getting to know jennifer martelli and her new book the uncanny valley
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I first encountered poetry (contemporary poetry), when I read Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, which is a book about vampires that quotes Wallace Stevens’ poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” I was hooked!
I’m not sure; I think I had a teacher in middle school who liked my work!
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I don’t have a certain time, but I like to write in my kitchen, at my counter! I find I do better when I’m writing with a group. Not in a group, with a bunch of people, but when I’m in an active poetry community.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
I think that a lot of my poems come from a physical need to satisfy a rhythm; so, I write more when I’m reading more poetry. But, I can also be compulsive about an idea—I can become obsessive, and have to write about something/someone until the bitter end.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton. Jean Valentine, Marie Howe, Mary Ruefle, Laura Jensen.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Uncanny Valley is a term in aesthetics which describes this dip in how we see something that looks almost human—like a marionette, or a robot. It is a place of discomfort. My book is about seeing; it’s about the mal’occhio (Italian for “evil eye”). I needed my good friends to help with the assembly, to find these themes that ran through the book. Props to Jennifer Jean (The Fool) who saw my image and pretty much directed the assembly! No, it’s not a project book (unless I’m the project), but I’m working on a collection of poems inspired by Kitty Genovese, her murder, politics, etc. Light stuff!
Read a poem from Jennifer's new book:
Pumpjacks in Iran
And worse, this drinking bird cannot get its fill: it tips
up and down, sipping the dry Texas earth. Or maybe the dry
plains outside of Tehran. Think of all the dinosaurs down there,
liquid. Think of a fly dead in amber. Or in a jar
of honey on a kitchen table, made mellow yet bright by the sun.
The long-haired black cat watches through her fur the fly sink deep
down into the golden sweetness. In a million years,
a man will give his love a ring of amber with the fossil
of a fly in the middle. He will have the stone set in white
gold, or rose yellow. The young girl will look up shy,
modest. The man has a heart broken in two tattooed
on the nape of his neck even his mother hasn’t seen.
The ring will never taste of honey, but the gesture is
sweet. The couple lives in a ghost town, the life blood
long dried, the people moved away, the churches and the bars,
the minarets, warehouses where they square-danced, are mostly abandoned.