Rappahannock Review | Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Jessica Greenbaum
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Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Jessica Greenbaum

Jessica Greenbaum

The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: The form for your piece, “Bubble,” is very fascinating and unique. What inspired you to use such a dramatic yet often restrictive form?

Jessica Greenbaum: This is one of those sweet incidences where the poem just flew into my head and onto the page. I think I saw, as I was writing it, just what was happening, and so then I collaborated with what had begun on its own. I felt like the shape made sense with the meaning, that something was winging its way to a very small point. Nothing big at all! A scrap of garbage, really, that completed a thought.

 

RR: The imagery in this poem reflects a similarity between grackles and the smoking industry. What was your inspiration for this piece?

JG: The main inspiration here is really just the faith that observation sometimes offers its own meanings, simply because of one’s one relationship to the world. So I would say that trust in that which has registered provided the inspiration. Why do we note one thing and not another? The inner charge of what we register—how to name it? I have been hell bent, it seems, on realizing my good fortune in the world while the news hammers away with all its global, profound, incalculable, and very real sorrows. For the sake of those living with those hardships, we cannot luxuriously wave them off as concepts. This seemed such a moment to take stock of what I am afforded—one nearly invisible fragment helping making something whole, in Ft. Greene Park, a place Walt Whitman helped design, whose grounds enhance my daily life in Brooklyn.

 

RR: You obviously like to play with form, so what provoked you to use this particular form for your piece “Moth in the House”?

JG: Yes, I’m all about form, one way or another. I tend to be conversational, and so often work with the longer lines that imitate speech, but I do remember, here, having the visual sense of a plane over a field, and the lines creating the little rectangle of a field. I think North by Northwest came to mind!

 

RR: How has your experience as a social worker influenced your writing?

JG: I am new to the profession, and I admire its basic ambitions towards social justice and mending of the world. My friend, the novelist Alice Elliott Dark, says that all writers work out of an innate sense of justice (isn’t that so flattering?!), and I think most of us can recognize, in those authors we most revere, their sense of humanism (though I wouldn’t try and speak for all writers everywhere). Social work attempts to locate the systems beneath the patterns of society, and I think many poets also try and deconstruct reality as a way towards revelation and clarification of the human condition.

 

RR: What has your experience as Poetry Editor of upstreet taught you about writing? How has the position influenced your own work?

JG: I first began reading slush piles as an intern for the poetry editor at Ms. Magazine in the late 70’s, and there is something instructive in seeing work in which others have put all their hopes, as we do when we send out our work. One part of that instruction is realizing the difference between expression and craft, or the challenge of transforming one’s own concerns into a poem that might have meaning for others. We know how we fall in love with our work, but how will it play in the hands of the reader who does not have the attachment of creating it? A danger in being in such a judgmental position is that (I’m guessing) most editors have to protect their own sense of freedom, and not get too crabbed by the reflex of evaluating. A treasure from the position is being an audience to all the poems, so many of which stay with me and travel with me. If I am lucky, the ones I admire help me in my own craft. As well, I can reach out to the many poets I revere—a great deal of whom, somehow, have yet to publish books—and I can also try to correct the imbalances of the poetry publishing world in terms of race, gender and content. Some of our foremost authorities in contemporary social work (I’m specifically thinking of Judith Herman who wrote the seminal book, Trauma and Recovery) say that most of the strides in the field in the 20th and 21st centuries come from the light cast by feminism on social inequities as a pervasive set of systems. I’m down with that.

 

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