There’s more than serendipity in Woodstock-raised poet and fiction writer Djelloul Marbrook’s prolific published output of recent years. His work, be it a twisted narrative or confessional, is more about awareness and acceptance than about fate or even will power. “Old age showers you with clarities and simplicities if you don’t struggle,” writes this former journalist who grew up in the Woodstock of the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Marbrook has a deal with a British-based publisher, Leaky Boot Press, that will involve publication of two books of poetry this year, Riding Thermals to Winter Grounds and Air Tea with Dolores; two books of stories, A Warding Circle: New York Stories and Making Room: Baltimore Stories; plus another four books of poetry, Nothing True Has a Name, Even Now the Embers, Other Risks Include, and A Court of Dolphins. Add also a trilogy of historic novels: Guest Boy, Crowds of One, and The Gold Factory. All are parts of his opus of 15 years. That’s on top of two more works, the poetry collection Brash Ice and two novellas collected as Mean Bastards Making Nice, published in 2014.
The prolific Marbrook started publishing his poetry with 2007’s award-winning collection from Kent State University Press, Far From Algiers, and several novels, including Saraceno, re-published in 2012 by Brent Robison’s Bliss Plot Press out of Mount Tremper.
How did his prolific publishing streak start?
“I was recommended to Leaky Boot by a Frenchman, Sebastien Doubinsky, editor of Les Editions Zaparogue, who lives in Denmark. His wife is Danish. He was published by Leaky Boot,” Marbrook explained. “I met Seb online in late 2010 and after some emails back and forth he invited me to submit some poetry. I sent him eight poems, and he accepted them all. He recommended me to Jim Goddard, publisher of Leaky Boot Press, who invited me to send a book of poems. I sent him Brash Ice, which he published in 2014. He then asked if I had any fiction and I sent him two novellas. He published them in one book later in 2014. Then he asked me if I had any more poetry books and fiction, so we sent him two books of short fiction and five of poetry. We waited and waited, and finally instead of answering he started sending proofs — of all of them.”
Marbrook has recounted a hidden early history in Algeria, where the true story of his birth was withheld from him for years. There was time spent as his mother — who later gained fame as Juanita Guccione — worked on murals with Siqueiros and Rivera, studied with painter Hans Hofmann, and summered in Woodstock. Later time spent as his stepfather, Dom Guccione, flirted with the Mafia world of the late 1940s and early 1950s, during which his mother acquired a bona-fide getaway home in Woodstock. And then he spent years moving from one to another writing or editing job with mid-sized city dailies around the East Coast.
“I started writing poetry when I was 14 and published a few poems until I was in my thirties, but I had a difficult childhood and early manhood and when I was the Sunday editor of the Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel I recognized in therapy that I didn’t want to be caught saying what I meant or meaning what I said in poetry, even though the poetry itself wasn’t bad,” he said. “So I stopped writing poetry until the 9/11 attacks, and then, as an old man walking around Manhattan trying to come to terms with the devastation, I began taking notes, and a few weeks later I recognized clear prosodic patterns in the notes, and there I was, writing poems again — and I never stopped.”
Alongside the poetry, which has a finely-tuned sense of straight inner-looking about it, came fiction of a richly worded, densely plotted variety. As evidenced in his latest two collections of stories, Making Room and A Warding Circle, Marbrook deftly has figured out how to balance classic story turns about revealing incidents with stylistic and descriptive flourishes that keep the reader off guard.
“I’m cross-dominant, meaning I prefer to perform some tasks with my right hand and some with my left,” wrote Marbrook in a blog of essays he maintains. “In old age I’ve become acutely aware of these factors because I have a bone-conductivity problem that inclines to misconstrue words, making it difficult for me to read aloud or recite. But there’s an upside. The misconstruction of words often leads to unusual and sometimes strangely felicitous constructions. An example of my cross-dominance is that I throw with my right hand but routinely plant shrubs and flowers with my left hand.”
Finding Marbrook’s wide swath of poetry, short stories and longer fiction is similar to binge discovery of some new author from the past. It’s all of one body of output, original and full of revelations about the world we inhabit.
“Recently I’ve had a lot of press in Algeria, both video and print, and I’m now swamped with messages from Algerians writing in English and wanting to talk about their writing and the English language,” Marbrook confided. “I’ve unwittingly become a mentor and tutor.”
Is that serendipity, or just the “clarities and simplicities” one learns to recognize in old age?
“No, he was indignant at the way we allow ourselves to be gulled by the complexity of things,” Marbrook writes of one of his story’s characters in Making Room. “He had an ancient green-eyeshade sense that things seem so complicated because they’re slathered and fried in babble. Plan B which, like J. Robert Oppenheimer, he had hoped not to unleash, would change all that.”