Interview with Jessica Furtado
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We were drawn in by the beginning of “Red Rover” and surprised by the turn that it takes, looking at the different versions of love within the speaker’s life. How did you go about approaching the theme of love?
Jessica Furtado: To be honest, I avoided the subject of love in poetry for a long time. Not necessarily because my personal experiences with love weren’t worth writing about, but because there always seemed to be a stigma around love poems. People expect romanticism and flowery phrases, but love and poetry are so much messier than that. Love is unexpected and chaotic. It shows up in its own time, whether you’re ready or not, and sometimes it fades just as uncontrollably. I wrote this poem a few weeks before the pandemic hit, and while it has undergone editing, it is largely in its original form. This strikes me because there is a longing here that startles me, even as the writer. I wanted to find a way to hold those subtle moments when affection blindsides us and makes us feel an undeniable connection, even with strangers.
RR: “Red Rover” seems to rely upon a series of poetic vignettes to convey the themes of tenderness and attachment within the human experience. How do you feel form plays into telling the story?
JF: To me, this form feels like a dance. The lines subtly sway back and forth, and then there’s a leap at the end that I picture as a dip or lift. The form never really allows you to find sure footing. You have to keep moving with the rhythm, or you’ll get left behind and stumble. I think this works well for “Red Rover” because so many dances are partnerships that require trust. Here, the reader and speaker are doing a bit of a slow tango through everyday life, building that trust and connection as the speaker feels more and more familiar to readers. By the end, the speaker is directly addressing the reader, making the final vignette the most intimate moment shared.
RR: We understand that you also engage in visual art. How do you explore similar themes to “Red Rover” in your visual work?
JF: As a visual artist, I like making the mundane feel urgent and extraordinary. My primary love is photography, and I enjoy capturing portraits that allow the authenticity of the subject to shine through. I’m not a huge fan of styled shoots. It’s not that they aren’t beautiful, they just feel contrived to me. I would rather take photos of what makes us human—all of those scars, imperfections, stray hairs, slanted smiles, and wrinkles that provide roadmaps to our pasts. “Red Rover” maintains a similar reverence for ordinary moments. It elevates them to the status that we usually reserve for big milestones, recognizing that our monotonous day-to-day holds more wonder than we give it credit for.
RR: As someone who has published chapbooks in the past, do you have any advice for other poets looking to publish their work?
JF: My first chapbook is actually set to release later this year! It was slated for publication in 2020, but the pandemic, understandably, threw a wrench into things. My advice for anyone hoping to publish is to stay confident in your work and consistent in your submissions. Your manuscript will likely receive dozens of rejections before it finds a home. That doesn’t mean that your manuscript isn’t worthy or well-written, it’s simply a very competitive market to break into. Establish good relationships with editors by following submission guidelines and submitting to journals whose style complements your writing. Read voraciously, follow publications on social media, and form collaborations with fellow writers. Your work will land where it belongs.
RR: We see you have a new chapbook coming out, A Kiss for the Misbehaved—congrats! Can you tell us about that project?
JF: A Kiss for the Misbehaved feels so young to me! I wrote many of the poems in my early to mid-20s, and they largely center around my childhood and teen years. I’m 31 now, and while that doesn’t seem like an extreme leap, there is so much growth and change between your 20s and 30s. The poems in this chapbook are about coming of age with one eye on the rearview mirror, always longing for lost loved ones and old memories while trying to reckon with the present.
I am honored that this chapbook was selected for publication by BatCat Press, a small press run by high school students and educators. That feels like the perfect home for this wayward little book of poems.
Jessica Furtado’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.