Sunday, October 30, 2011

Author Insides - Jessica Young

Jessica Young teaches at the University of Michigan, where she held a Zell Fellowship for poetry and completed her MFA.  Her undergraduate work was at MIT.  Her Pushcart-nominated poetry has appeared most recently in Bellingham Review, Copper Nickel, and Versal.

Her poetry appears in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase.


Jessica, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 


I don’t believe I had a moment when I thought, “This is it… this is what I want to do.”  I’ve just always written, always enjoyed it, and always found writing to be a world well worth exploring. With that said, I’ll admit that even now, as an active and published writer, I’m not entirely convinced.  Meaning, I’m not sure I want to be a writer!  I struggle with writing’s impracticality.  At the same time, my life is better and fuller because of literature, so perhaps contributing to that is a life well spent.

Why do you write?

I write poetry, specifically, because I have to.  Because an image or idea strikes me as so beautiful/fascinating/potent, that I feel a non-ignorable urgency to record it.  Probably an urgency to connect—to find someone else who is taken so wonderful aback by the light coming through the trees.  I get the feeling that poems derived some other way—a non-urgent way—are less likely to be successful.

Is being a poet anything like you imagined it would be?

Yes!  It is living life with open eyes.  Eyes that investigate and appreciate.  It’s a lot of sitting and thinking, reading and thinking, practicing and thinking.  Good exercise for the brain.

What do you think makes a good story? 

I like to feel connected to a work, and invested in it.  I mean, who doesn’t?  But I want to live in the novels and poetry collections that I read… and I want those worlds to be different enough from mine that I’m tricked into thinking that I’m momentarily escaping my life… but of course close enough to mine that I’m just reflecting on my own experience, and expanding my understanding of what it means to be human.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Probably magic realism. Aimee Bender is my hero.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

As if there’s just one!  For poetry, these days, I so believe in Campbell McGrath, Matthea Harvey, Ken Chen, Tung-Hui Hu, and Theodore Roethke.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

I’ve read Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” maybe a dozen times.  I love how simple and accessible the text is on the surface, but how complicated it is deep down.  This has served as a model for me, for my own writing—that my poem’s language should welcome the reader in, and provide no barriers… and that the ideas underneath that easy, inviting language… those should be woven and heavy.  I find that style of writing to be very haunting.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

Reading Alan Lightman (“Einstein’s Dreams,” specifically, but then I read everything he ever wrote) opened doors for me, just because he crossed the bridge from science to writing.  I discovered him just as I was doing the same, myself.  To see his success at it—to see how deftly he wove physics into poetic writing—inspired me to do the same.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

I require outside stimuli, which can come from anywhere, at any time.

What does your family think of your writing? 

They’re incredibly supportive.  My parents read everything I publish, my extended family asks how my work is going and reads the occasional piece.  They let me know that I always have readers at home.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 

I’ve never been able to keep a writing schedule.  These people who wake up every morning at 6am, eat one cup of cottage cheese with peaces, and write 7 chapters—I can’t do that.  Some days I write for hours, some weeks I don’t write at all.  When it happens, it happens, and I’m seemingly not in control of that.  This has always worked for me (I’ve always been able to “produce” when I need to, for example in my MFA program), so I haven’t pushed myself to spend every waking hour trying to write more.  There is so much else I want to be doing, anyway—teaching, cooking, trying to nail the crow position in yoga (I still think it’s impossible!), etc.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I read everything—everything!—aloud.  If I send a one-sentence email to a student, a one-page email to a friend, a 30-page story… it all gets read out loud, word by word, to make sure it sounds smooth.  I’ve even read these interview answers out loud.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Brevity.

What are your current projects?

A book of astronomy-poems, and trying to figure out my next project (because I sense that the astronomy poems might not be a full book, at least not at this point in my life).

What are you planning for future projects?

Nothing concrete, just whatever brings me joy.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write if it makes you happy, and write whatever makes you happy.  The publishing world is absolutely insane (just as every industry is, once you’re inside it, I imagine).  So in some sense you should only enter it if you “have” to… if it feels urgent.  But in another sense, if you like writing, then write.  There are readers out there for you.  There are people who love your style more than anything else, and are happier, fuller people because your work exists.  The trick is to find them.  And that’s a lifelong trick.

Where can we find your work? 

Bateau Press published my chapbook, Only as a Body, and did a truly beautiful job with it.  I also have poems in handfuls of journals, as noted on my website: https://sites.google.com/site/jessicayoungpoetry/

Thank you for being a reader!