Saturday, September 10, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Gabrielle Joy Lessans

Gabrielle Joy Lessans is a Denver-based poet, yogi, and new mother.  She is the author of Bread Of  (2021), and the forthcoming poetry collection, [a go], both via Ornithopter Press. Her collaborative chapbook [Re]Collection of the [Un]Likely, is available through Trainwreck Press. She can be found at

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book (Bread Of) was released into the world around the same time I gave birth to my son. My first child, my first book. My life changed so much at that moment, it felt like suddenly all of my insides were external. Severed. Alive. Public.

The first book felt a bit like an exorcism of some old trauma that needed to be transmuted. This next one, [a go], feels more like a representation of my poetics. I am so excited to put this one into the world. To have these poems be seen and heard and read; to watch them take on a life of their own, as poems do, regardless of publication.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
This is a difficult one to answer.

Poetry came to me, really, is what it feels like. I remember being frustrated, wanting to write prose, actually, but poetry seemed to say: me first. It is a language you start to understand and then the other more normalized ways of thinking and feeling just kind of bore you.

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?
I am unfortunately someone who is cursed with an ever swirling of ideas. So at all times I have about eight projects open & in process at once. When one of them calls out to me, and if I am able to hear it, I put the rest on the backburner and sink into that one for as long I am able. This is a totally insane way of operating, I know. It can drown you in the anxiety of never having enough time. I wish I was one of those writers who starts a book at the beginning and writes cleanly to the end and then begins a new project the next day.  I kind of cycle between them, all of them existing in this labyrinth, and I attempt to nourish each little by little until one sucks me in for the long haul. Right now I have open: a fantastical trilogy, a documentary poetics project, a book of wedding blessings, a collection of dream poems, collaborative essays on pregnancy & motherhood, and miscellaneous poetry floating around all parts of my computer, house, brain.

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?
Every project is, so far, different for me. A maddening reality it is. [a go] was a compilation of individual pieces, all composed inside a specific period of time, and they ended up of similar atmosphere. Bread Of was more of an excavation of the poem out of deep dive journaling, though it was never my intention for it to be a “book” per se.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Oh, I adore readings. Most of what I write is sonic. Intended to be read & heard aloud. I like poems to be streamed through your head, puncturing all these pleasure points of rhyme & song, and then when it’s over leaving you only with the little bits of debris you were able to catch onto & hold. Next time, next time.

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 think a lot of my writing infatuates itself with the interworkings of relationship. Between self and Self, self and other, self and God. Whatever God means to you: there is still a relationship with the concept, even (especially) if you don’t believe the concept exists. Not believing is still an experience of, with.  I am also fascinated by form experimentation, and how that extends itself into the context & content of the writing. I am honestly trying to challenge myself to write more “normally”—meaning, make myself write less experimentally as the experiment. A challenge. My dad says: “I don’t understand what you write but I like hearing it.” I guess all work is also the work of translation. I’d like to write something my dad understands.

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?
Gosh. A loaded question. The role of a writer, the role of any creative,  (and I want to be clear that anyone and everyone can be a creative) is to elasticize the imagination. To step into the imaginative realm and dream, envision, play around, expand, explore, rework any narratives we have been fed about ourselves, about the world. It’s always been imperative. And of course it is drastically important right now.  We dream our reality into being. The only way to change that reality is to learn how to co-create with it. Our imagination & our creativity are our only true weapons.

Brené Brown in her new book Atlas of the Heart talks about how important and vital it is to have the right vocabulary for our emotions. The more limited our vocabulary to describe our current state, the more limited we are in controlling it.  If we are just thinking, speaking, captioning our instagrams, naming our emotions in these very uniform, basic, habitual ways, we are STUCK THERE. In repetition. In a uniformed, basic experience of reality. When we expand our vocabulary, our language, we actually deepen into our capacity for pleasure, and open into an expanded ability to desire & envision new realities. The truest artists and writers, to me, are the people who are doing this work. At the same time, playing with little words on a blank page, in the solitude of your little room, in your little house, can feel so arbitrary. And I think that arbitrariness is also important. A perfect gorgeous antidote to grind culture. Another  doorway into the meditative realm. An artist’s purpose being also to practice being. Simply to be.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with Mark Harris of Ornithopter Press was my first real experience working with a book editor, and it was an incredible one. He has such an immaculate eye/ear for the nuances of form & sound, which for me, is just a dream. He gave subtle suggestions, posed important questions, and was gentle & attentive to this deeply personal text. I felt seen, cared for, and led; and that is pretty much all you can ask for in an editor. I have friends who have had much courser experiences with other editors, at other presses, and so I just feel incredibly lucky to have gotten the chance to work with Mark. Twice!

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Just show up.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to essays)? What do you see as the appeal?
I get dizzy when I think too hard about genre.

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 used to have a whole routine with candles & yoga & meditation & note taking. Now that I have a 9 month old child, the word routine feels purposely ironic. I have been writing my current project in a series of 20 minute entries. During nap time, or after I get into bed at night, before shutting my eyes.  I used to only write if I had the time to drop in for a few hours, or else it wouldn’t feel worth it. Now I do what I can, when I can, sometimes on my phone notes at a streetlight or dictating via voice.  In some ways, it has been a huge revelation for me to realize I can get real writing done in the cracks & corners of my day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Get out in nature, get into my body via yoga or a hike or a nice little joint. Pull cards, read take baths, read words of favorite writers, or just agree to write badly & show up again tomorrow.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Diffused frankincense, the simmering of garlic & onion. And now a faint smell of diapers & milk.

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?
Getting out in nature is a constant source of inspiration. Reading beloved and new poets.  But when I am in certain states anything can really be an impetus. For example, I just watched some vids on interior design for inspo on how to really sink into making our home feel like home, and everything this interior designer said made me realize: everything is form! Her suggestions were to make everything in the room a conversation. To consider shape, scale, spacing, repetition. Not only did this make me realize that designing a room is (of course) an extension of poetics, but it inspired me to head back onto the page as if I were designing a room. An eye for form is an eye for form is and eye for form. Style is style, etc.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Anne Carson, Toni Morrison, Clarice Lispector, Etel Adnan, Helene Cixous, CA Conrad, Rumi, Allen Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Marie Conlan, Danielle Ferrara, Shawnie Hamer, Jenni Ashby, Karolina Zapal, Ryan Mihaly.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’ve always loved painting for expressive purposes. I want to make more time for play in that realm. I’m a very amateur gardener but adore the metaphor & slowness of the whole endeavor, so this spring I’d like to dive a little deeper into that.

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 often wish I had gotten my undergrad in psychology. A lot of what I do through writing & the yoga that I lead ends up being 1:on:1 healing work. So, diving into the unconscious to explore our own desires, dreams, fears, ideas, passions, etc. I adore this work, and sometimes wish I could call on a more therapeutic background.  But right now it exists in the realm of creative exploration.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I loved how immediately available it was. I didn’t have to learn how to work an instrument (the pen! I already knew how to use that) or figure out parts & pieces of supplies. It was available as soon as I became literate and will be, so long as I have a pen & piece of paper. Or a phone. Or a mouth.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?  
I just read Dictee by Theresa Had Kyung Cha. Whew. And I’ve been watching some shit TV ;-)

20 - What are you currently working on?
My paternal grandmother left a journal kept while she was dying from ALS, which led me into a spiral of ancestral healing work, engagement with the kabbalah, documentary poetics, & more. Recently I’ve been editing an exchange of letters with poet/friend Marie Conlan, on our experience of being pregnant during the pandemic.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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