Interviews and guest posts from the writers and artists of Versal 11. Joey De Jesus has a B.A. from Oberlin College and a M.F.A. in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. His work has appeared in Antiphon, The Cortland Review, Dislocate, Kin Poetry Magazine, LUMINA and The Nervous Breakdown. He currently lives in New York. You can find more info at dejesussaves.wordpress.com or follow Jesus on Twitter.
Photo by: Thomas Sayers Ellis
Tell us about your writing process. Make sure to lie about at least two things.
Most of the time I spend writing is underground, either on the subways or in my basement bedroom. I tend to write soon after waking up. I read a lot of poetry that I do not like so as to know what not to do. My poems are all hanging on my bedroom walls so that I’m always ‘in the zone.’ I have a very difficult time determining when a piece is finished. I’ve edited many into oblivion. I share almost every piece I write with a posse for critique.
What's the longest you've ever gone without sleeping? Why (if you can share...)?
I came a bit unhinged one January. I slept for maybe a couple hours every couple days for 18 days. I remember the number of days precisely because on the 18th day I slept.
What's one well-known and one little-known lit mag currently doing amazing work?
I have to shout out to the friends at Kin Poetry Journal. I think they are doing a great job highlighting work you wouldn’t find in journals coming out of MFA programs or with school affiliations. I don’t know, I just have deep respect for formalists because I can’t do that—and their features on Wendy Videlock and John Whitworth I thought were pretty extraordinary. They’ve introduced me to a few poets I don’t think I would have come to learn of otherwise, whose work I really admire. And a well-known journal… hmm, I guess that is relative. I like do like Conjunctions and A Public Space. Those two journals tend to feature poets I’m really into.
What can you tell us about Holland other than tulips, clogs, red lights, and drugs?
I can tell you there is an amazing young queer shaman living in Rotterdam. His name is Jasper Griepink. Seek him out. Tell him I sent you. He is really special.
If your piece in Versal could be paired with any art work, what would it be?
You know, I loved the photographs that preceded the poem so much that I would have to say you made it happen.
What dirty secret would you like to tell us?
I can be shady.
Most unbelievable place you've ever been to? Why?
The Makgadikgadi Pans. The Makgadikdagi Pans of Botswana are a region of salt pans larger in size than Switzerland. They were once the bed of an enormous saline lake. The ground is composed of white soda-ash salts. Sua Pan is flat and grassless in every which direction for as far as one can see. It feels like standing on another planet entirely. I mean, it was nuts.
Do you have a philosophy of writing? Can you condense it into 30 words?
I try not to have a philosophy toward writing. I have approaches that I know work for me. I’ve actively tried not to worry myself over the work or celebrity of other writers. I try not to hold my standards to others too much (unless a writer is just absolutely terrible).
What's your playlist look like these days?
I’m living for Junglepussy. I feel like I had been waiting for the Knife to put out Shaking the Habitual for a long time and I’m loving the album—that Shannon Funchess is on it is an extra treat. “Raghupati” and “Golden Glow” by Prince Rama have the highest play counts on my iTunes.
What book is so unbelievably mind-blowing that it makes you want to stop writing?
Caroline Bergvall’s Meddle English, Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire and Horse in the Dark by Vievee Francis are all so mind-blowingly phenomenal they make me want to quit it. There are a number of books I think: D. A. Powell’s Useless Landscape or a Guide for Boys, d g nanouk okpik’s Corpse Whale. And I have to praise Marie Howe’s Kingdom of Ordinary Time.
On The Newlywed Game, contestants were asked what vegetable they think they are. What's your totem vegetable?
I would want to say “yuca,” because the word is so fun to say and it’s all cool and from my mother island, but in all honesty my totem vegetable is probably the red bean—as in rice and red beans. Maybe you can’t choose your totem, maybe your totem chooses you.
Why did you send work to Versal? Be honest.
No. I really loved volume IX, which had Alice Notley in it. But, you know, aside from her, I didn’t really recognize many of the poets. I remember the pieces to me were so engaging and different from anything I’d really seen elsewhere, that I thought ‘this is a journal that prioritizes quality of the work over celebrity around the poet’s names.’ I also remember feeling that the order in which the works were presented seemed really curated even though they spanned various mediums, genres and forms. That spoke to me. So, I believe I submitted to volume X and then again to volume XI.
Tell us what you're working on right now.
Right now I’ve got a few projects in the works. I’ve got the first manuscript of poems that I am working on, which includes the piece you all took. As of right now it’s looking like it will be in three sections maybe, but I don’t want to talk to it too much but I can sum it up maybe with “poems of bewilderment and rage.” Then, I have a collection of spells, incantations and such titled “Hoax.” I’ve begun working on a web project with an artist to make an interactive poem/website. And I’ve been journaling ideas for a collection that takes place entirely in a video game in the future. The idea of writing landscape poems (which is maybe my comfort zone as a writer) for—like—virtually constructed landscapes presents a number of possibilities to me.