Welcome to Jingle Poetry!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet the poet

Welcome to Meet the Poet! I am Blaga and it's a pleasure to be with you this Wednesday! Our guest today is a girl who enjoys the sunshine of late summer, she looks into the horizon for the bitter-sweet taste of life and the meaning of the spaces in between the lines of Whitman's poetry. Perhaps she is a dreamer or maybe a realist who sees the imprints of magic in the every day routine? She maybe thinks "paradise was not meant for her" or she cries silently when the questions lie unanswered in the shape of words from unknown language... I say she has the right inspirations on her side, perhaps made out of past desperation or from the sparkles that move the Universe right now, I say she has the kindness and the friendship of the muses, I can definitely call her the Tenth Muse. Please, welcome Joanna Lee from The Tenth Muse and enjoy the interview with her!

Found and lost

by Joanna Lee

I pass my days floating

low in the clear waters of
late summer’s heedless oblivion,
skin warmed by a sun whose
heartbeat is never quite strong
enough to burn the winter
out of my soul. Caged by salt-
streaked bones lies a conscience
both weak and heavy, waiting
while my eyes scan ever
the horizon, searching
for a truth they won’t recognize:
I was not meant
for paradise.

Tell me about yourself, who is Joanna Lee?

Wow--no beating around the bush here, eh? Well, I grew up in a small town in the Shenandoah Valley, the type of place that seems unendurably small when you're a teenager, but from which grow deep roots nevertheless. My mom taught English, and I was always a grammar nut. I loved languages, I loved writing. So when I left high school to go to college, I studied... chemistry. Science just seemed so much more of a challenge. In fact, in the 10-plus years of post-secondary education I've had, not one class in English or writing. So now here I am with degrees in chemistry, medicine, neuroscience, but what I do from day to day--who I am, really- is a writer.

I published my first book through a local (no longer existent) publisher in 2009 (the somersaults I did as I fell, iColor, Richmond, http://itwasneveraboutbalance.com --sorry for the blatant plug, but a girl's gotta eat...), and I'm currently finishing up a second that I'm very excited about. It's a chapbook of around 40 pages, and it has a lot of local flavor and history. "Local" meaning here in Richmond, Virginia, specifically downtown, near the (James) River. I love living here. I have a first floor loft that used to be an old store, and the plate glass windows front the whole of the apartment, so I sit at my desk and watch the city passing by. I don't think poets do too well without windows.

I'm also big on getting poetry out into the community here. I organize and promote a couple of different reading events a month, bringing poets together to share and showcase their stuff, and I recently started a small critique group that meets every other week. It can feel like networking/promoting is my entire life at times, and I'm an introvert at heart, so I'm not quite sure how I came to be here. I do think it's important, though. I want to make it cool again, to bring the sexiness back into poetry. I imagine a world where readings are date-night destinations and poets stand on equal footing with rockstars.

Tell me about your blog, about the name and what it means to you? When did you start blogging?

My primary blog is called the Tenth Muse (http://the-tenth-muse.com) according to Western tradition there are nine muses, the goddesses who inspire creativity in its various forms (history, epic poetry, drama, dance, etc). I liked very much the idea of a "tenth muse," as in a site dedicated to inspiring creativity in a new form. Also, the Greek poetess Sappho, the most well known female poet in the ancient world, was sometimes called the "Tenth Muse." I started the site way back in 2007, though I didn't start really writing regularly there until about a year later. It's been transformed many times, both in focus and appearance, but I've settled now into showcasing primarily unpublished poetry and some experiments in photography.

* * * * *
Solitary, confinement

by Joanna Lee

what color is your soul

when shadow ceases to exist?

who are you
locked in at night
behind the darkness
of your eyes?

are you even human?
every dignity gone,

all your dreams naked,
autumn branches
scratching at a bolted window.

the last question
they will ask you is

“If we have to use restraints,
should we call your family?”

last primeval answering cry from
deep in the forge-fires of
your heart, knowing:

there’s no one
you would want to tell.

