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Interview With Poet Jessica Piazza

Poet Jessica Piazza

Last week an interview with Poet Jessica Piazza posted on 32 Poems.

Please check out a part of the interview below, and give her a warm welcome.

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

Usually I just tell people that I’m a word-nerd and that I’m generally ridiculous. I like getting that out there early. I also probably pipe in that I’m from Brooklyn, New York pretty early on, because I’m really proud of where I come from. Brooklyn has definitely become the trendy place to be for artists and hipsters of all ilk, but growing up deep in South (read: uncool) Brooklyn is a completely different story, and a very particular story at that. Other than that, I’m more likely to talk about my dog than myself. His name is Special and he’s seriously….special.

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

Ha! Obsessions are my obsession. A quick Googling of me reveals that my entire writing life for the past few years focused almost primarily on ruminations about clinical phobias and clinical philias. I wrote poem after poem inspired by these weird obsessive fears and obsessive loves, and my entire manuscript is anchored by them. For me, that was subject was a natural one, since I get addicted to ideas or projects themselves and have to play them out until I’ve killed them in some emotional way. I mean, I *only* write poems in projects, and that’s beginning to bite me in the ass as I try to create a second manuscript. For example, how do you fit together a dozen strange ekphrastic poems with erasure poems made from news articles and tiny, technical poems about bridges? It ain’t easy, kids. That’s all I’m saying..

Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I’m not much a reader of books on writing, but one did move me, years ago. It’s not specifically writing focused, even! It’s called “Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It contains this astonishing tidbit: “If ninety-eight percent of our medical students were no longer practicing medicine five year after graduation, there would be a Senate investigation, yet that proportion of art majors are routinely consigned to an early professional death. Not many people continue making art when – abruptly – their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged. Could you?”

Reading that only articulated my already steadfast determination to provide artistic communities: spaces for the sharing and appreciation of poetry, in person and on the page. A year interning with Robert Pinsky (and Maggie Dietz!) at “The Favorite Poem Project” in Boston—an endeavor that set out to prove poetry touched ordinary Americans—was the perfect groundwork for me. As hundreds and hundreds of love letters to poetry poured in that first year, I realized that the power of great literature is not esoteric—it’s visceral, vibrant and necessary. It was right there…proof that poetry could have power as a pop-cultural force, not just an academic byproduct. I wanted to find a way to work with this idea, both expanding poetry’s place (and scope) in education, and simultaneously ensuring its recognition as a viable source of popular entertainment and inspiration.

To that end, over the years I helped to found a popular reading series (Speakeasy Poetry Series in NYC), a successful national literary journal (Bat City Review) and a small university press (Gold Line Press). Funny, though…it’s ironic that, at first, I never thought of teaching as a way to advocate poetry in the community. But when I started as a Teaching Assistant in 2003, I saw the impression that well-made literature could make on generally unimpressed students, and I’m proud to say that I’ve helped create many new poetry lovers over the last eight years of teaching at a college level. No wonder teaching became a passion—it doesn’t get much more inspiring than that.

Thanks, Jessica, for answering my questions. For the rest of the interview, visit 32 Poems.

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza was born in Brooklyn, has a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, an M.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is a co-founder of Bat City Review, an editor at Gold Line Press, a contributing editor at The Offending Adam and has blogged for The Best American Poetry and Barrelhouse. Among other places, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, The National Poetry Review, The Missouri Review, Agni, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Rattle, 42 Opus and Forklift, Ohio. Her dissertation focuses on the intersection between literary analysis and neuroscience, which means she reads a lot of science articles, which also means she’s constantly tempted to shuffle around like a zombie screaming “BRAINS!!!!” at random poets and writers.

Check out a sample poem:

Eisoptrophilia
           Love of mirrors
                               Impression pressed upon the glass perfects
                               even the grossest forgeries.  Reject
                               the sea.  Reject the turning tide.
                               Just below clear water, I reside
                               as duplication of the lake.  Take me
                               away, another underneath again.
                               What mirrors cannot ditto isn’t sin.

Eisoptrophobia
        Fear of mirrors
                                What mirrors cannot ditto isn’t sin
                                simply performed behind the glass.  Within
                                the frame of windowpane, negated dark.
                                Those fleeting squares reveal our darkness back.
                                Aloof, the rain plays taps.  Above, the trees
                                are inimitable.  Distinct, thus blessed.
                                Reflected, I am never at my best.

--Originally published in Mid-American Review, Volume XXX, Numbers 1 & 2 Fall 2009/Spring 2010
  • Lena

    Excellent interview. I really love poetry. She is very accomplished too. Wow. What a treat it must’ve been to do this interview.

    • Lena: These interviews are always fun. I like doing them in conjunction with 32 Poems.

  • Thanks again, Serena! This was really fun. And thanks to all of you for your kind words!

    • Jessica, I really enjoy doing the interviews. I hope that you had fun with the questions and make great strides in your work.

  • She sounds like a fun person, and the poems you included certainly are interesting.

    • Thanks! And she does sound interesting and fun.

  • Great poem and interview! I’m not the biggest fan of poetry as you know but Jessica’s work intrigues me.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the interview and poem.