A Spoonful of Sugar and Helpful Advice: The Highlight Reel of Animal Heart's Twitterview with Jen Rouse

Animal Heart Press got to participate in something that our co-editor, Amy Alexander, has always wanted to try: A roundtable by Twitter. Though quite acrobatic at points, we all felt that some wonderful insights were presented in a brand new way. I'm happy to see it all ironed out here as a lovely conversation, as if we were sitting over a piece of lemon cake in front of a fire. I hope that you can learn as much as I did from Jen.

Note: In this transcript, the Animal Heart interviewer (Amy Alexander) as AA and Jen Rouse as JR. I have indicated when participants asked questions, but am not including their Twitter handles in our blog transcripts.

AA: What are your early writing inspirations?

JR: I had fabulous English teachers in high school and they inspired my love of reading. 

AA:It is amazing the lifelong impact that teachers often have on writers. This can go either way! Have you taught?

JR: I did teach high school for a bit. Prep school in Washington, D.C.

AA: Having such a teacher's heart, I wonder: What advice would you give to young people who aspire to a life of art and or writing.

JR: Being a learner is first. You have to be curious. Art comes out of wanting to know something. I am not easy on myself, my work, my relationships. I have high standards. I believe in my craft. And I spent many years learning from wonderful poets.

JR: I was an American Lit junkie. I loved Whitman. My first poem was my own "Song of Myself.

AA: Oh, I can definitely see the influence of Song of Myself in your work. To me, this reveals itself in the way you are willing to follow an image to another image, freely and wonderfully.

AA: Let's turn for a moment to your sublime artwork.

JR: I really thought I would be a visual artist and teach art as my profession.  So painting became a way to keep writing. If I got stuck, I would work with paint.

JR: I quit in high school for a bit, and I had college profs tell me I would never be an art teacher.

AA: I also know that you effectively use the rest of the senses, and I wonder if artwork, for you, is more than just visual.

JR: Absolutely! Have you ever made anything out of sugar? That is art. That is poetry.

AA: One of our Twitter followers would like to know: Were there particular readings/assignments you loved as a student or as a teacher?

JR: Good question. I was never a great student. I had to work so incredibly hard to write. I am a confessional poet at heart. Always will be.

AA: When you are conceiving of a poem, how does this manifest itself? Being a visual person, does it begin with an image?

JR: I usually start with anger! lol. And then an image or a sense of an image.

AA: Anger is often something that people feel ashamed of. But it sounds like it is something you have managed to channel.

JR: Anger has fueled a lot of my work! And it has wrecked a lot of my life. It's not something I'm proud of.

AA: And yet, it strikes me, that this angry energy is offset by a very passionate and committed heart.

JR: Kind of you. Yes, I really do love teaching and learning and sharing beautiful work.

AA: What topics do you find yourself drawn to as an artist and poet?

JR: Things I write about: cognition, mental illness, belief, shame, unrequited love!

AA: One of our followers would like to know: Do you do research into things like cognition or would you say your process is more experiential? 

JR: I have been working on a manuscript entitled Sweet Monster. And it started because I was reading a book by Godfrey-Smith about the minds of cephalopods. I love research! And I love science and writing about fascinating creatures.

AA: Whenever I do readings, the questions are always, "How can I publish?" What is your take on that, and is it important?

JR: Never think of yourself as a beginner. Think of yourself as a learner. What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What journals seem to foster that kind of community? Where do the writers  you enjoy reading publish? Read those journals. Read books from a wide variety of presses. Set small goals and be honest with yourself when you assess them. See the long game. Where you are now isn't where you'll be forever. And life will absolutely get in the way. But you're a writer. And that doesn't go away. 

AA: I think there is this misconception...maybe brought on by Keats...That if you aren't publishing by 21, you are toast.

JR: If you are publishing at 21, good for you! But I can guarantee the poet you're going to be later--wow! Publishing wasn't always at the forefront for me. And it didn't fit into my life until my early 40s.

AA: can you speak to the revision process? Is this energetic composition followed up by a cucumber- cool revision?

JR: I am old. And there's a beauty in that. I revise a lot every before anything hits the page. I write and revise as I pass by the cornfields on the way to work, belting out Tina Turner songs. I revise as I sit in a dance studio parking lot waiting for my kiddo.