* * * * *

What draws you to express yourself through poetry?

I don't know. I've just.... always written poetry. Let me think about this a minute... Poetry for me is a realm where truth becomes both personal and malleable. It's where pain can be sublimated into beauty, even art. It assuages. It sparks. It has an intensity that is not as present in other written genres--it's more akin to visual art in that way. It can make you fall in love or fire up a revolution-- and how many other things can you really say that about? Poetry captures a moment and the feelings of a moment the way nothing else can, except perhaps music, and I've never been a great singer, so...

When did you first write a poem? Do you remember it?

Like I say, I've always written poetry, ever since I learned to write. First grade, maybe, or second? I wish I had some of those old notebooks. They were these tiny little notepads with glitter on the cover, and they were filled with horribly concrete rhyming stuff. I remember I wrote this one about plants and they put it in the local newspaper (I did live in a pretty small town, remember). I'm sure my mom saved it and there's a clipping in some old drawer somewhere in our house.

Is there a style of writing you prefer? Do you write only poetry?

I do write mostly poetry, although I've been known to do the occasional short story and a killer essay or two. I'd like to do more of that branching out, maybe even write my novel some day... But, yes, poetry comes most easily. Free verse. I've not done much in rhyme since those early days, and though once in a while I'll wake up from a dream at 3 a.m. and jot down some haiku or tanka, I don't typically do much much in specific meter or form, either. I've been experimenting lately with some prose poetry and non-traditional formatting-- playing around with different styles.

Favorite poem you've written?

Almost every poem I write becomes my new favorite for a little while, at least until the next one comes along! In general, I think my writing is evolving all the time, and I like the more recent stuff better than the old. I'm always a little surprised when someone comments on a particular poem from my first book, telling me how much they like it. I feel like what I've written since then--not exclusively, but in general--is so much stronger, and I have to go back and remind myself of the merit of pieces I wrote four, five years ago. Also, I feel differently about pieces that I put up, say, on the website or submit to magazines than about those (published or not) that I like to perform aloud at readings; something that sounds great read doesn't always look as wonderful on paper, and vice versa.

quarter past two

An owl-
eyed moon hangs
low like overripe fruit,
menacing the hot
horizon with her glowy
berth. Sweat
beads on the skin
of rooftops, perspiring
night-dreams of a dirt-nailed
city bent on creating
itself. The river drowses uneasily.
It smells
like jungle, and sex.

There is good mud here, and this
is no time for sleeping indoors.

Wild things
etch their names into wet
downtown cement, pile
old bricks into hillforts
from which they fling love
songs at one another
and think slyly of revolution.
Laughing, we
shake the moondust
out of wind-blown hair
and run to catch
the current,
kiss the river

Favorite books? Authors?

Ever since I was a kid I've loved sci fi/fantasy-- I still have my copy of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that I was given as a Christmas present when I was in the eighth grade. Fiction in general: I'm a big fan of E.L. Doctorow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Somerset Maugham. Wish I could write like Joseph Heller or James Joyce or Faulkner. One of the most inspiring books I've ever read: the autobiography of contemporary poet Jimmy Santiago Baca-- I still go back to it when I'm feeling lousy about myself. I adore Dante. But favorite poet of all time? Whitman.

Do you think that an interactions with strangers/ people you meet in the blogging world/ is a meaningful part of your creative vision?

Absolutely. For inspiration, collaboration, criticism-- all of it. And the thing is, though you're strangers at first, the creative interactions make you become something far less distant. I've had fellow Rally participants come and read as part of local poetry events that I organize.
For example, I'm currently part of an editorial work-in-progress project for a publisher/editor I met following a link on a fellow blog author's sidebar (http://booksblog.unboundcontent.com/).
I periodically do collaborations with a randomly paired visual artist, writing a response piece inspired by his or her artwork (http://www.getsparked.org/).
I've had people from the community riff off of my own stuff, and from time to time I find myself so moved by an image or line while I'm reading that I do likewise (dream squirrel/cosmic hamster, anyone? http://the-tenth-muse.com/2010/09/16/mornings-after/ --click on the image to see the link to the original inspiration). It's all about building a web of creativity, forging new connections.

