Interviews and guest posts from the writers and artists of Versal 10. This edition features Jessica Young. Jessica Young currently teaches at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. She completed her Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (poetry) at UofM, where she held a Zell Fellowship, and received two Hopwood awards and the 2010 Moveen Residency. Her undergraduate work was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she received four Ilona Karmel prizes for her poetry and essays.
Have you been to Amsterdam? What did you do while you were here? If you've not been yet, what do you think you'd do in our fair town?
I haven’t yet visited, but would really like to. In fact, the current idea is to visit in October. First on the To Do list is the Van Gogh museum. Recommendations are very much welcome!
What is the first creative thing you ever did?
I remember doing experiments with household items. For example, after seeing a bouquet of roses decay over the course of a week, I was curious what could sustain them longer. I remember buying a fresh rose, carefully removing all of the petals, and then on this rather organized and labeled grid, coating the petals with different materials. I had a control (uncoated) petal, one slathered with Vaseline, another with lemon juice, another with oil, etc. And I watched them over the next few days to see what happened. I also remember subjecting my parents to “coffee bags,” after discovering tea bags and questioning why only certain beverages could be prepared like that.
What is the dumbest thing anyone has ever said to you about being a writer?
I don’t believe anything has been outright dumb, though I’ve certainly come across misunderstandings. People who suggest, for example, that art isn’t difficult to do, or isn’t useful. These statements lack an awareness or generosity about the difficulty of creating a world out of words and evoking emotions and images, or the idea that lives are affected and changed by art. I find these ideas troublesome—do people think I’m wasting my time in la la land? But I also understand, as I certainly don’t know what theoretical mathematicians do all day, or what their practical contributions to society are. So I just try to respond, briefly, with what art has meant to me, as a way to suggest that its impact is very real.
If you were an angle, what kind of angle would you be?
Scalene. No question. And for no other reason than this is the angle that people seem to forget most, and it’s just a nice word… scalene. We should say it more. Say it with me—
If you could meet a writer from the 15th, 16th or 17th centuries, who would it be? And what would you talk about?
Not a writer in the conventional sense, but I’d love to do a chitchat with Galileo. He was doing astronomy, of course, but writing was an integral part of his career because (a) he needed to secure funding, and (b) he needed to write a certain way so as not to upset the Church. After he found proof of Jupiter’s moons (the first person to do so), he wrote a letter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany requesting funding for a better telescope. In various versions of the letter you can see him trying out the wording… telescopes are good for warfare since we can see an approaching army, no, then, they are good for science, etc. Words mattered. And ultimately, as we all know, they resulted in his house arrest. What we’d talk about—I’d love to tell him what came of his research and name, and what the current ideas and questions in astronomy are. Maybe we’d even build a little telescope together.
Tell us something few people know about you.
That’s a dangerous question.
My grandmother died almost two years ago, and I still haven’t really reconciled that as fact. I still know her phone number by heart. That I’d dial that number and the voice on the other line wouldn’t be hers—I just can’t grasp that. Let alone the idea that she’s not here anymore, that she doesn’t exist in that sense. I’m sad about it every day.
Other than Versal (which has clearly been awesome), what's one great place you've been published?
Massachusetts Review—I really enjoy the mix of poetry and essays (among other genres!).
Why did you send work to Versal? Be honest.
This is my second time being in Versal. I submitted this time because I was stunned by the quality of the issue that first time—the level and range of the work, the book as an object of beauty. So much energy, talent, and splendor in one book—cover to cover (covers included!). To be a part of that, as a writer, means so much—community, hope, and warmth.
What has lasted you ten years?
I had a stick of deodorant that must have had a trapdoor into an alternate dimension made entirely of deodorant. I used it, day in and day out, for years and years… twisting the little knob at the bottom to push more up… and it just kept going. Eventually I just threw it away. It wasn’t even done (I saw I had at least an inch more still in the tube), I was just that weirded out by it.
Tell us what you're working on right now.
On the individual poem scale, I’m just writing the poems that come to me without any particular goal or constraint. On the book scale, I’m gearing up toward assembling my next collection. My first one was very structured—it’s a re-envisioning of Alice in Wonderland, called “Alice’s Sister,” that is due out in Summer 2013 with WordTech. This next one will be a compilation of individual poems, hopefully including the two currently housed in Versal. Now, I just need to figure out how to put 60 poems together and find some sort of coherent theme…