10+ QUESTIONS! WITH Jessica fjeld

by Laurin Macios | August 2016

Jessica Fjeld was featured at Mass Poetry's U35 reading in September 2014. // 10+ Questions! is a new series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.

It's been two years. What's new in life?
The biggest change for me has been the birth of my son, Winfield Ajax. He’s now seven months old, a perpetual motion machine of delight and challenge. It will be a long process, but I am so interested to watch him develop language.

My poetry headline is that last year I received the 92Y/Boston Review Discovery Prize, which came with publication in the Boston Review and a big reading at the 92nd Street Y in New York where I was introduced by the amazing poet Atsuro Riley. Perhaps the best part was the chance to meet the other winners, Jenny George, Margaret Reges, and Kit Schluter.

What are you working on these days?
I’m writing one-off poems and loving the drafting of them and looking vaguely forward to some future time when I will edit them or return to work on my manuscript.

Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
I’m sure it changes as I change, but I can’t say exactly how. If I knew I would probably be a lot less interested in it.

Who/what are you reading lately?
I just finished the first of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend, which is just frankly great. It’s that kind of engrossing fiction where even when you’ve put down the book temporarily to do something else, half of you is still living inside of it – in this case, in midcentury Naples. The story is intimate, a painstakingly accurate portrait of the friendship between two bright, ambitious girls growing up in violence and poverty. I’m also reading, at a friend’s recommendation, Ursula K. LeGuin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. I remember reading my parents’ copy of another translation when I was in middle school, and being completely dismissive. To me at the time, there was no point to life without ego, without pride in intellect. I’m in a different place now. I also loved the most recent issue of Poetry (I’m totally part of the Don Share fan club, love what he is doing there) and most especially the longish Peter Gizzi poem in it. He was one of my teachers during my MFA, and I so admire the way his poems combine an emotional brutality with a helpless love for the beautiful. I can already tell you that poem is going to be my #1 hit of the summer.

Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
Nothing coming up, but I was pleased to participate in the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in May with a group of other poets who also work as attorneys: Matt Brenneman, James Decoulos, Amy Grunder, and John Holgerson, who organized the event. The best thing about it was that all of our work was completely different.


--What’s your favorite animal & why?
Humans for sure because we are wrong so much. Even though most of us are trying really hard to get it right. It hurts, how many mistakes we make, but it is also so interesting.

--Are you a good dancer?
I love to dance, and I believe that anyone who loves to dance is a good dancer. The one time I took lessons, though (for my wedding) it was a real challenge.

--Pancakes or eggs?
Maybe the most surprising thing about pregnancy was that it changed my answer to this question. I thought that I was a savory breakfast person, down to my very core. And then, for the duration of the time I was carrying Winfield, I was a French toast/pancakes maniac. Now that he’s an outside baby, as we like to say, I’m back to my old self, though strangely my taste for extremely spicy foods has not returned to the same degree.

--What do you use more often, the dictionary or thesaurus?
The dictionary for poetry, the thesaurus for prose.

--What’s your favorite flower?
Anyone who answers this question in the month of June in the Northeast United States who does not say the peony is either joking or not paying attention. Come on. Have you seen those beasts? Smelled them?



To draw a breath is to fill with cosmic rays
To extend a hand
                           is to see it thoroughly
permeated       To move forward is always
to feel a wind at the center

Less than a hundred years ago
we disbelieved              the ordinary
Two hundred men pulled up
some nets from way down deep: nothing in them but waste

Before we know something, what else
is it?                  Faceless and nameless in the nets

The rays run through everything
and light is just an object something
                                                      violent happened to


I love poems about science. This is one. I think science and poetry are two different ways of getting at the same thing; two instances of people observing phenomena and, sometimes, making guesses about what might be going on. I like biology and physics best, and this poem has both, along with some history of science. We’ve only been able to know about what goes on in the deep part of the oceans, what lives there, for the short time that we’ve been able to descend there ourselves or send cameras. It used to be that when we fished creatures up with nets, they’d liquefy before we could see them, due to the pressure change.