Behind the Words: Alyssa Jewell

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Alyssa Jewell

Alyssa Jewell was  published in the eighth issue of Spry and was kind enough to take some time to talk with another member of the Spry family, Donna Vorreyer, who was published in the third issue, about her poem The Stranger, the Sojourner Passes By. Here is their interview.

Donna Vorreyer: One of my initial responses to the poem was how its references to visual acuity (or lack of it) parallel the ways that a stranger in a place is simultaneously focused and blurry –trying to hone in on the details of a new place but standing out as not being a part of the usual landscape. Was this a consideration in your choices?

Alyssa Jewell: I think this interpretation of the poem is fair. I don’t know that I had those exact thoughts in mind when I wrote the poem, but I’m sure those associations were present in my consciousness somewhere. I’m always interested in travel poems and writing about how people engage or disengage with new environments.

Why do you think the astronomer & space figure so prominently in the poem? It that the one space where we would all be strangers?

Space, for some reason, shows up a lot in my first collection of poems. I find cosmic imagery and scientific discoveries about outer space fascinating, and these interests became a bit of an obsession in my poetry for a while. I had actually seen Saturn from a telescope during an astronomy festival in Bryce Canyon, and I was struck by its almost cartoon-like, flat appearance. While it did not measure up to the close-up images of the planet I had in my mind, it was still amazing to see that tiny figure, just barely discernible as Saturn. My vision through the telescope versus my perception of Saturn seemed to fit with my other feelings and thoughts running throughout the poem. I was so glad to be able to include that incredible experience in my writing in a way that just seemed to fall into place.

As the narrative elements in this poem fell into place here, there were choices to be made about which pronouns you would use in the poem. In the fifth line, (Tomorrow you won’t remember any of this...) the poem introduces a you which comes back again toward the end. (There is also a “we.”) Are these pronouns meant to be universal? Or are they referencing a specific you? There seems to be evidence for both from a reader’s perspective, and the two ways of reading change the poem considerably. I love that it reads in different ways, but wonder if you share your intent or if you’d prefer to let the reader make a choice.

The “you” and the “we” pronouns are more universal, for me, while the “I” is personal, though I am open to interpretations. The title is a general reference to anyone who is a stranger or a sojourner passing by someone’s line of vision. This poem came out of a conversation I was having with a longtime friend who is studying cognitive science. She mentioned that our brains naturally filter out information about our surroundings without us being aware of this process. If our consciousnesses were to take in everything around us at all times, we would be overwhelmed and could not function. I was also thinking about ways and times that we knowingly look the other way and the relationship between both processes.

Sound seems important to you throughout this poem. I especially love the lines – the hard vowels of “fat planet” and “junk spin” juxtaposed with all the soft c and s sounds.

“Tonight, you couldn’t see

the fat planet churning in all its brilliance,

in all its loneliness

of moon junk spin and dusky glow…”

Is sound a major component in your work? And does it factor heavily into your revision process?

I think sound and musicality of language is something I’m always considering carefully, but in the drafting process I just write whatever comes to mind at first. Sometimes repeated sounds show up on the page because those associations have naturally taken place while writing. I do think use of sound is a great way to create small surprises for the reader and helps the mind to stay focused. Sound can propel a reader through a poem.

I feel as if the ending is a lovely turn that makes me reconsider everything else I’ve read previously. In a poem that seems to rely heavily on science, the turn to the religious/spiritual at the end is surprising and tender. Could you perhaps shed some light on this choice?

The ending surprised me as well, which is probably a good sign when writing a poem. (I always think of Frost’s famous advice: “No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”) While working through this poem, I heard another person reference that Biblical moment, and it just seemed to fit in its own way. Since I was thinking about all the ways that our vision and consciousness can be clouded and/ or restored in this poem, adding an element of spirituality seemed natural. It’s also such a strange and tender story that I thought it should be referenced in a poem.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013), as well as eight chapbooks: The Girl (2017,Porkbelly Press), Tinder, Smolder, Bones and Snow (2016, dancing girl press), Encantado, Illustrated by Matt Kish (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015), We Build Houses of Our Bodies (dancing girl press, 2013), The Imagined Life of A Pioneer Wife (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013), Ordering the Hours (Maverick Duck Press, 2012), Come Out, Virginia (Naked Mannequin Press, 2011), and Womb/Seed/Fruit (Finishing Line Press, 2010).

She currently serves as reviews editor for the journal Stirring: A Literary Collection. Her poetry, fiction, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Sugar House Review, Rhino, Oyez Review, Sou’wester, The Labletter, Stirring, Menacing Hedge, and Hobart, and anthologies such as A Face to Meet the Faces (2013) and New Poetry from the Midwest (2015). Although she does not have an MFA, she gets an education daily in her life as a middle school English teacher.