Behind the Words: Jill Khoury

Posted by on Jan 6, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Image result for jill khoury poetEditor of Rogue Agent, a journal of embodied poetry and art, Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Inter|rupture, Arsenic Lobster, Portland Review, and Copper Nickel. Her poems “Amenie,” “Suites for the Modern Dancer,” and “Crows” have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2013, “Trilafon” was nominated for a Best of the Net Award, and Split This Rock picked her poem “Certain Seams” as a third place winner in their 2013 poetry contest, judged by Mark Doty. Her chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, was released from Pudding House Press. In 2014, her manuscript was a finalist for the Four Way Books Intro Prize. She works with the Western PA Writing Project as a teacher in the Young Writer’s Institute, and also reads audio for  Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature. She teaches in university, high school, and enrichment environments, and is especially interested in conducting workshops on poetry & the body and disability poetics. Her first full-length volume of poetry, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2016. She tweets @sundaygray. Her poem “For Healing” can be found in issue 5 of Spry, here.

Faith Padgett sat down with Jill Khoury to ask her some questions about where her poetics have taken her since her publication with Spry. 


I notice you employ white space in “For Healing” very specifically and intentionally, both within the line (caesura or lacuna) and around the line (indentation, movement across page). As a poet, how would you categorize your relationship to white space? What does it do for you? How do you define or conceptualize it?

In this particular poem, I was thinking about the element of surprise, of jarringness, of being jolted. I also imagined the speaker standing up in a support group and telling this story. How the task would feel almost too daunting to complete, so her speech would be interrupted while she steadied herself. How the other group members might not understand what she is saying, so she would pause and explain slowly. The poem moves away from the margin as she tells the anecdote about the performance artist, and then back toward the margin as she reveals why this anecdote matters as a metaphorical portrait. The poem ends without punctuation because I imagine the story ending, and it would sort of silence the room because it would not be the literal/biographical explanation of the mother and her suicide. I imagine her words just descending into the silence, and all the various emotions she could be feeling at that point. Of course all this manipulation of space was important to me when I crafted the poem, but I know that it may not be received in the way it was intended. This is the risk and reward of all art.


More generally, I have picked up on a theme in your work, that of lingo/jargon, specifically from the medical world (re: “optic nerve hypoplasia,” “meninges…dura mater,” or “is suicide genetic?”). How do you feel the world of diagnoses, doctors, and bodily-minded language has infiltrated your poetics?

Infiltrated is an interesting word choice! I think I pretty much built my poetics around these things which all come under the umbrella of “bodily-minded language.” From a very young age I was immersed in the milieu of “diagnoses and doctors.” I have a congenital disability (blindness and other brain differences), and my mother, whose suicide this poem is responding to, had chronic illness long before I was born. I grew up spending a lot of time in the hospital and the doctor’s office. When I was a student, and then a grad student, I did not write about these things because it seemed like it was frowned upon to speak so frankly of the body and its myriad adventures. But this language feels rather natural to me. It does not feel like “lingo.” As well, I find it sonically pleasing. The more that my voice matures into itself, the more I allow my work to go to places that I both love, because they feel like home, and fear, because it makes me vulnerable.


You have published a chapbook, Borrowed Bodies, with Pudding House Press, and your first full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is forthcoming from Sundress. How would you compare the chapbook process to the book process? Where there noticeable differences in craft?

At the time of this writing, Suites has been published, and I have two chapbooks from two different presses. One was published before Suites and one was published after. The biggest difference I’ve noticed, and of course this is based only on my experience, is in the editorial process. For both the chapbooks, the edits were left up to me. Borrowed Bodies was published as it was received, and there was a pretty short time between when I sent the manuscript, when it was accepted and when it was published—probably a few months for the whole process. With Chance Operations (winner of the 2015 Vella Prize from Paper Nautilus), I had the chance to revise the manuscript myself, because there was a much longer interval between acceptance and publication, and the editor deferred to my choices. The book process was another entity altogether. I had a wonderful editor in Erin Elizabeth Smith. Suites is a braided narrative with an ensemble cast. We worked together to make the book tell the story I wanted it to tell. I am beyond grateful for her editorial crafting and collaboration.


In your life outside poetry directly (if there is such a thing), what are you up to? What are you into? If I asked you to name what you’re having the most feelings about right now, what would you say?

Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a themed issue of Rogue Agent (a journal of embodied poetry and art) called DON’T ERASE US, whose poems respond to the chronic violence against queer people and people of color. It’s really giving me all the emotions. There’s a core feeling of devastation, that the problem feels insurmountable. There’s also a feeling of joy and pride and humbleness as I read and re-read the work of these authors, who respond to acts of unspeakable destruction with such creative force.

imageFaith Padgett was born and raised in the suburbs of Texas and is currently a Creative Writing concentrator at the University of Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose and several anthologies including the Poetry Society of Texas’ student anthologies and the YoungArts anthology for 2014. She was a semi-finalist in the Presidential Scholars program, and she confesses to having attended Poetry at Round Top twice, much to her delight and bewilderment. She has previously worked with the Southwest Review and she is a member of the Philomathean Society. When not working or writing, Faith can be found sipping tea with a book or walking through the prairie with one of her four adopted mutts.

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