During 2016, we will shine the spotlight of our public esteem & rapt attention on two poets per month. This month’s first poet is Jennifer Bartlett.
Fox Frazier-Foley: Talk to me about the core of your creative drive and the expression it finds through poetry. There are lots of ways to be creative in this world – what motivates you to write poems, specifically? Additionally, what motivates you to navigate the poebiz landscape?
Jennifer Bartlett: I have always been attracted to words and reading. I love visual art too, but using words and connecting with the world through language feels natural. In terms of “why poetry” I believe it’s random. I know people who are musicians and visual artists and each kind of art, including nonfiction and fiction, has its own language.
I don’t know to what extent I’m really involved in po-biz. I am in the sense that I’ve gotten in quite a few fights for my radical views on disability. I tend to insert myself in places that I probably should not. I believe that ableism (the prejudice against disabled people) should be spoken about and fought with the same rigor as the other isms. I have gotten into “battles” because sometimes my methods aren’t always the best. I sometimes insert disability into discussions about gender or race, and this makes people feel put out. But, there is also the fact that people don’t want to discuss disability at all. Ever. Poets pick and choose what they want to fight or speak about and, disability as a metaphor or inaccessible spaces just doesn’t interest them.
I do not have a university job in creative writing. I currently teach English Comp and this is what I prefer. I also don’t make much money. I make some but not enough to live on. I wonder if this takes me out of the ‘competition’ to a certain degree because there is no prize for me. I do it because it’s fun and it connects me to people. But my livelihood isn’t really connected to whether I publish.
FFF: What are your influences – creatively (esp in terms of other media/other art), personally, and socially/politically?
JB: I want to answer this in form of lists [more or less]:
Poets: The Language Poets, The Black Mountain Poets, mostly Charles Olson. I love the idea of duration. Lisa Jarnot, Lisa Robertson, Fanny Howe, Kathi Wolfe, and Andrea Baker. Earlier than that, two big influences were Muriel Rukeyser and Allen Ginsberg.
Visual Artists: Woody Allen, Jean Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Agnes Martin, Bill Viola, and Mark Rothko.
Music: Miles Davis, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Fiona Apple.
Personally: My husband and son.
Nature: specifically Oregon. Motherhood. New York City.
Politically: Ableism and the way that people approach people with disabilities. I want to break down all the barriers and perception of disability, specifically in terms of education, accessibility, and sexuality.
FFF: Describe your aesthetic as a poet. What do you value? What do you try to do with/in your work? What, to you, makes cool art/literature? What’s most important for you in a poem, or in a book of poems – as author and as reader?
JB: I read this term in an old copy of Acts of verse called Analytical Lyricism. That seems as good a term as anything. In poetry, I am most interested in beauty. For me, that is the number one quality that makes a piece of art worth engaging. It can also show great ugliness and still be beautiful. I also like simplicity and understatement. Meditative.
FFF: Name a book or two that you think everyone should read, and tell us a little bit about what makes it/them so mind-blowingly awesome.
JB: Not to be too egotistic, but I really think Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability is the book that “everyone should read.” I think this because it is so crucial for people to learn about disability and how people with disabilities actually live rather than perception. The essay that comes to mind is Laura Hershey’s “Getting Comfortable.” This is part of the book that people who are not poets have told me they connect with the most. I assigned it to my students this semester and they loved it. Hershey’s writing is direct and honest. She has a gift for evoking empathy. Unfortunately, Hershey passed away before Beauty was published. I wish she had lived to see what a great effect her writing had on people.
The other thing about Beauty is that it was put together by three different editors with different experiences and tastes. So, the book comes at poetry from many different angles. It includes poets who derive from the New York School and Black Mountain as well as narrative works that come from the crip poetics side of things. The essays also open it up to non-poets. Do I sound like an ad?
FFF: Anything you want to talk about pertaining to your art/craft/literary or writing life that I didn’t ask?
JB: I don’t want to sound like Denise Levertov, but I really would be a better writer if I didn’t have a cell phone and owned a working dryer and a good vacuum cleaner.
Jennifer Bartlett is the author of three books of poetry and co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. She is currently writing a biography on Larry Eigner.