Writers' Corner

Jill Alexander Essbaum

2013 Poetry

Author's Statement

I spent the early years of my writing life working hard to become a particular kind of writer. I had certain ideas--nay, visions!--about the ways I thought--nay, knew!--my poems ought to look, and act, and dress which was, in a word, PROPER. Formal. Like: They best leave MY house looking GOOD, dammit! I was little more than a poetry stage mother; they were the girls who smiled pretty for my camera. Mind you, I was good at my job. On the reader's end it presented as a very tidy operation that made for a nice, tidy poem. But on the writer's end it was often like trying to dress a wet ferret in doll clothes: a squirmy, frustrating, ridiculous process.

But children grow up and darling daughters turn sullen and insolent and Shirley Temple takes on a Honey Boo Boo temperament. So I surrendered. I don't try anymore to fit my poems into a fixed idea of what poetry is or ought to be--that's like cramming a size twelve ass into a size 6 dress. I've come around. 

And that's the best thing that could have happened.

Because the poet doesn't define the poem. The poems define the poet. It took me 41 stupid years to figure that out.

This is a long way around getting to the question, What does this grant mean to me at this time?

The answer is, It means figuring more things out.    

And: Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. That's also what it means. 

Poem

A clementine
Of inclement climate
Grows tart.

A crocus
Too stoic to open,
Won't.

Like an oyster
That cloisters a spoil of pearls,
Untouched—

The heart that's had
Enough
Stays shut.

(first appeared POETRY, December 2009)

Jill Alexander Essbaum is the author of several collections of poetry including Heaven (winner of the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, UPNE, 2000), Harlot (No Tell Books, 2007), Necropolis (NeoNuma Arts 2008), and most recently the single-poem chapbook, The Devastation (Cooper Dillon 2010). She teaches in the UC-Riverside Palm Desert low-residency MFA program but lives in Austin, Texas. A previous NEA fellow, her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Christian Century, Gulf Coast, Smartish Pace, Alaska Quarterly Review, Black Warrior Review, No Tell Motel, and many other places. Her absolute passions include the music of Nick Cave, Old Time Radio, the Houston Rockets, and her soon-to-be husband, Alvin. 

Photo by Alvin Peng