writing is my excuse for being myself

Another Couplets interview! This one with Jenniey Tallman, an emerging writer who is (at least in my opinion) one to watch. Her work includes poems like “study, nine” and “Truths about Suicidal Women,” and short stories like “At the park across the street from where Jane lives,” “Into the Rainforest,” “Rape Me Barbie” and the illustrated (and possibly not-safe-for-work) sex toy mystery “The Thing in Sharon’s Bedroom.” (All illustrations in this post are stolen from her website.)

Joanne Merriam: What is your writing process?

Jenniey Tallman: I bumble along. I don’t have any training as a writer; when I began writing I was in complete isolation from any sort of community or other writers. This made it so that I had to fill a lot of roles for myself, so I guess my process might seem bizarre to a lot of people? I began by creating rules for myself—limits and themes. For instance, I would say: In this piece you may only write lies. Or: Each sentence you put down must have the same number of syllables. While these are admittedly silly rules, what they offered me was a distance from the writing itself. I’d get all caught up in counting syllables or making sure I was lying and forget to worry about the writing.

That is actually how I came to writing poetry—counting syllables and grouping lines. I am still extremely shy of calling myself a poet, however, despite having a great number of poem-like documents in my writing folder.

Joanne Merriam: Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

Jenniey Tallman: Yes and no. Yes: sex, television, reading, walks, yoga, pride, sleep, and one job. No: I don’t think of this as a sacrifice at all.

There are certain conventions in our society: that we should want to be “good” mothers/fathers or wives/husbands, that we should enjoy nice weather, that we should socialize, shop, and sleep. I am not like that and never have been, therefore, I don’t really see the loss of these things as sacrifices. I’d say that writing is my excuse for being myself and it gives the other parts of my life more meaning. I think of writing as a privilege and often the thing I sacrifice is the writing time. I could easily forsake almost everything else for the time to write.

Joanne Merriam: Is there a universal philosophy of writing that you believe in?

Jenniey Tallman: No, I don’t think so. Are there writing philosophies? Assuming it is simply the way that a person writes, what they measure their own words against, and speaking only for myself, I do absolutely strive for minimalism, honesty, and rhythm. I prefer my writing to be read aloud and think the patterns, cadence, and language are just as important as the storyline. I want to get caught up in it, like a really good song.

At the same time, I enjoy reading stories and poems that are nothing like my own writing. I adore good science fiction (and I cast that genre-net very widely) which quite often has nothing to do with being read aloud or being minimal. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Not to mention, my favorite poem is the farthest thing from minimal, at over 2000 words: Robert Hass’s, “My Mother’s Nipples.”

I will say that I believe in writing that challenges people. Often I will read something I don’t understand and my first reaction will be to dismiss it. I am certainly not saying that all incomprehensible writing is actually misunderstood genius—but I do think it is important to give the writing I don’t “get” a second or even third chance. I say this both about pieces I read and those I write.

Check out more poetry-related interviews, reviews and guest posts at Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour!

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