Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Writer Wednesday - Jasmine Dreame Wagner

Jasmine Dreame Wagner is the author of three collections of poems: Rings (Kelsey Street Press, 2014), Rewilding (Ahsahta Press, 2013), Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain, 2012), and an e-chapbook, True Crime (NAP, 2014). Her newest chapbook, Seven Sunsets, launches on Monday, and she's playing a show at the Palisades in Brooklyn to celebrate. If you're around, you should definitely stop by!

Who are you? My name's Jasmine Dreame Wagner and I'm a poet, artist, and musician. I'm the author of Rings (Kelsey Street Press), Rewilding (Ahsahta Press), Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain), True Crime (NAP), and two forthcoming chapbooks: Ask (Slope Editions) and Seven Sunsets (The Lettered Streets Press). My collection of lyric essays on silence, noise, and violence will be published by Ahsahta Press next year. I'm also a songwriter and a musician—I'm currently at work on my first studio record for voice, chamber orchestra, and jazz quintet.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging? When did it happen? I've been chronicling my life online for as long as I can remember, first on a personal website I built for school and on Livejournal, then on each of the social media sites as they rose and collapsed (Friendster, MySpace, etc.).

What I refer to these days as my "blog" is my Tumblr, though for a while I was using Twitter like a blog, too. I would tweet jokes along with book/music promotions and the minutiae of the mundane details of my life but I always approached tweeting like writing a poem with formal constraints. When I started, I was inspired by Weird Twitter—the Twitter underworld where pranksters (who I imagined as graveyard-shift pharmacists and gothic teenage girls) masked by avatars would tweet puns mixed with non sequiturs, political rants, and emotional appeals—but I never went full-anonymous myself.

If I had to describe the trappings of my online persona, I'd say, it's a mix of red-lipstick selfies, photos of the city, the woods, and abandoned things, updates about shows I'm playing or readings I'm giving, and deeper commentary about life and art. For example, I blogged about hiking up to the bat hibernacula at the Roxbury Mines and responded to Cynthia's Ozick's rant about young people and ambition in The New York Times. My poems are personal, political, and saturated with images, just like my blog.

It was around the time that HTMLGiant and other folks on the literary internet started to rave about "The New Sincerity" that I came to a critical realization about my poems and my online habits: In my "literary writing," aka, my poems that became my book, Rings, I was using (and abusing) formal verse to examine post-industrial decay. I felt an insane pressure (from who? my professors?) to keep the personal out of my work. Architecture was a worthy subject; my bangs and woes were not. So instead of writing poems about my personal life, I would blog and tweet about it. But technology requires form—it also creates new forms as it evolves. Literally: You've got 140 characters, fill in the box. That's formal verse. Why was I confessing in formal verse in one place (online) but not in another (my poems)?

The poems in my forthcoming chapbook, Ask, were created by cutting and pasting directly from my tweets, conversations, and from anonymous questions received on Tumblr and The poems also engage with other internet forms, for example, OkCupid profile fields and the way that Tumblr text cascades as posts are blogged and reblogged. Ask is a collection of poems. It's also an archive and an autobiography of a brief period of time where I was a sad adjunct, blogging about Lana Del Rey and New York City's changing landscape, a time when I spent a lot of time talking to people online.

Why do you write? I write to connect. I write to remember, to understand. Through writing, I've learned that I don't really understand a thing until I can write it down clearly. I also write to preserve. Over the course of my short lifespan, I've seen landscapes and populations completely transformed and I feel an overwhelming desire to fix what I saw.

Photo credit: Jonathan Schwarz

Your writing inspires me. Who inspires you? Oh, there are many writers, artists, and musicians who inspire me. I'm awed by women who create large bodies of work in multiple fields, especially Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, and Yoko Ono. Books that inspire me: Joan Didion's White Album. Chris Kraus's I Love Dick. Anne Carson's Glass, Irony, and God, Men in the Off Hours, Decreation, Nox. Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space. My editors at Ahsahta Press, Caketrain, and The Lettered Streets Press inspire me by creating and supporting great works of literature that are also beautiful aesthetic objects. My friends and collaborators inspire me most of all: Sondra Sun-Odeon, Charlie Rauh, Mia Theodoratus, Dana Maiden, Mira Lew, Jonathan Schwarz, Matt Sargent, Meghan Maguire Dahn. I recently saw a great show at Postmasters Gallery with my friend Hannah Berthelot—Eddo Stern's Vietnam Romance video game installation and Ada Karczmarczyk's Way to Conversion videos—and I immediately ran home, inspired to make things. I become inspired by moving my body through space, by taking long walks through the city or the woods, by practicing movement like yoga and piano.

In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go? To the moon! But that's probably pretty expensive, right? If the moon isn't in the budget, then Antarctica. I love cold climates. I have to admit that I have a very romantic idea of what it would be like to approach Antarctica's looming ice wall from the prow of ship, a white cashmere scarf wrapped around my face, the tassels blowing the in wind. I would be wearing sunglasses and white Gore-Tex ski gloves! The ice would glow blue and white above the choppy waves! Penguins! I can hear the orchestral arrangement booming in the background. Arriving there would probably be totally different, but a girl can dream. 

Photo credit: Jonathan Schwarz

What is your favorite place on earth? I'm an East Coast girl—I grew up between Connecticut and New York—so my favorite place would be either the city or the woods. In New York, I always know where I stand. Figuratively, because people are straight with you in the city (you know who cares about you because they act like it and you know who doesn't care because they don't have time to pretend), but also literally. In New York, my internal compass knows due North. One can get lost in the woods—a frightening feeling, but one that can also be freeing. The air smells good around a bog and the chirping of tree frogs and cicadas, underscored by the low drone of bullfrogs and outlet brooks is one of the most soothing soundscapes in the world. The summer air in Northwestern Connecticut smells like orchids and fresh hay. There is an intense green canopy of trees that tents over the winding backroads like you're driving through a tunnel of jade. In the woods, there is an intense sensory experience that's completely different from the colliding architectures and smells of the city, where so many cultures, styles, and ideologies have accreted, bricked and piled atop each other, backlit by the blues and reds and oranges and pinks of a Hudson river sunset.

Photo credit: Jason Alexander

Anything else you'd like us to know? On Monday, June 29th I'll be performing at Palisades in Bushwick, Brooklyn, accompanied by Charlie Rauh on guitar and Mia Theodoratus on harp. Also performing will be Metal Mountains (Helen Rush, Pat Gubler, and Samara Lubelski) and sun riah, on tour from Oklahoma. I'll be celebrating the release of my new chapbook, Seven Sunsets, newly out from The Lettered Streets Press. Join us!

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