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Feb 26

An Interview with Jed Myers

Reading Jed Myers‘ interview below is like reading a piece of his poetry. His words flow quite eloquently with precision and meaning. In Kayla Greenwell’s review of his collection Watching the Perseids, she notes that Myers’ “poetry shines brightly and moves with the power and passion of a celestial force.” We hope you enjoy these musing as much as Blot did.

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Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.

I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and I cannot separate my sense of self from the character of that place in that era (the 1950s through the 60s). Ethnic and racial tensions colored neighborhood life for kids in the city, and when I look back, I see those tensions as embedded in the grander dramas we were all immersed in—the Cold War, Segregation, the echoes of the Nazi threat, the competitive vying amongst the immigrant groups…. The East Coast urban landscape, with its old and modern facets so freely commingled, was for me the landscape of identity struggle and becoming.

I traveled to the Pacific Northwest about half my life ago, and since then I feel I’ve been living in what still seems a different country. Identity is differently configured in the West, the terrain itself so much more definitive. And coming to this with my history, the natural expanses of land and water and sky continue to impinge intensely on my sense of self and how I feel I belong in the scheme of things.

As my father slowly died of a glioblastoma in 2011 and 2012, I shuttled across the continent between my old and new homes, visiting him and returning to my current life many times. My sense of place actually further intensified. I found myself wanting to stand by certain creeks, to walk certain green spaces, and to sit in particular familiar establishments, both east and west, in order, I suppose, to remember who I was while my father died. I think this is an implicit element in the collection of poems of this period, Watching the Perseids.

I am also increasingly intrigued with what I’d call non-locality as an important aspect of identity and self, and the irony is that the particulars of locale turn out to be crucial psychic launch pads for self-discovery beyond place. I’ll say more about this below.

 Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?

From the time I was small, in an extended family riddled with Jewish immigrant anxieties, I found myself compelled to listen to the conflicting claims and narratives of the figures around me (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles), and it became an implicit understanding that although we were all deeply familiar with one another, no one really knew anyone else. Each person lived a myth of self and other, of woundedness and complaint, grudge and unsatisfied insistent need. I longed to discover and articulate truths that all those around me might find resonant and possible to hold in common. So I cultivated, without thinking about it at first, ways of saying—and writing—what others might experience as undeniable or illuminating. My own natural desire to be known was the central striving, I believe. I’m quite sure this is why I began writing poems at an early age. My work still seeks to formulate such resonant truths, and I’ve discovered how crucial it is that such utterances be rendered in terms of the senses—of the palpable, audible, visual, and visceral realities of moment-to-moment life.

The poetic ethos of William Carlos Williams—“No ideas but in things”—was a crucial encouraging discovery for me early on. Later, Donald Hall’s assertion that poetry can be “the company of tears” was a further confirmation that I was engaged in a pursuit of possible value to others known and unknown to me, in the present and possibly the future. All of us harbor the deep wish to be known, and to feel sure that someone somewhere can experience something of what one is experiencing. Poetry, in this sense, is about the possibility of being less alone.

So it is that much of my writing embodies private emotional reality, and a faith that the listener/reader may feel better understood or known in coming upon what I hope my poems hold.

How do you generate new ideas for your work?

What starts a poem for me is an arising or ongoing struggle to make sense of, make peace with, or better grasp some felt tension or perplexity, usually involving my relation with myself, an other, or the surround. Repeatedly, matters of time and mortality, of aloneness and longing, of dread and the need to securely belong, constitute the problems that instigate the writing activity, and the writing is a way of working with such problems in the present. There is always an other—an imagined, composite, unnamed presence—being addressed, or beseeched, or confessed-to, and there is a strong sense that some actual other or others will find this exploratory wrestling with difficulty personally valuable as well.

When have you been most satisfied with your work?

