Getting to Know Jay Sheets and his book The Hour wasp
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?
I think that the majority of us are exposed to a lot of general poetry in our youth, but it wasn’t until I was around the age of 18 that I first experienced the actual power of poetry. I never gave much thought to poetry until I was given a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. Gibran’s prose and philosophy resonated deeply with my younger self, and his intuitive use of language—his parables and aphorisms—made me realize that literature can be a gateway to profound, transformative inner experiences. I wanted to enter this literary gateway anytime I wished. I felt a call to build my own gateways, to both lose and find myself through them over and over. That said, and like many others, I have to credit Gibran as the reason I first put pencil to paper to write a poem (or something that later became poetry).
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I spend a while filling the proverbial bucket, collecting inspirations drop by drop over the course of many months until, eventually, they begin to overflow onto the page. I don’t have a set routine; I write when something wants to be written, when it pulls at my earlobe and won’t let my head go until I fling it off into the world. I prefer to write outside or as close to nature as possible—away from people—and I enjoy writing at night much more than during the day. The witching hour rewards poets.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
I believe that poetry can knock at any one of our senses at any given time through any given medium if we’re open, but I typically begin at a symbol or image and work my way back from there, when a symbol or image first appears and asks me to reveal its poem. I collect the majority of my poems from the space of non-thought—dreams, visions, meditations, what have you. Once I’m tapped-in and the words feel charged, I begin to craft. I enjoy the process of revision, a lot, but many of my poems never feel quite done to me. On those rare occasions when a poem does feel done, it almost feels as if it emits a forgotten color of light. I’ve come to realize that events of synchronicity and spiritual experience—a subject I study extensively—often occur via poetry when this light is present.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Though Kahlil Gibran got me started, Rubén Darío, Tristan Tzara, André Breton, J. E. Cirlot, Joy Harjo, and Kazim Ali are just a few who’ve influenced my work thus far. I also have to credit my former professors—established poets in their own right—for teaching me those wonderful lessons on how to sharpen one’s voice while approaching the page: Janet Sylvester, M. A. Vizsolyi, and Arisa White, specifically. Like many poets, though, I often stumble upon influences in strange and unexpected ways, and coming across new poets or poems that spark new levels of awareness in me is always a thrill to experience (and to seek).
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 it a project book? etc.
The title of the book is from a poem I’d written and had published in Sundog Lit in 2015. The “hour wasp” is an action symbol for this desert-dwelling muse of mine. The poem is a mythical journey into when and how this particular muse awakens, buzzes, and stings.
I began crafting these poems a few years ago while I was an undergrad in the BFAW program at Goddard College in Vermont. The book began as the creative writing portion of my senior study. As the number of poems grew to a full-length manuscript, the symbol of this “hour wasp” continued to hold the collection quite well through each revision, naturally solidifying itself as the title of the book.
During the crafting of these poems, I was studying alchemical symbolism and hermeticism while investigating how poetics played a role between the two. This research bled into these poems, revealing themes of nature coupled with metaphysical concepts of creation and Being alongside explorations into the enigmatic “she” and “you” relation between speaker and reader (Martin Buber’s I and Thou opened a whole new world for me in this regard). The overall theme of the book is nature or Spirit-based, while the collection as a whole is an immersion into the mystic-surreal.
Read an excerpt from his book here:
[the grapevine swallows its statues]
the grapevine swallows its statues
& half the night
she watches a beak
pull meat from a zealot’s grave
where an inchworm borders a time
when ears could be touched by sound
she strings her locket to a peppertree
& waters her starfield
neptune turns on its side & roams the edge
& time touches eggshell
& a salamander cherries its starlore
she whispers a wish
to the praying mantis frozen on spidersilk
whispers something about the starlings
& how their limbs turn to gypsum when they bleed
she is a desert rose a wildfire