On March 17, poets Jenny Johnson and Lauren Russell visited Ellis to share some of their poetry and talk about themselves and their careers as poets.
Following their presentation to the high school, Ellisian Times Blog editors Isabelle Hammer and Lucia Snyderman discussed poetry with them, dissertating life in the writing world and their struggles as writers.
Isabelle Hammer: When you entered the writing world, after being published, was it difficult to receive recognition from an audience?
Lauren Russell: I feel like I always have an anxiety attack every time I win an award. In one case it went on for months, which is not productive or healthy, but I always feel a bit undeserving, or a bit of a fraud in some way. So, yes, I think it is hard when you have this thing in your head that’s important to you, and then it’s great when people care about what I do, but it also makes me feel unworthy.
Jenny Johnson: I have been socialized sometimes to not feel like I deserve things that happen to me with my work. One thing that helps me is that I feel like I’m lucky to have good mentors and a supportive writing community of friends, and so I try to let their voices be the ones that I listen to as I’m in the writing world.
IH: Can a poem be good or bad?
JJ: When I sit down, and I’m working on a poem, at some point, I kind of feel like there is something that the poem is trying to do. Sometimes it’s a vision that I can see and sometimes it’s almost like it’s some kind of intelligence that the poem has, where it’s smarter than I am, and so I feel like a bad poem is when the poem isn’t embodying the meaning that it could have, and that is so specific and contextual for every poem, so I never feel like there is really a script for what makes a good poem. It just really depends on what that piece is trying to do, so it’s kind of like a new kind of trouble every time I sit down to write.
LR: It is a hard question also as a teacher of poetry, because I feel like as a teacher you teach craft and you teach certain skills, so we are instituting a sort of value system around, like, avoiding clichés, using concrete language and imagery effectively. On the other hand, I know there are people to get something out of reading poems that I don’t think are that good, so it’s sort of imposing a value system that may not work for everyone.