Interview with Poet Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

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Brett Elizabeth Jenkins is a poet and professor of writing who now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She has recently published a chapbook called Over the Moon.  I posted the first poem of Over the Moon here.

Here is the second poem from that collection.

Layover on the Moon

I am the unluckiest traveler I know.
My flight to Pennsylvania has a six-
week layover on the moon.  It was one
of the cheapest flights, yes, but
not the least expensive.  The one I didn’t choose
had two layovers on two moons. Earth’s
moon and one of Mars’s. I didn’t even rea
to find out which.  I fear and panic
enough each day without a two-week stay
on Phobos or Deimos.  I also hear they don’t
even have moving walkways on Phobos,
the worst moon airport in the galaxy.

You can purchase a copy of Over the Moon here.   

I recently interviewed Brett about her poetry.  The following is a transcript of the interview.

Q:  Can you tell me more about what led you to write the poems in Over the Moon?  Why choose the moon as your focus? 

A:  The summer that I wrote all of the poems in Over the Moon, I was working as summer administrative help in an aluminum can-making factory in downtown St. Paul. I would take my breaks in the women’s locker room, which was usually pretty vacant, and write poems. The first poem I wrote from the book was “Sleepover on the Moon in 1998.” After that, I wrote “Layover on the Moon” and “Hangover on the Moon” and noticed that, by chance, all of these poems had the words “over” and “moon” in them. I started brainstorming other poem titles I could write based on this concept.

From this, a sort of narrative organically emerged. I was in a pretty weird place in my life that summer, and quite sad. Going to the moon kind of became this impossible way to escape all my problems, and that’s what the book became. A really incredibly impossible escape fantasy where I go to the moon and start a Denny’s franchise.

Q:   Tell me about your process of writing poems.

Whenever I tell another poet about my writing process, they’re usually a little confused and/or surprised. I very seldom revise or revisit poems. My philosophy is quantity over quality. I write a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Hundreds of poems a year, sometimes. In my adult life I have written over a thousand poems. This means, though, that many of my poems are absolutely terrible and many of them are abandoned and nobody but me ever sees them.

It usually takes me anywhere from five to thirty minutes to write a poem. Then it’s complete. If it’s good, I keep it and send it out. If it’s bad, I never look at it again. That’s my process.

Q:  How would you describe the kind of poetry you write?  

This is probably a difficult question for any poet to answer but for some reason it feels particularly difficult for me. I write weird poetry, mostly. A lot of my poems are based on things I obsess over, like my physical body or my teeth falling out. I also write a lot about dreams. My poems are rarely narrative. Lately I’ve been writing a lot of poems with the same title. In my most recent chapbook I have like, eight poems called “Moons Over My Hammy.Right now I’m writing a lot of poems where horses tell me how to live my life.

Q:  Are there particular poets who inspire you?

I read a lot and I read widely. Everything inspires me, which is a really cliché thing to say, but it’s true. I wrote a poem the other day based on a click bait title. Some of my favorite poets at the moment are Jack Gilbert, Catie Rosemurgy, Jamie Mortara, Ocean Vuong, Richard Siken, Amy Gerstler, Dorthea Lasky, Frank O’Hara, and really anything I can get my hands on that’s good.

Q:  How has your poetry changed over time?

When I first started writing poems in college, I think I relied too heavily on humor as a defense mechanism. I had trouble writing poems that weren’t funny because my craft wasn’t developed enough. This remained true even mostly through grad school. I guess I’ve been studying and writing poetry for about ten years now (!!) and I feel like I’m just getting a handle on writing poems that don’t cut too quickly to a joke to mitigate a strong emotion. So, that’s where I am right now.

Q: What are you working on now?

Now that I’m back working at the factory, I’m writing poems mostly every day again. When I can’t think of something to write about, I usually end up writing a poem where horses explain simple things to me. So I guess you could say I’m working on horse poems right now, which is weird because I was never into horses as a kid or anything. I’m also still writing lots of weird poems about the moon. My friend Erica told me that it’s the poet’s job to write about the moon, so I’m just doing my duty.

Aside from these daily writings, I’m also working on getting a full-length manuscript together. Or, actually, it is together. I’m just working on getting somebody to want it. Its working title is Confabulations, which is a word for the phenomenon of mis-remembering an event, but not on purpose.

A:  What else would you like to say about your poetry or poetry in general?

    Aside from the obvious: I think everyone should read more poetry. I think for most people that might just mean reading any poetry at all. Which is funny because I read almost exclusively poetry. Poetry and craft books. I went on a Joan Didion kick last year (I keep a log of all the books I read yearly), but even so, of the fifty-ish books I read last year, thirty were poetry. And weirdly, a good number of the others were kid’s books.

Anyway: read poetry.

Q:  What are some of your other publications?  

Aside from my most recent chapbook, Pockets Press also published my second chapbook, OH NO EVERYTHING, which I think is currently out of print but is available as an ebook here (https://aaronmfking.com/pockets-press). My first chapbook, ETHER/ORE, is also out of print.

I’ve published over a hundred poems online and in print magazines and journals, but some that you can access online are here:

https://linebreak.org/poems/ghost-in-the-machine/

http://www.boxcarpoetry.com/035/jenkins_brett_elizabeth_001.html

http://www.around-around.com/here-i-am-dead/

http://pankmagazine.com/piece/scheherazade/

http://vinylpoetryandprose.com/2016/09/brett-elizabeth-jenkins/

https://sundoglit.com/jenkins/

 

***************

Thank you, Brett!

Everybody else, I hope you check out some of Brett’s other poems.  Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

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