By Lauren Becker
Join us on April 10th at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library for an evening of surprises, as poet Jennifer L. Knox takes us through a reading and discussion on the surprising nature of poetry.
In preparation for this event, we had a chance to gain Knox’s insight into what we should expect from the evening.
Lauren Becker: So, we’re going to talk about surprises and poetry. This begs the question - are they pleasant surprises? Or unpleasant?
Jennifer L. Knox: Hopefully the surprises will be somewhat pleasant, but I can’t guarantee they’ll all feel like finding a $20 bill in your jeans pocket kind of surprise.
Could you give us a bit of a teaser as to what you have planned for the evening?
I'm going to read some poems from my books (perhaps even some new ones) and talk about how they surprised me— either by the way the ideas for them entered my brain, in the process of writing them or by the way people responded to them.
Some of us who aren’t as familiar with poetry may chalk it up to archaic, melancholy haikus about ponds. You’ve proven time and time again that’s not the case. What are your thoughts on the presence of humor and jarring language in poetry?
Poems and poets are as varied as styles of music; we each have a different song in our head. And there are different kinds of humor; I enjoy subverting the expectations of the reader—that's the incongruity theory. It's like hard-wiring surprise into a poem, and one way to accomplish this is to use diction and ideas that people don't ordinarily expect to see in a poem. When most people think poetry, they think of poetic-ness, and beauty and truth and ponds, as you mentioned. They don't necessarily think deep-fried Twinkies or mad cow disease. Using language that surprises helps me create an epiphany for the reader.
When you’re writing, do you ever stop and think “where the heck did that come from?”
JK: Every day, Lauren! Generative writing comes from the same spot in the brain as lying, so when we're generating words on the page, nothing's off limits. It's like that game where you stand in the glass box and try to catch the dollar bills blowing around—you'd grab anything that blows by. Editing happens in the same part of the brain as accounting; in this phase, we must imagine the readers receiving our words and empathize with them.
Many of us who are just beginning our own long journey of poetic writing may look at your work and ask, what path did you take to get here?
I learned to love poetry by writing it. I believe it creates physical sensations in the brain, like exercising. A poem is a puzzle you make that only you can solve. But what has kept me writing poetry is my community of poets and writers, many of whom I met while earning my MFA, but there are others. My poetry people have been my ace in the hole.
What do you hope folks take away from this upcoming event?
I hope they're excited to write and read more poetry!
If this hasn’t enticed you enough, Kathleen Rooney summarizes why we so desperately need the artistic work and insight of individuals such as Knox, now more than ever.
“In the face of ecological meltdown, art gains extra urgency and Jennifer L. Knox is one of our most urgent ecological poets. In the face of the Anthropocene—the geological era in which we are living, when human activity has irreparably damaged the earth—Knox laments our losses and celebrates what we have left. Her creativity—with its obsession with extinction—is driven, like much creativity, by death, but is animated with an unmistakable life force. The humor and sadness in each of her poems invites the reader to mourn what can never be regained environmentally, and also to make the most of whatever it is that remains.”
—Kathleen Rooney, O, Democracy!
Check out Knox’s latest book, Days of Shame and Failure, here!