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An Interview With Poet Charles Jensen

Poet Charles Jensen

This week at the Poetry Blog of 32 Poems Magazine my interview with poet Charles Jensen was posted. He’s a contributor to the magazine and was a delight to interview.  I’m especially impressed with his answer to the elitist myth about poetry, since I feel the same way about the issue.

First, let me tantalize you with a bit from the interview, and then you can go on over and check the rest out for yourself.

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

I’m pretty sure none of them are secrets. I love some aspects of “low” culture like trash pop music. I aspire to find ways to sew that into my work as a poet somehow. I am also really connected to film, both as a narrative art and as a form. Physical aspects of film are closely related to the work of poetry for me. I give extensive thought to sequencing, montage, collage, and narrative. Any two things placed in juxtaposition create a narrative. There’s a great story of the Kuleshov Effect, wherein an audience’s construction of narrative changes when the same photo of a person (mostly expressionless) is interspersed with a shot of soup or a shot of a baby, for instance. In the soup narrative, the audience describes the man as looking hungry. In the baby narrative, he looks happy. That effect of context is something I carry with me–how do individual poems, individual lines, individual images speak to each other?

Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

Poetry itself is none of those things. It is the attitude of the reader that determines what poetry is. The only way to dispel the myth is for people to encounter poetry on their own. I always liken it to television. If you had never seen television in your entire life and then one day turned it on, only to see Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you might say, “Gosh, I hate television.” But most of us realize that television is a multi-dimensional form with various strategies aimed at different audiences. If you watch television long enough, you will find something that speaks to you. This is true, too, of poetry. But because the poetry world has a reputation of being closed, or because it is taught in high school as a “symbolic” art practiced by dead white people, it loses a lot of its contemporary allure. I think now, more than ever, poetry strives to be egalitarian in a lot of ways–people just need to look.

Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

It is always a total disaster–I would change that! My apartment is very small and my desk is very big–about 30% of my living room. The window is behind me. The room gets almost no natural light. It is absolutely not my ideal writing space. In Phoenix, I had a loft apartment with 20′ ceilings, 17 feet of which were windows. My desk sat up in the loft area, overlooking the living room, facing all the windows and light. That was an amazing place to write. I miss it every day.

He also included a poem for readers to check out:

IT WAS OCTOBER
–for Matthew Shepard

I was love when I entered the bar
shivering in my thin t-shirt and ripped jeans
and I was love when I left that place, tugged along at the wrist
as though tied, with a man I did not know.

I was love there in the morning
when our sour kisses bore the peat of rotten leaves,
fallen October leaves. And it was love that we kissed anyway, not knowing each other’s names.

I was love in that bed
and I was love in the hall and down the stairs and into the freezing rain.

I was love with hands punched deep
into the pockets of a coat.
I was love coated in frozen rain.

Back home, I was love stripped of the cigarette-stung shirt, love pulling the stiff jeans from my legs.
I dried my hair and I was love.

It was October. What did I know of love that year,
shuddering in my nervous skin. Miles away, the boy was lashed to a fence and shivering.

Where that place turned red and the ground soaked through
with what he was, I was love.

What did I know of love then
but that it wasn’t enough.

About the Poet:

Charles Jensen is the author of three chapbooks of poems and The First Risk, which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County and is a co-chair of the Emerging Leader Council of Americans for the Arts. Check out his Website. He’s also a poetry editor with lethe press.

Please check out the rest of the interview on 32 Poems Blog.