Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Jeanette Powers

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Jeanette Powers

is the founding editor of Stubborn Mule Press and a poet/painter with seven full length poetry books published, along with numerous gallery exhibitions and online journal publishing credits. They also are a founding member of FountainVerse: KC Small Press Poetry Fest, an annual festival celebrating the indie press poetry world and which has featured international and US based presses over three days each October. Powers has been awarded grants for the poetry fest, as well as for the POP POETRY: #12poetsin12months series which featured 36 KC based poets over three years in collaboration with Spartan Press. Their personal work focuses on feelings, avoiding the political and investigating the internal wonderscape of relationships, family and emotions in a way designed to reach beyond identity while staying fiercely personal. Their newest book, “Sparkle Princess vs Suicidal Phoenix” is available through their website at jeanettepowers.com and you can follow Jeanette at @novel_cliche .



The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing very young. I was reading before even kindergarten and have always been a library brat. It just always felt right to be creative. I think all children probably feel this way, or at least do until they get a device in their hand. I didn’t get a phone till I was 32. Why did I start writing? I figured out that in my imagination, I am completely free. There are no hold barred, no limitations. I thrive in environments like that, and have just never stopped writing.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Wow, what an amazing question. I guess maybe was my fourth grade teacher, I definitely wrote my first poem in 4th grade. It was about a pegasus that I rode into the moonlight. But I wasn’t taken with poetry until high school when I was reading books from my school library. And I mean I really went through libraries as a kid, but this was the first one where I found the poetry section. I remember finding ee cummings and Sylvia Plath, but the poet that really took my breath away and whose book I stole was James Dickey. I think of that book often still, and here it is again. When I moved to the city after graduating, my education in poetry began in earnest, going to open mics and meeting lots of people who were voracious readers like me. It was a beautiful space in my life to be filled in with the classics and with a lot of the great modern Masters. The last decade though has been much more dedicated to reading living, contemporary poets.

2.1. Why did James Dickey take your breath away?

I suppose he sort of reminded me of my grandfather; the poems make sense, they have a weight of history, they have a certain amount of existential angst without it becoming pained or mewling. There’s also a joy and just a raw humanity. It’s not necessarily the poet that I would pick off my shelf today, but he sure set wheels going in my head.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I guess in some ways I’m not that aware of it then or now. It’s just all about what is relatable or interesting in terms of what I read or collect. I certainly see how, in many ways, older poets have more access to doing poetry because putting books out and touring are both expensive endeavors. I think many of the younger or marginalized poets just don’t have the opportunity to be read and heard due to financial restrictions. Which is why I’m always such a huge fan of the no-fee submissions. Of course it’s difficult for everyone in every way, but I very much feel that if you are going to dedicate yourself to building a press that is inclusive, then not charging fees is essential.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I have struggled with routines my whole life, always wanting and always being too much of a being made of chaos to make it work. However, what works best most of the time is for me to wake up in the morning and not think of anything else in the world except for my own art, whatever project I’m working on at the time. I can work anywhere from an hour to three or four if I get on a roll. Then I go do my make-money work, read, socialize, drink. Sometimes, though, a project really calls for something special in terms of a routine. For instance, I wrote a novella in 2018 which required me to start writing tipsy and then just get extremely drunk to write. I couldn’t get the rage of the main character any other way. It’s a strange and very intense book. I think of it like character acting. You have to inhabit the space of your novel. Of course, poetry is only inhabiting the space of me, so that is easier to access. And I also love writing alone at bars or coffeeshops. In fact, tomorrow I’m going to a city (three hours from my country home!) just to do that! ha!

5. Method writing! What motivates you to write?

Method writing. Yes. That’s cool. I’m motivated by feelings, the most. I love the idea of the common denominator between people, things that interrupt the binaries of the world, emotion and feeling is a huge one. I’m interested in excavating those deep feelings that mostly go just felt and not put into words. I’m not interested in writing lectures or proselytizing, I’m interested in the dirty, hypocritical, angelic, joyful paradox of self and believe that is what makes us human. I have a natural deep compassion, and what my therapist once described as a penchant for dissociative identity disorder. This makes it easy to write. Also, I’m not afraid of telling the truth of my own stories, in fact, I view my own life as a subject through which I can practice writing. I can see I’m veering between my poetry and my novels a lot here … in some ways they are interchangeable in terms of motivation. I want to recreate a feeling, sometimes the poem is the right vehicle, sometimes a painting, sometimes performance art, sometimes a novel. I do so love when the world of a novel is born in my head, it’s addicting. Of course, you better be addicted because they take so damn long and so much focus to write.