If you could live in a book, which one would that be?

I think it'd have been pretty neat to go to school at Hogwarts. :)

* * * * *

Still life

by Joanna Lee

i slept last night in our bed alone

cramped tight against sweat-

smothered pillows and wrapped up

in winding-cloth sheets

wilted like the flowers you left

on the kitchen table a lifetime ago,

lily petals sagging and baby’s

breath crumbling to ruin

amidst a jumble of empty glasses and

yesterday’s neglected news;

this morning even the coffee smells


* * * * *

What benefits do you think there are from participating in a communities like Jingle poetry and Thursday Rally?

Well, beside what we talked about a bit ago, I have to say that just receiving the feedback from fellow writers is invaluable. It can get pretty cold when you're putting your soul out there in the void and it doesn't seem like anybody's listening! Participating in these communities can be more than encouraging, however; it can help you hone your craft. You might be reading along and find it intriguing that so-and-so uses such-and-such a rhyme scheme, for example, and you might decide to try it for yourself with great success. Or it could be a new poetic form or a prompt or an innovative use of punctuation-- whatever. At the same time, from reading you're also discovering what you DON'T like, and you become more aware of keeping those elements out of your own writing in future. It's a learning process, like anything, and the more poetry you read, the better you become as a poet yourself. What communities like Jingle and others (such as the new d'Verse Poets' Pub) can do is quickly and easily put you in touch with a lot of poets from all kinds of backgrounds, spreading out a lot of options for reading that you're be hard-pressed to find efficiently on your own.

Any advice for people involved with poetry even not professionally, what do you think is important for them to appreciate and follow?

In no particular order: Read, read, read. Join a community like Jingle or dVerse. Find out what you like, what you don't like. Encourage. Leave comments. Try new forms. Experience poetry from all its angles. Go out to an open mic, even if you have the worst stage fright ever. Support local poets. Go to readings, buy a chapbook or two-- being a poet is tough these days. You need to have not only a gifted pen, but also skillful marketing, effective networking and technical savvy. Be humble, though. I meet all too many writers who think they are a second Hemingway or Bukowski. If you think the same, chances are you're not. Be grateful for the opportunities given you, and give back in due kind. Write and write and write. Never underestimate the power of good editing. Sleep on it, get a second opinion, and edit some more. There are a lot of prolific poets out there, but great poetry, really GREAT poetry, is as hard to come by as ever.

* * * * *

This will be all from me - Blaga and our guest - Joanna Lee.
Thank you Joanna for your time and wise words and experience you shared with us!

Don't forget to visit her at http://the-tenth-muse.com/

Stay tuned for next Wednesday with Christopher ...

Peace & Love ...


Poetry Potluck said...

glad to see her here, it has been a long time ever since she participated at poets rally or Jingle Poetry potluck.

do remember her charming talent.

Thanks, Blaga.

Anonymous said...

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joanna said...

Thanks again, Blaga, for featuring me here! I know it's been a long time since I've been able to enjoy one of the fabulous potlucks around here. :) Hope to join back in when life gets a little less hectic-- this is a great community and I'm grateful to be even a tiny part of it! Peace,


johnewordslinger said...

I like this interview, great questions, and great responses, much admired, I like this poem, quarter past two
And I am honored to even be selected to join you all, in this existence of word art, thank you Jingle, and thanks Joanne, WS

johnewordslinger said...

I like this interview, great questions, and great responses, much admired, I like this poem, quarter past two
And I am honored to even be selected to join you all, in this existence of word art, thank you Jingle, and thanks Joanne, WS

Andy said...

Excellent & insightful interview.

Joanna writes beautiful poetry.

Very nicely done!

joanna said...

Thanks so much, Andy! :)

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