Jessie Jones is a writer living in Montreal. Her work has appeared in publications across Canada, the US and UK. Her first poetry collection, The Fool, was published by icehouse poetry in Fall 2020.
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 first book, The Fool, is less than a year old, so I think it’s safe to say that it’s still in the process of changing me. It came out mid-pandemic, which meant that I didn’t celebrate it in the way that I might have under normal circumstances. Instead, it felt more like a release. Now that I’ve written it, there’s space to write all the other books that have been queuing up behind it. Its publication also clarified why I write. I’ve learned I’m more in love with the process of writing, of shaping all these wily fragments into a whole, than book-making.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and fiction concurrently, and for a while, even fancied myself more of a fiction writer. Who doesn’t want to feel like a minor god? Poetry ultimately won over because of my ecstatic community and because I didn’t want to write anything else.
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?
Starting is never the problem. If I could only ever start, I’d be rather prolific. I have new ideas constantly, but not all of them turn into something. When they do, they come together quickly. From there, they barely change or change to the point of being unrecognizable in the months that follow—maybe a line or two that remain unchanged. There’s no in-between. At that point, I need to stop and make a decision about whether to continue. If I work on them too long, I wind up overthinking them, overwriting them, and ultimately losing momentum.
They shape into a coherent project, however, bashfully and with excruciating slowness.
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 was not thinking of a book when I wrote the poems in The Fool—I was trying to remain a writer after university. I was very impressionable and had no real sense of who I was or what I would write if no one were looking. So, the poems emerged from lengthy searching, isolation, and the fear that if I stopped, I’d never write again, or worse, that I’d write something inexcusable to please someone else. Confidence came, the poems came with them, and one day there were enough of them and enough of me to make a book. With my new project, I’m somewhere between chasing a concept and some poems that may or not be related. I’m just trusting my intuition for now.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I like readings, but they’re not a part of my process. They’re a pleasing garnish and keep me somewhat social (under normal circumstances). That said, I do read my poems aloud while writing and editing—the sound is as important as the content, as far as I’m concerned—so if I can’t read them aloud, they don’t go far.
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 love theory-driven writing, but it doesn’t drive mine. I’ve never been someone who forms an instantaneous response to anything. I stew, often in doubt. Poems are the long walk to some form of certainty, even if it’s fleeting, or the escalation of doubt, wherein I learn to accept some discomfort.
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?
Writers, and I include poets in this, should be asking the challenging follow-up questions.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Both. It either confirms what I was already thinking or makes plain what I’m willing to fight for, and both make revising easier. It also gets me out of my own way.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Find out who you are and do it on purpose.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
It changes all the time. It’s very sporadic and reactive because I’m always writing around a day job (or two). Right now, I’m reading and then writing in the mornings.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I always turn outward. I go for a walk, to the movies, or to an art gallery. My secret weapon, which I’m happy to share, is listening to poets read their work on Penn Sound. It never fails to shake something loose.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Freesias, prairie sage, and the top of my partner’s head.
13 - 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?
I think every poem I write springs from one of four forms: film, dance, visual art, and music. Also, city-dwelling keeps my spine straight and my gaze up.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Lisa Robertson, Anne Carson, Aisha Sasha John, Nathalie Léger, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Donald Barthelme, Lucie Brock-Broido, Claudia Rankine, David Markson, Barbara Guest, Layli Long Soldier, Alice Notley, Gail Scott, Renata Adler, Virginia Woolf, Nicole Brossard, Fred Moten, W.G. Sebald, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, & Bernadette Mayer
15 - What would you like to do that you haven’t yet done?
Write a screenplay and go grey.
16 - 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?
A psychologist or a filmmaker, probably. Maybe I still will.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? -
It was one of the few things that I chose to do without any urging from anyone else.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
19 - What are you currently working on?
A novella about metamorphosis and poems about the void.