The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?
The library. I'm a librarian (in charge of rare books and manuscripts) and I get everything through my library. It's like a moral failing to me if I buy something without vetting it first via the library. (I do buy a lot of books, too, but only after test-driving.)
Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?
I don't own that many -- maybe about 200. I've read at least part of 90% of those, I'd guess. You can actually see a picture of most of my poetry books at Sue Spengler's "Expose Yourshelf" blog, http://exposeyourshelf.blogspot.com/2009/03/jessy.html.
Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)
I read books on my lunch break and before bed. I read magazines when I only have a short spurt of time. I read a lot of children's books to my children, lately a book about "hidden folk" (elves, gnomes, selkies, etc.) that they like a lot.
Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?
Most recently, Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of American Collaborative Poetry (ed. Duhamel, Seaton, Trinidad).
Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?
Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News, Kage Baker's Empress of Mars, the current issue of Lungfull!, Pippi Longstocking with my daughter, stupid Garfield comic books with my son (I know, who would have guessed, but there it is -- he thinks they're hilarious and it's fun to read to someone who laughs that loud).
Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)
I generally write in the evening after the kids have gone to bed, in longhand in a green Boorum & Pease style composition notebook such as this: http://s7d5.scene7.com/is/image/Staples/s0144677_sc7?$sku$.
Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?
This question interested me enough that I looked at notebooks back to January 2008 to find out the answer. In 2008 I averaged about seven first drafts of poems per month. The average so far for 2009 is fourteen, but that seems crazy and I am guessing it will go down.
Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?
After the first couple of days I try not to look at the poem for at least a month, and not send it out for three more months after that, but I don't always stick to this rule. I should, though, because when I don't I get too excited about whatever it is that's brand new and I send it out too soon.
Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?
Ideally, I wait several months, look at the poem again in longhand, type it up (perhaps revising), and then let it steep on the screen for a while, too, before sending it out. Sometimes I don't wait long enough and then I kick myself later.
Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?
Yes, many times.
Q: What is your system for sending out work?
I try to have lots of things sent out at any given moment. I have a huge Word file, over 400 pages long, containing unpublished poems and lists of what's sent where and what's been rejected where. I know a 400 page document sounds unwieldy, but with "find in page" it really works well for submitting. I used to have separate Word files for the poems, the current submissions, and the rejections, but it was a pain to try to coordinate everything that way.
Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?
A rejection for some poetry comics. I sent them out too soon -- should have known better. But generally I expect rejections and am pleasantly surprised by acceptances.
Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?
A mix. My preference is to publish in snappy funky witty stylish awesome journals, whether they are print or online.
Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)
About ten years ago I got a rejection from an editor who said some unkind things about my work, saying he didn't think his remarks would hurt my feelings because I'd published in some good journals so I'd still be a "happy camper." It astounded me that a literary magazine editor would use the phrase "happy camper."
Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?
I have received several fan emails from readers of Snakeskin (http://snakeskin.org.uk). For some reason this particular online magazine seems to generate lots of fan mail! I've also received, if not hate mail, perhaps ambivalent-mail -- I remember getting a note from a high school student who said something like "I was sure I would hate your poem, because I hate poetry, but it turned out your poem was almost okay."
Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?
I'm the Curator of Special Collections at Colorado College. Being a librarian is a perfect job for a poet, I think -- you're surrounded by books and reading and people who like those things, for the most part, but when you go home you're off the clock, for the most part.
Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?
My husband teaches English and is a fiction writer. That helps.
Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?
Not in a significant way -- never for more than a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, nothing worthy of note.
Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?
Not officially. I generally don't enter contests, and I probably don't spend more than $100/year on postage and envelopes and stuff like that. I make a little money from writing, sometimes, and I think it at least evens out, but I haven't looked at this carefully, probably out of fear that it doesn't.
Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)
No, I don't think so. I don't associate writing with suffering at all, not mine or anyone else's.
Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)
I can suck air in through my nose such that my nostrils close. It's brilliant, very useful.
Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:
a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you:___________
I published a poem that hurt my mom's feelings once, but only a little bit, and I don't regret it. This one is too theoretical, I think. I once wrote a poem that upset a friend of mine and I had her name taken out of it (it was published online, and therefore was changeable, luckily for me in this case). I should have known better.
Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?
This question gives me hives. I'm very glad it will never, ever come up.
Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?
I'd rather be a consonant, the letter J, which is so obviously the best letter in the alphabet.
Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.
I'm claiming the matla (first sher):
"'I should go' means 'tell me to stay,' said the poet.
"But don't listen to anything I say," said the poet.
Jessy Randall's first collection of poems, A Day in Boyland (Ghost Road Press, 2007) was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Her young adult novel The Wandora Unit is forthcoming in 2009. She self-publishes a zine entitled The Huge Underpants of Gloom and her website is http://personalwebs.coloradocollege.edu/~jrandall.