6. What’s your work ethic?

I met a new doctor the other day and after a couple minutes, he looked at me and said “you are very self motivated, aren’t you.” That’s right, I said. I have a mantra, it goes like this: do the job completely with all of your conviction. do not lose focus on the job. do not stop until the job is done. do not stop until the job is right. do not cut a corner. measure twice, cut once. There are many verses to this mantra! I’ve been called the Energizer Bunny, Galadriel’s Light, Perpetual Motion Machine, Force of Nature on the regular, my work ethic is almost a sickness. In fact, being a workaholic is likely a coping mechanism. I’m just lucky I’ve learned to love to fail, that the perfectionist is mostly gone, that the auto-masochist in me retired, and now I mostly work in just a pure state of joy. Creation is the best playground I’ve ever found, you won’t catch me coming in from recess.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Not much, actually. I’ve always been a forward thinking person, and I’m voracious for what’s new, who’s new, what’s next. I go back and reread very rarely (unless it’s Dune, Neruda, Rilke, Atwood or Szymborska … or the Tao which I read daily). That’s why the indie press circuit fits my character so well, because the writers there are “the little makers of a pre-spice blast” (lol for Dune fans), contemporary writers are on the cusp of the now, their voice is my voice, this experience. It’s intoxicating. Same with painters and music and movies, I want what’s happening this moment (except for Duchamp, who was the greatest artist of all time!). I guess if I really thought about who influences me, it isn’t really another writer at all, it’s the lady pregnant with her fourth kid trying to buy a new car, it’s a tadpole turning into a frog, it’s falling in love, it’s a factory worker in January Toledo who can’t afford to heat his house, it’s how my dog can take so much pain without complaining, it’s how adopted children are really, really wanted. The list goes on and on, other writers, though? Just friends along for the ride, and bless them

7.1. Why go back and reread these authors?

Each of those authors have something distinct that touches me, they each feel like family. I suppose that’s why they stick around. You can’t get rid of family. Neruda for love, Rilke for philosophy, Wislawa for courage, Atwood for bite and range, Dune for religion. And the Tao because it’s the closest to truth I’ve ever found and I’ve searched far and wide. I once even got degrees in physics and math in the pursuit, to no avail.

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

My favorite working poet is Nadia Wolnisty, she has this capacity of turning a metaphor like no one and also just this clearly raging passion and her performances are stunning. Michelle Q. Smith, is my newest favorite, I ran across her book Ariel in Black and was blown away, she had this way of accessing older works and responding to them which is intoxicating. I also love the former poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrara, his poems are so alive they are literally dancing off the page. George Wallace has that same power. Mike James and Daniel Crocker, both poets you’ve interviewed are spectacular for their honesty and imagination … and humor. I love humor.

9. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I feel in some ways this is the same question as “how do you become a queer person?” … I just am. Bukowski once said “if it doesn’t come bursting forth, don’t do it.” I would add “find what comes bursting forth for you.” That’s the really difficult thing in the world, finding what you want. Do that, try everything, when it bursts forth, you’ll know that is what you should be doing.

10. Tell me about writing projects you are involved in at the moment.

Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me, Paul! It’s been fun chatting with you. I’m currently working on a screenplay called “Southern White Democrat” which tells the story of a white boy growing up in the Jim Crow south in a wealthy, politically connected family. It’s fascinating and dark. The research exposed so much of the deep trauma of American race relationships that I was unaware of, in fact, that many people are unaware of. It was intense and disappointing and I’m glad to have learned. It makes one want to learn everything, and proves “fake news” has been around a long time. I’m also writing poems as always, but no new plans to put out a book this year. I’ll be touring 2019 on my new and selected from Spartan Press, “Sparkle Princess vs. Suicidal Phoenix”. I’m writing a new novel, my sixth now, and what else … OH. Editing. I need to edit all those novels. It’s way more fun to write them than it is to edit them, ha!

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