I don’t know what you make of Teacher’s Day but my time as teacher was special because of it. I’m privileged to have chatted about all things poetry with Jenny Sadre-Orafai, a professor and poet. She was kind enough to be part of a new segment that I hope to do in every interview….Project Inspire.
Read on and you’ll find out.
Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four chapbooks. Recent poetry has appeared in PANK, Rhino, The Bakery,Sixth Finch, ILK, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and Poemeleon. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, Delirious Hem, The Los Angeles Review, and South Loop Review. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.
Do you set out to create a chapbook or do you realize poems later that you may have material for a chapbook?
My first chapbook was organic. I barely knew what a chapbook really was then. I found twenty or so poems that I thought were strong and sent out the manuscript. I wrote the poems in Dressing the Throat Plate and Avoid Disaster with the intention of them being published together in chapbooks. They were based on concepts I had before even began writing the poems. Being Type A, the approach was one that felt natural for me even though it was not. Both of those chapbooks and What Her Hair Says About Her were real experiments. I was trying out different ways of approaching the chapbook.
To have an MFA or not have an MFA-what do you recommend? Do you think that the internet provides enough inspiration or as part of faculty yourself, do you recommend that a poet read many prominent works before they embark on writing their own poetry?
I think that graduate school is a personal decision. I know that I love being in school. Rather, I genuinely enjoy learning. I don’t like taking exams, but I do like listening to lectures and discussions around long tables. So, it was inevitable that I would go back for the MFA. I do understand the debate and both sides. There will always be disagreements and that is good. I believe that I became a better writer. I think a lot of this has to do with how much I was reading, working with poets who pushed me, and a real desire to want to learn. I’m positive a person could gain all of that without entering an MFA program though. S/he could seek out poetry in bookstores and libraries and join local writers’ groups. There are more paths than the MFA.
Are you optimistic about the digital landscape of poetry publication? Too many blogs, too little quality…is the refrain I keep hearing. Do you agree?
Even though I co-founded and co-edit Josephine Quarterly, an online journal, I still want to read and find a poetry collection or a literary journal at the foot of my bed when I wake up in the morning. There is something about the weight of it or the space it takes up in my hands. And, even though I am not afforded that when I read poetry online, poetry there is immediate and bottomless. Some of my favorite journals are primarily online. I do not understand the too many blogs, too little quality mentality. If you do not want to read it, don’t. It is there for someone else. I am eager to see the ways technology will evolve and its implications on poetry.
How do you decide what kind of form suits your poems best? I noticed that you like to experiment with prose forms and incorporate it into your poetic output.
I’ve found that I write prose poems when I come across an image somewhere and I don’t know what I want to say. When I write prose poems, I am aware of the form and it almost feels like I have to saturate the poem with imagery. So, I’ll write a prose poem if I want the poem to be image driven or if I want the poem to be more surreal. Since the image is the seed, I’m less sure of where I’ll end up. If I’m more driven by an emotion, I most times know where I’m going to end up, and the lined poem works better for me than the prose poem. But, I’ve written prose poems that I later broke into lines and vice versa.
Tell us about your latest poetry project.
I’m sending out a full-length poetry manuscript and hoping that it will be published soon. I’m also writing new poems without any agenda. Not having that agenda is like writing without a safety net. It makes me many kinds of nervous.
Jenny’s Project Inspire
One of my favorite prompts I learned from Richard Jackson, one of my professors in graduate school. You take six random words and include them in a poem. Of course the trick is to work the words in seamlessly. When I lead poetry workshops and assign this prompt, it’s always interesting to see the different ways each person used the same words in their poems.
So, here are the six words: pattern, machine, foxglove, metal, what, work.
Enjoyed learning from you Jenny! Wish you all luck for your new projects. I’m working on your Project Inspire right now.