it gets to your present life, it's harder and riskier,” Jakiela says. “It's easier for me to write about childhood.”

The goal of any writer is to illustrate or shine light upon the essential truths of the human condition. Jakiela and Newman ascribe to that theory, but a sentence or a paragraph or page from one of their books is not necessarily historically accurate.

Whether it's poetry, memoir or fiction, “they all offer their versions of the truth,” Newman says. “Sometimes poetry, because it's so small and the moments are so tiny, it seems like, in some ways, if you're writing narrative or concrete poetry, you're writing a really accurate representation of life. You don't need the arc that maybe a memoirist or novelist needs. You just have this little moment, and those really appear true in a lot of ways.”

Truth is essential for any memoirist — just ask James Frey. But the idea that what's presented in a memoir is a complete picture of a life isn't correct. Jakiela admits that putting so much of her life on the printed page is “crazy,” but there are elements that don't find their way into her work.

“You know the pieces that I've shown you, which isn't the whole thing,” Jakiela says. “The odd thing about the genre is people think they know everything (about you). They don't. They know these little Petri dish elements that add up to a narrative.”

“I'm always shocked when (poems) go into the world and people judge you on them,” Newman says. “They assume you are that person.”

Newman admits that supposition is natural, however inaccurate. But what he and Jakiela are most hoping for is a resonance, a connection that invites readers to share experiences.

“I don't know if (memoir) is something I consciously chose, to say ‘I'm going to write about myself because I find myself endlessly interesting,' because I don't,” Jakiela says. “But I find the human condition and stuff that happens to people endlessly interesting.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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