Jennifer MacBain-Stephens lives in Midwest and is the author of three full length poetry collections: Your Best Asset is a White Lace Dress, (Yellow Chair Press, 2016), The Messenger is Already Dead (Stalking Horse Press, March 2017) and We’re Going to Need a Higher Fence, tied for first place in the 2017 Lit Fest Book Competition. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She is also the author of nine chapbooks. Her chapbook She Came Out From Under the Bed (Poems Inspired by the Films of Guillermo del Toro) recently came out from Dancing Girl Press. Recent work can be seen at or is forthcoming from Prelude, Cleaver, Kestrel, Yalobusha Review, decomp, and Inter/rupture. Visit: http://jennifermacbainstephens.wordpress.com/
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My very first book was my chapbook Every Her Dies (ELJ Publications,) and that changed things for me since that was the first chapbook I ever wrote and I didn’t know anything about the submission process or chapbooks or how one should try to publicize their own work to some extent. So that was a big jumping off point for me.
My second full length poetry book, The Messenger is Already Dead, is different from my earlier work in that I felt comfortable writing more surreal poems and poems inspired by art and films and some of these poems are more experimental in general.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry when I joined a small writing group when I lived on a mountain in CA. It was a small community and I didn’t know anyone and I was looking to find people that I had something in common with. I lucked out, as I am still friends with these people today, but that is what really started my interest in poetry. Because they were all poets.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Initially I just like to get the work down on the page. It will be messy and unfinished but there might be an idea there. Then ideally I return to it and revise until it feels right to me.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I finish the poem when it feels done- normally my pieces are pretty short. The longest poem I wrote recently was three pages long. That poem was sort of a surreal story though, about a malevolent force trying to enter a house, a presence to deal with, so it sort of built in suspense I guess?
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I really enjoy doing readings. I think I learn something about my poems when I read them aloud- when I am practicing for the reading- and I also like how maybe at the last minute you can change up what you were going to read based on the crowd and what the tone of the room is like. I would like to do more readings.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I just write what is inside me at the moment. It is hard for me to do prompt work at times, though I enjoy it when it works out.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I think the role of the writer in our larger culture is to keep getting their voice heard. There seems to be (or I guess it always existed) a negative force that wants to silence people, no matter who they are. So if writers can keep expressing themselves, their truths, that is a win for all of us. I do love it when I read words and it makes me think of new things, or a new way to think about something. I always love that surprise.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think an outside editor can be a great addition- having that extra pair of eyes on your work- can be helpful. As long as there is mutual respect and caring about each other and the work.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
The best piece of advice I ever got was – just show up. Do the work. Get it down. Don’t judge it. Just get it down. There is time for judging later.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’ve written a few flash fiction pieces and I think two flash non-fiction pieces in my life- so I hope to do more of these things but at the moment I mostly do poetry.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I’m a single, working mom. I try to write a few times each week. I don’t have a set routine at the moment. But even if I can get a draft down in twenty minutes, that feels good to me.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I love looking at visual art, or new movies, or poets I love. I will re-read their work. Or just go for a hike.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine reminds me of my father’s house. Because one of his first homes was in the woods in Ohio where there was this creek in the back yard and lots of trees.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Yes all of these items influence me- it depends on the day. But I’ve probably written poems inspired by all of these things.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I really love surrealism whether in fiction, poetry, or other art forms. So I am drawn to this style/these writers in my life.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I have some interest in getting my MFA. I am a self-taught writer- so I think about that sometimes.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I would toss out these ideas: modern dancer, because I love how they tell a story without saying anything, an urban planner, because I hate strip malls, and I love seeing how people use space in creative ways, or a fashion designer because I love clothes.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing just always seemed the best way to get the thoughts from my brain out into the world.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book I read was Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I really enjoyed the horror film Don’t Breathe.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I just finished working on 31 Anne Rice “found poems” for the month of October. Along with thirty-five other writers, I posted a found poem to my tumblr account and then reposted it to a private Facebook page. Each of us was assigned our own Anne Rice book. It was pretty wild.
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