This winter, we at Rag Queen Periodical announced our frequent contributor, Jessie Janeshek, as our poet in residence (... and we tried not to fan-[person] TOO much). Her exclusive interview was published in our Hysteria print edition, but we'd like you, our dearest and darlingest readers, to now access it here as well! Two new poems by Jessie are included within the interview for you to enjoy. xox
Meet Jessie Janeshek: Rag Queen Poet in Residence!
Walk through cheap perfume so the ghost of it clings to you. - From “I Was a White Collar Girl”
Kailey Tedesco: Jessie, we are so happy to have you as our FIRST EVER Rag Queen in Residence! How does that feel on your end?
Jessie Janeshek: Thank you so much! As soon as I saw the call for Rag Queen in Residence, I wanted it. It just seemed like such a unique opportunity, and I liked the idea of “being in residence” online, sort of a queen of the air type of thing. My poetry community is more or less entirely online, and I feel such a warm connection to poet-friends I’ve only met in the cybersphere, so it seemed apropos, and I was really excited to submit work for the residency. I also felt like “hysteria” was a theme that worked well with my work, probably too well.
KT: We’re going to ask some questions that are silly and some that are more serious. Ultimately, we want readers to get to know one of their Queen of Queens as best as they possibly can. Sound good?
KT: Let’s talk poetry first. We fell in love with your poetry’s ability to somehow be both disjointed and whole all at once. It is an extremely distinctive style that often reminds me of C.D. Wright. How did you come into your personal poetic style? Was it something that was always there organically, or did you work towards it?
JJ: Thank you so much. I’ve honestly never read more than three or four Wright poems in my life (that’s probably heresy or something), so now I feel like I should take a look at her work.
My style is definitely something that has evolved but not very intentionally. The only consistent goal I set is to keep writing, and the style sort of comes as I work. The kinds of poems I’m writing now were not planned.
The only real conscious goal I’ve set in the past few years is to write longer poems. I did an undergrad senior thesis that was a collection of 18 poems with a critical preface and I went back and read it after I’d done my Ph.D. and written my first book. One of the things I said as an undergrad was I wanted to write longer poems, and I realized, almost ten years later, that I still wanted that and it was kind of hilariously pathetic how little I had grown in that respect, so I finally put my mind to actually writing longer poems. And my poems have become longer.
I really kind of approach my work in the spirit of the ancient Greek lyric, which sounds really pretentious, but all I mean by that is the poem is sort of a lyric capturing the spirit and emotion of the time in which it is written. I return to work and revise, of course, but there’s that initial something in early versions that wouldn’t have existed had I written that poem at another time.
KT: The speakers of your poems are also quite distinctive. I often exit your poetry feeling emboldened — as though this speaker has stated a truth I believe in, but did not quite have the guts to speak. Who are your speakers? What do they look like? Are you poems typically from the same speaker’s POV?
JJ: Thank you for saying that. That’s awesome. I really don’t try to maintain a consistent speaker these days. They are always female, and I guess they’ve been around in the sense that they’ve seen a lot. They’re often in some sort of crisis state or state of hysteria and/or they’re looking for healing, but most of the time they’re just nostalgic and sad. They’re either well-dressed or undressed. They’re usually actresses, in the sense that we all are. In both the literal and metaphorical senses, they’re blonde with dark roots.
KT: Speaking of looks, anyone who follows you on social media would know that your style shines just as much through your fashion as it does through your poetry. Is there any correlation here? Do your fashion choices ever lead to poetic choices, or vice versa?
JJ: Thank you so much! I am obsessed with clothing, makeup, vintage, and vintage-style fashion; some days I think I should just hang it all up and start curating vintage clothing or become a personal shopper or something. Some days I think I shouldn’t be so materialistic but whatever; I work hard for my money, and dresses make me happy—kind of—and I make sure I don’t go broke, so….
I love luxe fabrics, velvet, velour, (faux) fur, leather, along with richly-colored makeup, smoky cat eyes, black mascara, lots of lipstick. My personal style and my poetry are somewhat reciprocal; although I would say it’s more that the clothes and cosmetics that make the poem, as in my poems contain a lot of color and texture inspired by my and other women’s fashion.
KT: We love womanly influences here! Who are some of yours? What kinds of empowerment do they give you?
JJ: I will always love the stars of the 20s and 30s—Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Norma Shearer, Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck, Kay Francis, Carole Lombard—they still infuse my work so much, and they were able to make it—in very different ways—in a man’s world, oftentimes by preying on the vulnerabilities of men, which I find hilarious and fascinating.
I love a lot of female songwriters: these are probably stereotypical choices, but Neko Case and Jenny Lewis come immediately to mind as really strong song writers whose work has touched and changed me. I really wish I could write music and sing like they do, but I’m terrible, lol. Ask anyone who’s played Rock Band with me.
And, really, I’m empowered by any woman I see who does anything to resist the patriarchy; any woman who flips off a dude who’s catcalling her or who tells a man to stop harassing her or another woman.
KT: We understand that you’re a professor of English at Bethany College. Do you have any aphorisms that you like to share with your students in regards to success in reading and writing? We have many young readers at Rag Queen that would appreciate your wisdom greatly!