Upon the publication of Watching the Perseids, I embarked on finding opportunities to give readings, and many times now, others have approached me after hearing some of these poems to tell me how this did help them feel less alone in their inner struggles with their own losses and unmet longings. This has been the single most gratifying outcome of my involvement with writing. It beats having my work accepted for publication or winning awards, because, I believe, it brings the whole business full-circle, to the fulfillment of the original striving that started me on this path.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

I’m fond of the various adages in the lore about how a poem is never finished! I’ve gone back and revised pieces long after they’ve been published. I think we can see things years later that were impossible to grasp when the expression was fresh. And I want my poems to potentially last, to sing well in the ears and hearts of those who might come upon them long after I’m gone. So I’ll work these formations to the optimum, as best I can, while I can. This is of course in some kind of balance with the felt imperative to allow new writing through while I’m able!

What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?

I think the failure to which I am most susceptible, over and over, is the giving in to the urge to be smart—to be cute, witty, splashy, edgy, or flashily bold. This unfortunate propensity, I believe, has ruined many potentially worthwhile creative ventures. I believe I am not at all alone in this. Most poetic work being published will not last, not ring true as of durable comfort or poignancy, because the poets—like me, all too often—are pressed to impress, to dazzle, to entertain or entice. This tendency is natural, and strong, and complicates the emergence of what is meant to be essential, beautiful, close to the spirit’s bone. I’m sure I’ll continue to stumble into this error—I can only hope to see it more readily and reliably as it happens.

Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?

I cannot separate writing from community. I, like many, find it necessary to draw courage from others around me engaged in like pursuit. I want to be an encouraging presence to others as well. For the last nine years or so, I’ve hosted a regular poetry-and-music open-mic cabaret in my Seattle neighborhood (NorthEndForum, it’s called), and it’s been of incalculable value to me, partly because I see it benefiting others, and partly because of the chance to give voice to my own poems-in-evolution (so that I can hear them better through others’ listening and help them become what they are meant to be).

I also participate in an ongoing experiment, bringing poetry and music together improvisationally in a small ensemble called Band of Poets. Our performances over the years have been very uplifting, and I feel I’ve been learning more and more about what is moving—what lifts us out of ourselves into feeling-connection, into fuller identification with those around us.

I’ve also found it fulfilling to exchange editorial responses with other writers I get to know, in arranged monthly group meetings, in impromptu get-togethers in local taverns and cafes, by email with others near and far…. I deeply enjoy this kind of engagement in this slice of the life of the arts, and I do believe it is the arts through which we humans might best discover and rediscover our essential oneness across all the differences.

What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?

There is a natural anxious competitive tendency among artists of all kinds, and certainly among writers, and while I can’t call it a “peeve,” I sure do see it as a perennial problem. I hope I’m doing what I can on a personal scale to offset this leaning. I do find it possible to experience real enjoyment in facilitating other writers’ emergence and development, and I entertain the notion that my spirit in this regard might be a little infectious.

What are you working on right now?

Presently, as I mentioned above, I find myself deeply intrigued with the non-local aspects of personal experience. There’s a correspondence here between what in physics is called entanglement or nonlocality and the kind of subjective phenomena wherein we feel the presence of others at a distance, or intuitively believe we are sending comfort to those we care for, or find ourselves in conversation with lost loved-ones. I think these common phenomena intimate some truths about us and the shape of things, and I find this very close in essence to my original inspiration to write. I’ve been composing a chapbook whose working title is Nonlocality, and I’m very curious about how it might be received by friends, press editors, and others who may stumble upon it. I hope it could be a catalyst for more conversation on the nature of such matters.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been returning to Frost just lately, especially interested in his earlier work, hoping to better see—or hear—how he was harnessing his troubled innocence in the music of his poems. Also, I’ve been re-reading a lovely collection by Robert Wrigley called Beautiful Country, noting how I’m moved by the intimacy of his depiction of moments of experience—how his pained loving “close-ups,” so to speak, bring me into his quiet heartbreak. I am incessantly interested in learning from others, past and current, whose poems somehow lift me into a braver openness

 

Blotterature would like to thank Jed for offering his words and time to our readers.