ColumbusArts.com Artist: LESLEY JENIKE
As the most comprehensive online events guide and resource for arts and culture in central Ohio, ColumbusArts.com offers a virtual guide through the Columbus art world with a searchable database of events, concerts, performances and more. ColumbusArts.com is an engaging place for artists and arts organizations to share what they do, marketed and promoted by GCAC. The ColumbusArts.com Artist Directory allows visual, performing and literary artists to create a profile and portfolio to showcase their work—for free—and enables art enthusiasts to easily search for and connect with them. Our monthly ColumbusArts.com artist profile series features interviews with a few of the many talented individuals who make up central Ohio’s thriving creative community. This month’s profile features acclaimed local poet, Lesley Jenike. Jenike is an assistant professor of English at the Columbus College of Art & Design where she teaches poetry writing, screenwriting, American literature and film studies. She received her MFA in poetry from The Ohio State University in 2003 and a Ph.D. in twentieth century American poetry and drama from the University of Cincinnati in 2008. Her first book of poems is Ghost of Fashion (CW Books, 2009) and her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, Sou’wester, Blackbird, Verse, Rattle, The Birmingham Poetry Review and other journals. She has received an Academy of American Poets Prize, and fellowships and scholarships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her second book of poems has been a finalist twice for the Anthony Hecht Prize and excerpts will be published soon in an anthology by Waywiser Press.
GCAC: How long have you been writing poetry? Did you have a feeling at some point that it might be a “calling” for you?
Lesley Jenike: I started writing fiction in grade school and poetry in high school, but I continued to write short fiction and plays until I entered the creative writing graduate program at OSU; that’s when I began to more consciously compartmentalize my work. Before that, writing for me was just writing. I knew I had a talent for making stuff up, so I really didn’t stress out about what form it took. But I do think I believed, even early on, that poetry was uniquely conducive to musicality, concision, and the epigrammatic. Writing poetry seemed to me to require a different kind of attention; it immediately appealed to me the way word games and puzzles appealed to my brother and sister, so I kept playing.
GCAC: Where do you feel most comfortable and inspired while writing?
LJ: I feel most comfortable writing in my home office with my favorite books around me. This particular office is on the second floor of our Clintonville apartment and has a really great view of a neighbor’s basset hound and Australian shepherd (oh their adorable shenanigans!) and there are so many species of birds in our backyard’s old growth trees, I’ve contemplated getting a pair of binoculars and a field guide. But I also love to travel. Travelling is an easy (but expensive!) way to get material. If I can’t actually take the time to sit at my computer and compose while I’m away, I at least try to take notes, tons of pictures, and I cram my bag full of fliers, pamphlets and ticket stubs to be sorted out and contemplated when I get home. When I can’t get away at all, I use Ohiolink and the Internet to travel through research.
GCAC: What exactly do you teach at CCAD? Creative writing can be difficult enough – but to teach it sounds like quite an undertaking. What do you enjoy most about it?
LJ: I teach poetry and screenwriting workshops, composition, American literature, and special topics courses—basically everything. I’m one of the luckiest ladies on the planet because I get to spend all day discussing what I love—literature and writing—and I get to have smart, insightful conversations with CCAD students; they are so unbelievably talented and their minds work in such lovely, mysterious ways. Creative writing workshops in particular are rewarding because I get to mentor student writers as they discover the intellectual and aesthetic intersections between the visual arts and the language arts. Writers, artists and designers have a long history of collaboration and cooperation and I get to be part of that tradition because I work at CCAD.
GCAC: A poem can be anything in regards to form and pattern; it can be concrete or abstract; written to be performed (thinking of the slam poets of Writers’ Block). Knowing where to start with all of that freedom sounds a little overwhelming. Do you have a typical process for writing a poem that you can share?
LJ: It seems to me that my poems work best when their forms reveal themselves organically. I know that sounds a little new agey, but what I mean is, when I set out to write a Petrarchan sonnet for example, the poem usually ends up sounding and looking like a bad imitation of a Petrarchan sonnet. Instead, I find myself hoping the subject matter will suggest a form, or that the sound of the language will start to reveal useful patterns. I believe that the artificial premise of formal constraint leads to surprise and, hopefully, to beauty. And it leads to art. I may collect notes in prose or very loose free verse, but when I actually sit down to shape a poem, I shape it with form and structure very much on my mind.
GCAC: Who are some of your favorite poets?
LJ: I’m so lucky to know some of the best young writers working today and a few of them live very close by: Joshua Butts, Sophia Kartsonis, Natalie Shapero, Maggie Smith. I admire them and am grateful to them as well as to so many of my colleagues at CCAD, OSU and UC, especially Andrew Hudgins who is not only one of my favorite living poets, but also a really nice guy. I recently got to meet a Northern Irish poet whom I believe to be one of the finest practitioners of our art working today. Her name is Sinéad Morrissey and if you haven’t read her poems, you must. You can find all of her books available through Carcanet Press. Lately I’ve fallen in love with Anthony Hecht in a big way. The Venetian Vespers is among my top five favorite books of poetry of all time. His blank verse narrative poems are sublime. And of course I couldn’t do without Marianne Moore’s zoography, Elizabeth Bishop’s maps, and my oh my Wallace Stevens’ Florida skies!
GCAC: As a teacher, what have been some of your best techniques in getting students comfortable and able to find their voice in creative writing?
LJ: When in doubt, I use humor. When not in doubt, I use humor. I believe a lot new students come to class thinking poetry is serious, serious, serious stuff, and while it can be, it doesn’t have to be. If we can think of language the same way we think of paint or fabric or clay—as material—we’re less inclined to require each and every poem to confess some real or invented horror, and we can instead allow ourselves to see poem possibilities in the little stuff (a.k.a. the good stuff).
GCAC: Do you have any events or publications coming up that you’d like to share?
LJ: Yes! A new chapbook How We Came Ashore is forthcoming this year from Dancing Girl Press and a new full-length collection of poems, Holy Island, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press in 2014
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Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events. To learn more, go to poets.org.
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