As part of our brand new interview series, Rebecca Evans interviews Issue 78 contributor Jessica Anne Robinson. Read the full interview below.
What was an early experience where you learned that poetry is powerful?
Perhaps not an early experience but a consistent one: When bad things happen, we turn to poetry. Good things too, but especially the bad, the truly terrible, the horrifying. We read poetry at funerals, and we write it when our friends die young, and when wars are waged, and when trauma is screaming in our faces demanding to be noticed. We write and we read and it’s always, always poetry.
Would you describe that you are attempting to build a body of poetry work, with connections in between, or rather that you are creating your poems to stand on their own?
I dream of the day where I sit down and write poems, one by one, in succession, to string together a perfect sequence of themed work, but it hasn’t happened yet. Rather, I write each poem to be its own little story. And then, once I’ve compiled ten or twenty, I revisit them, and I find the stories that nestle together like little nesting dolls - which is to say, that they can all stand together on their own, but they find their way to sit comfortably, too.
Could you tell a bit about what brought you to poetry as a creative expression?
I am a lifelong novel lover when it comes to reading, but plot has never sufficiently held my attention so that I could write one. Instead it’s language, the ways it twists and turns and lingers in your head long after you read it, and in my opinion, no form lets the beauty of language shine through alongside a good story quite like poetry. Plus, my mother gave me Sharon Creech books as a kid, and I still think about the protagonist from Heartbeat drawing apple after apple in that staccato verse.
The twin forces of chance and fate are explored so imaginatively in your recent piece “apocalypse palmistry” (published in filling Station’s Issue 78: ALGORITHMS). Can you share some of your process regarding this poem?
“apocalypse palmistry” is heavily inspired by Station Eleven - not the TV show, but Emily St John Mandel’s original novel, which I love dearly, and insisted on re-reading in a masochistic way at the start of the pandemic. In late 2020, I moved to a new apartment on the 21st floor of a condo deep in the downtown core of Toronto, and I couldn’t help but imagine it being Jeevan’s brother’s apartment, where they wait out the worst of the panic, illness and looting. I was struck by how impossibly still it would be in the after. It would be just me - and the midges, who no doubt could survive anything. I imagined I’d be desperate for purpose, for direction, and becoming a fortune teller who channels fate through midges would be just the sort of thing to guide me out of that long, dark winter.
Can you describe a place or space that has recently inspired you?
I spent the summer living in Halifax and traveling around the East coast, hoping the change of scenery would reset my weary brain, tired from trying to eke poems out of those same four apartment walls that inspired “apocalypse palmistry”. There were a couple places that proved to be best fodder for scribbling in the notes app on my phone: the picnic tables in the middle of the waterfront at night, past the drunken lampposts lolling on the pier; the rough, reddish brown sand on the Bay of Fundy beaches where we sunned while our farm fresh strawberries rotted in the back seat; the benches facing the fountain at the Public Gardens.
A bit about Jessica: Jessica Anne Robinson is a Toronto writer and, more tellingly, a Libra. Her poetry has been featured in Hobart, West Trade Review, Minola Review, and Room magazine, among others. Her debut chapbook, OTHER MOTHERS’ FUNERALS, was published with Frog Hollow Press. You can find her anywhere @hey_jeska.