Working at Bethany is interesting because very few of my students seem to know or care I’m a writer. I talk about my writing as little as possible; honestly I try to keep the two worlds separate, which is kind of nice in a way…there’s passion and business. Most of the classes I teach are Gen-Ed lit courses, and most of my students do not like to read, or at least they don’t like to read the literature I teach…I hope to god they’re reading something.
I don’t feel like literature is particularly respected by a lot of my kids. So to those students, I’d say (1) you don’t know everything and (2) you can learn a lot from things you don’t “like” doing, probably more than you learn from stuff you “like” doing. First of all, understand that there is a thing called the “life of the mind” and then understand that “life of the mind” can save your life; it’ll be there when teammates and sorority sisters aren’t. Don’t be afraid of ideas; don’t be afraid of being in intellectual limbo; we grow by entertaining new possibilities. Entertain them. Live in ideas. Be intellectually uncomfortable. Oh, and you get better at
reading and critical thinking if you practice! A lot of them will seriously give up on something after a page or so because it’s “too hard”!
To young Rag Queen readers, who I know already know the stuff above and who already like literature, I would just say “read, read, read.” You don’t know as much about writing and literature as you think you might. I came into college more well-read than the average 18-year-old because I read a lot on my own, yet I still knew nothing. Although I wrote poetry throughout my undergrad years, I didn’t take a formal workshop until I did my MFA. I didn’t want to take a workshop as an undergrad because I had too much I needed to read first. I’m 36 with three degrees, and I still don’t know much and will never read everything I need to read.
KT: Your next full-length poetry collection, The Shaky Phase, is coming soon from Stalking Horse Press and we couldn’t be more excited! Can you tell us a little bit about this? What was your process in creating it?
JJ: Thank you! I’m super excited, and very grateful to James Reich at Stalking Horse Press for giving my weird poems a chance. The press is getting a lot of wonderful buzz, and I’m starting to doubt that my book is worthy, honestly.
It’s hard for me to remember too much about writing the poems, because the most recent ones are about two years old or so. The book was out and about for over a year before it got picked up anywhere. The Shaky Phase is divided into five sections, and I’d consider the first two melancholy/autumnal, the central section southwestern, and the last two sections raw and wintery, sort of chapped. It ends on the idea of “spring,” though, like Plath wanted Ariel to before Ted Hughes messed with it.
I also have a chapbook Hardscape coming out in 2017 from Reality Beach. It’s a collection of poems loosely inspired by the Juárez femicides. I wrote a lot of The Shaky Phase and all of Hardscape at the wonderful Starry Night Retreat in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, founded by artist Monika Proffitt; she and her residency have been incredibly nurturing to my writing; I’m here at Starry Night now typing answers to this interview.
Steer Clear of the Featurette
the tiny-breasted crime report
the cigarette-lit basement.
The city makes me weak but weakness is a virtue
noir promises, cash only.
Paper bags exoticize plasticity, the neighborhood.
I pose on the bridge in black
pray to live a little longer
as the hairy-armpit baby
pulls us in the picture
effortless in strapless bras
we scream from the ferry
cross straight into Queens.
Enjoy our time at the river
the last mile the smokestack the sad hour milk bottle
or maybe it’s the heat makes me a better citizen.
I steal the lipstick to be beautiful
he shoves me down behind the statue
or maybe it’s the striped dress
scratching xo’s on my body
winged cat eyes wait for Jesus
hissing take it if it’s free.
They find me in the reeds
bruised with broken teeth
dark-skulled, ascending tiredly
promise me full burial
in the Hudson or at sea.
KT: What projects are you working on currently?
JJ: I just finished a chapbook Supernoir and I’m writing poems toward my third full-length Close-up, Nocturnal, which should/will contain some or all of the Supernoir poems. Close-up, Nocturnal is a tentative title. So I’ll just keep writing these poems for a while and submitting them to journals and then round up the better ones and send out a manuscript at some point, which is pretty much the same process as making The Shaky Phase, to finish answering the process part of #6.
KT: This question may seem cliche, but it’s one I love to ask: What do you love about poetry?
JJ: The stuff we can do with it that’s not possible with other types of writing. Its secret passages. In Emily Dickinson’s Gothic: Goblin with a Gauge, Daneen Wardrop compares Dickinson’s poems to haunted houses on the page. I’ve loved that idea since I read it in like 2004, and it’s kind of why I keep doing poetry. Also because poetry is one of the few things that’s not boring to me.
from Dickinson’s (466)
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Here are some either-ors, just for fun!
Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath (in terms of poetry alone): It’s close, but probably Emily overall although both poets do different things for me at different times. (Sylvia wins for fashion though.)
Lipstick or Chapstick: Lipstick! So many!
Existential Dread or Angsty Cynicism: Existential cynicism
Spiders or Fruitbats: Depends on my mood but usually bats.
Psychological Thriller or Gory Horror: Hmmm. I like both. Depends on how flashy I’m feeling.
Creme Brûlée or Strawberry Cheesecake: Neither. No chocolate in these choices.
Five Course Meal or Ramen & Netflix: A three course meal and then reading a book
POEMS BY JESSIE JANESHEK