I just finished reading Jessica Jacobs' beautiful chapbook In Whatever Light Left to Us. In the fourth poem in the collection, "Sex, Suddenly, Everywhere," Jessica writes this about the speaker's experiences in middle school with the confusion that accompanies desire: "Once a bucket—an occasional, embarrassing slosh over the top / if jostled—now a sieve, desire leaking from every pore. Which is why / I tried so hard to be harder." Reading this brought me right smack back to the hallways, classrooms, and gym locker room of Dodson Jr. High, 1984. Jessica's poems are passionate, honest, and capital F Fierce.
"I have two hopes: the first is that queer readers can see a different part of their lives reflected [in my poems], and the second is that straight readers can read these queer poems and, just as I did with the poems of straight writers, find themselves there, as well." Jessica Jacobs
Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of and why?
When I’m out on a trail run and begin to congratulate myself on how graceful or strong I feel, nine times out of ten that’s the exact moment I catch my toe on a root and suddenly find my face in intimate contact with the dirt—a literal (and, unfortunately, repeated) example of pride before the fall. So, with that in mind, I’ll tread lightly here. . .
Growing up, I had an affinity for writing that explored the complexities of romantic relationship. But it seemed to me, as someone well aware of my preference for women from a young age, the authors of these texts seemed to fall primarily into two groups.
In greatest supply were straight writers writing about straight relationships (with the occasional queer relationship thrown in on the side for exotic flavor), which meant I spent many of my formative years learning about love through mirrors that didn’t quite reflect me (though, this is not to say that writers like Jack Gilbert didn’t and don’t mean a great deal to me). Next up were queer authors focusing on either coming out and the traumatic aftermaths that generally accompanied this act and/or lives and relationships defined and delimited by queerness. Though it was meaningful to read about explicitly homosexual relationships, these characters’ ways of moving through the world was counter to my experience of my sexuality as only a single facet of my identity. The one exception was the poetry of Adrienne Rich; The Dream of a Common Language, with its poems about a complex lesbian relationship mired in the daily world, is a collection that meant a great deal to me and one to which I still return.
Which is all to say that when I began to write poems about my marriage, to write love poems that grew from the love between two women, I have two hopes: the first is that queer readers can see a different part of their lives reflected there, and the second is that straight readers can read these queer poems and, just as I did with the poems of straight writers, find themselves there, as well.
What are you currently working on? How long have you been working on it? How did you become interested in it/ where did you get the idea for it?
I recently learned that Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going, my second full-length collection, will be published by Four Way Books in 2019. Having this joyful news lets me turn my attention to my next project, which to my surprise is an exploration of faith and spirituality grounded in esoteric Judaism. I say, “to my surprise,” because after four years of Hebrew Day School that ended the year I bailed on getting Bat Mitzvahed, I thought I’d left religion behind. But a strange confluence of falling in love, long-distance running, intensive reading and writing, and getting a little older, seems to have alchemized in a set of big questions about the world and my place within it. And I figured I could do worse than look to a centuries-old tradition for answers.
What issue are you currently most passionate about? What is the one thing you would like people to know or understand about this issue?
Growing up in conservative Central Florida, even when I felt most isolated and alone, I always had books as proof that a larger world awaited me, always had authors and their characters as my companions. And now, as a writer and teacher, I get to see over and over again in the lives of others the crucial role that literature can play: how the right poem given to a person at the right time can keep them from despair; how learning to tell their own story can give a person the strength they need to move past and through almost anything.
Yet, in the most recent round of budget proposals, our 45th president has submitted a budget that would eliminate funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities—two organizations whose positive impact on the arts is incalculable, whose support has proved vital to both individuals and organizations I love.
If you’re interested in adding your voice to the literary resistance, The Literary Network’s website is an important resource for how you can get involved.
What book or film with a female protagonist would you recommend and why? What female author’s, artist’s, or musician’s work would you recommend and why?
Book: Laure-Anne Bosselaar’s The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is a collection of gorgeous poems of survival, resistance, and joy.
Art: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Georgia O’Keeffe. Pelvis with Distance, my first book, was a biography-in-poems of O’Keeffe and it was sheer pleasure to immerse myself in her art and writing for the two years I worked on those poems.
Music: If a person could be a spirit animal, I’d like to believe mine would be Patti Smith. I’m in awe of her as a musician, a writer, a performer, and a person.
Name one woman who has influenced you/ had an impact on you, perhaps as a mentor. Why and how did she impact your life?
As an undergrad, I studied with the poet Eleanor Wilner—a stunning writer and critic—and, though that was nearly two decades ago, she’s lent her support at every key juncture of my writing life.
When I met my wife, the poet Nickole Brown, while she lived in Kentucky and I lived in New York, our correspondence brought me back to writing.
When I subsequently left behind a job in publishing, Marie Ponsot offered the master class that led me to get my MFA in poetry (where I then had the pleasure of studying with Marianne Boruch).
When Nickole and I married, Laure-Anne Bosselaar served as our sole witness and I have continued to learn from her as both a role model and dear friend.
And now Martha Rhodes, a sublime poet and the director of Four Way Books, is working with me to bring my second book into the world.
I am beyond fortunate and grateful to have led a life guided by wise, talented, generous women.
Jessica Jacobs is the author of Pelvis with Distance, winner of the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry, an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary and Julie Suk Awards. Her chapbook In Whatever Light Left to Us was published by Sibling Rivalry Press and her second full-length collection Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going is forthcoming from Four Way Books in 2019. Jacobs holds an M.F.A. from Purdue University, where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of Sycamore Review, and a B.A. from Smith College. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in publications including The Missouri Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Oxford American, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series. An avid long-distance runner, Jessica has worked as a rock climbing instructor, bartender, editor, and professor, and is now the Associate Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown.