Photographers Unknown, Where to Begin?
First, we’re skinny-dipping,
Sam & I, in a pond in Tennessee,
which is his idea, I should say,
& the tree with the rope swing
than the dark night sky.
Second, the harvest moon,
which we came here to see,
is nowhere to be found,
instead the sky burning with stars
I can’t see without my glasses
that Sam describes for me.
Third, I’ve made no promises
to monogamy, but am not sure
about those who have.
I spent my twenties riding
trains through cities leaving
behind hotel rooms
of men who may
or may not have been-
I never asked. The world of men
who have sex with men
is a chrysalis, a paper lantern
the hornets fill
with sound. Underwater, our feet
keep touching. Sorry, Sam says
sorry, sorry, sorry.
I imagine his wife after
a bath, wrapping her hair
in a towel. I imagine
the cluster of small towns
I come from,
each with its own abandoned factory
with its own broken windows-
The world of men
who have sex with men
keeps to itself as the rock
hurled through the last
intact glass. you know? Sam says
about fidelity as we stroke
from one shore
to the next. What we don’t do
doesn’t matter. He towels off,
the moon peers over
the ridge, silvers the pond
at its skirts & the bed
beneath me, which is dark
& crowded with dead leaves.
Jacques J. Rancourt, Where to Begin?, The Baffler, Issue: Mind Cures No. 41, September 2018
Born in 1987 in southern Maine, Jacques J. Rancourt is an American poet, editor and educator who spent his formative years living with his father in an off-the-grid cabin at the Appalachian Trial’s northern terminus. In 2009, he received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Maine, Farmington. Rancourt earned his Master of Fine Arts in Poetry in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During his studies at Wisconsin University, he served as the poetry editor for Devil’s Lake, the graduate-run journal of its creative writing program.
As an educator, Rancourt has worked as a middle-school principal, English Curriculum Coordinator and English teacher in Palo Alto, California. He also designed in 2014-2015 a core communications curriculum for an enrichment school program in Singapore. Rancourt has taught creative writing classes at the university level and served as an undergraduate thesis advisor. He has led workshops for prison inmates, underserved youth in the Upward Bound program, and summer high-school students at Stanford, Duke and Northwestern Universities. Rancourt currently lives with his husband in San Francisco, California.
Jacques Rancourt’s first full-length collection “Novena” was published by Pleiades Press in February of 2017. Inspired by the novena, a nine-day Catholic prayer seeking intercession from the Virgin Mary, the poems in this volume explore the complex issues of faith, beauty, desire and justice. The intercession sought by this “Novena” is a prayer for the outcasts and the maligned, LBGTQ people, those in prison and all those who continue to suffer. This collection, a fresh poetic exploration of the Roman Catholic faith interwoven with surreal and supernatural elements, was awarded the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize.
Rancourt’s 2018 chapbook “In the Time of PrEP” is a sequence of interrogative poems that examines how the AIDS crisis had shaped and continues to shape queer identities. Born in the year the anti-retroviral drug AZT was released, Rancourt examines the gap between past and present generations, those who watched loved ones die and the later generation distanced from the crisis. As in his “Novena” collection, he draws on Biblical imagery to illustrate both the risk and joy of desire that is seen in every aspect of nature.
Jacques Rancourt’s second full-length collection, “Broken Spectre” was a 2019 editor’s choice selection for the Alice James Award. This volume is about the voices of those who have passed, our connections to the past, and our navigation of the present aa well as the future. Through the poems in this collection, Rancourt seeks not only to reconcile own his past and future but also those of the LBGTQ community as a whole. The poems in “Broken Spectre”, varying in structure, create a visual art form across the page. Rancourt uses line breaks, overlapping lines, and lines isolated by white spaces as visual elements to sculpt each poem’s final shape.
Fellowships held by Rancourt include: a five month residency from the Cité Internationale de Arts in Paris, a Halls Emerging Artist Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing, and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University. He was awarded scholarships from both the Sewanee Writers’s Conference and Bread Loaf, the oldest writers’ conference in the United States.
In addition to his published collections, Jacques Rancourt’s individual poems have been published in magazines such as the Boston Review, New England Review, Southern Review, Georgia Review, and Ploughshares, Poetry Daily, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. His work has also appeared in such anthologies as Dzanc Book’s “Best of the Net” and Dorianne Laux’s 2014 “Best New Poets” from Samovar Press.
“Reading, after all, is a practice in empathy. After the AIDS crisis had begun to settle, there seemed to be an “Eisenhower Years” movement where the queer narrative was flattened in order to become more digestible and heteronormative for a straight audience. We were rebranded and made approachable, and as a result, part of the wide and beautifully diverse representation of our queer community was suppressed. My hope for the queer community is that our art, which has never shied away from representing our true selves, can continue to come out and be embraced fully by a more open-minded, non-queer audience.”
—Jacques J. Rancourt, In the Time of PrEP: An Interview with Jacques J. Rancourt, The Georgia Review, Conversations, Fall 2023
Notes: Jacques Rancourt’s website, which includes books and events, can be located at: https://www.jacquesrancourt.com
An extensive and informative conversation occurred between Jacques Rancourt and Interlochen Review editors Genevieve Harding and Darius Atefat-Peckham in October of 2017. Rancourt went into great detail discussing his life, work process, and his passion for poetry. This session can be found at the Interlochen Review site: http://www.interlochenreview.org/jaques-rancourt-2
An interview between writer Divya Mehrish and Rancourt on his 2019 collection “Broken Spectre” can be found at the online literary site The Adroit Journal located at: https://theadroitjournal.org/issue-thirty-nine/a-conversation-with-jacques-j-rancourt/
The BiGLATA Book Club has a video interview and reading with Jacques J. Rancourt on his work process and “Broken Spectre” collection. It is located on YouTube as BiGLATA Book Club: Broken Spectre with Author Jacques J. Rancourt Williams Alumni