Jillian Weise

 

Jillian Weise Interview 

 

Interviewed by Matt Staley

 

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Photo:Jillian Weise

 

Jillian Weise’s books include The Amputee’s Guide to Sex (Soft Skull Press, 2007), The Colony (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, 2010) and The Book of Goodbyes (BOA Editions, 2013). Recent work is forthcoming in Granta, The New Republic and Tin House. Look for Weises’  new essay “Why I Own a Gun” in the current issue of Tin House to appear at Tin House Online in September, 2015.

INTERVIEWER

First, congratulations on winning the 2013 James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets with your poetry collection, The Book of Goodbyes. What did it mean to you to win this award and have your second poetry collection published?

Jillian Weise

Thank you! It was a huge surprise. I got the call from Jen Benka and I kept thinking, “Act cool.” It means so much to have a wider readership thanks to the award.

INTERVIEWER

During my interviews I enjoy getting perspectives from successful writers with different backgrounds. The Book of Goodbyes has an amazing mix of poetic forms that retain cohesion as a collection. Achieving that level of cohesion reads like it should be simple, but it is exceedingly difficult.  How did you determine what to include in your collection and what to exclude?

Jillian Weise

Once I think I have enough poems for a book, I start putting them up on the walls. I need to be around them day in, day out. Sometimes I put a menace on the wall to taunt the poems. The menace is a poet I love whose poems kick ass. Then I just watch the wall. Does it hold? Is that poem worth it? What does the menace say? I can’t watch the wall for months and then decide, “Well, one of my poems is truly mediocre. But I’ll keep it.” If I feel that way, I toss the poem.

INTERVIEWER

Can you give us some insight into your creative process?

Jillian Weise

When I’m first writing, I’m all about permission. I credit my teacher, Cynie Cory, with giving me a sense of permission. She is a fantastic poet who inducted me into the Land of Yes. Yes, try that. Yes, do that. Yes, why not?

For example, right now I’m in the high desert of West Texas. Some folks wear spurs on their boots. I like the sound of it. I would like to write a country song. If I was a different poet, I might put up all kinds of barbed wire: “No, I can’t write a country song. I don’t listen to enough country music.” Since I’m in the Land of Yes, I have already written it. Or another example. I was telling my favorite boy that we should watch out for kayaks. I meant coyotes. But the unconscious gave me kayaks. So I will use it. Sometimes it takes years. I had admiration and awe for Judy Grahn and Jenny Holzer for at least a decade before I knew how to talk to them in a poem.

INTERVIEWER

When you write poetry, do you have a plan in mind or do you just write?

Jillian Weise

For The Book of Goodbyes, there was no plan. I had written the novel The Colony so I wanted to play with narrative devices in poems. Now that sounds like a plan, but it wasn’t clear to me. It was all question and impulse: How about a poem in future tense? What happens if I write notes to Zahra Baker for every day that she is missing? That’s about as far as I go with plans. I’m always open to a visitation that comes out of nowhere. “Tiny & Courageous Finches” is a visitation. I was in Buenos Aires, heartbroken, lost, thinking: What am I going to do? Who’s there?

INTERVIEWER

I love writing, but disciplining myself to write every day is a chore, which I suspect is not altogether uncommon. Do you ever find it difficult to start a new writing project, and if so, how do you overcome it?

Jillian Weise

Plain old trickery. I mentioned one of the tricks: say yes. Another trick is to always be writing. Even when I’m out, I’m writing because I’m eavesdropping. Even when I’m not writing, I count that as writing. Poems need space. Sometimes a book will spark something. For a while, everyone was telling me to read The Book Everyone Was Reading. So I did and I rejected it in a poem. I call that dragon slaying and it works about as good as toothpaste cleans car headlights.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think many poorly written poems have in common?

Jillian Weise

There’s a certain kind of Jell-O Mold poem going around. Anyone can write it and it is easy on the stomach. The speaker observes some terrible thing happening some place. Sometimes a disabled body is invoked to confirm the terribleness of the thing happening. The speaker reports back that this is indeed terrible. Behind that, the speaker is saying, “Am I not a righteous person? Am I not your prophet? Do you love me?” It is such a disingenuous and cloying poem.

INTERVIEWER

What poets inspire you? Why?

Jillian Weise

Poets who crash the party, break all the lamps and say some not very nice things. I think my love of profane poetics (from Euripides to Ronaldo Wilson) comes from a sense that I ought to be good. Or that any minority writer ought to be good and teach us all good things. James Baldwin says it better than I’m saying it: “One is told to put first things first, the good of society coming before niceties of style or characterization. Even if this were incontestable—for what exactly is the ‘good’ of society?—it argues an insuperable confusion, since literature and sociology are not one and the same.”

INTERVIEWER

I read The Book of Goodbyes when it was first released, and I read it again preparing for this interview. Some of the poems in your collection leave me feeling like my insides are a jumbled mess, and I have to devote time for introspection on how I feel. And that is a great thing!  Do you think my feelings are on the mark, and can you talk to us about what you are hoping to communicate with your poetry?

Jillian Weise

Your feelings are absolutely on the mark. Some of the poems I won’t read out loud because they make me too uncomfortable. At readings, I often wear a wig because I am otherwise mistaken for someone else.

INTERVIEWER

Big Logos appears throughout several of your poems. Will you tell us who that is, and why he is so prominent in your poetry?

Jillian Weise

Yes, I will tell you. He is Johnny Depp and he is The Word and he is Juan Ruiz de Alarcón. There is a hint about his true character in the dedication to The Colony.

INTERVIEWER

If humanity could forever remember anything about you as a writer, what would you want that to be?

She was a cyborg.

 

 

 

 

 

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