Jaswinder Bolina, Poet and Essayist
On September 2, 2019, I had the opportunity to interview the poet and essayist Jaswinder Bolina. Born in Chicago, he received his BA from Loyola University, his MFA from the University of Michigan, and his PhD from Ohio University. Jaswinder and I met at Antioch University’s residency where I had the pleasure of hearing him lecture. We immediately had a connection, discussing poetry from the Midwest and relating over his time spent in Ohio, my home state. Bolina is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, The 44th of July (2019), Phantom Camera (2013), and Carrier Wave (2007), and of the digital chapbook The Tallest Building in America (2014).
In this interview, Bolina shared his love for poetry, writing as a person of color, advice for MFA students, and his current work. His fun and lighthearted personality kept me intrigued and excited for his next response. Bolina’s first collection of essays, Of Color, is being released by McSweeney’s in March 2020. He currently teaches in the MFA program at the University of Miami.
Barbara Fant: When did you start engaging poetry and what made you fall in love with poetry?
Jaswinder Bolina: I was fairly young. I was drawn to writing and stories and reading, even song lyrics. I was always curious when I would hear the songs on the radio; I was curious about what the lyrics meant. That always seemed more interesting to me than the music itself. I’m a terrible dancer and I played some music, but that didn’t really come natural to me. But I always had a fascination with the way some songs and songwriters would spin a phrase, and as I got older, I started to learn that there was this whole other thing in poetry.
I think it was my freshman year of high school in English class reading Keats and Frost for the first time. I remember a strange thing that would happen in class where the teacher would ask a question and nobody would raise their hand to answer, but it would always seem kind of natural to me what was going on. My teacher would say, “Yes, that’s what he’s saying.” I don’t know why that happened, but I didn’t start writing myself until later in high school as we all do, like bad writing stuff, in notebooks. So it started fairly early, but I didn’t take it seriously until really late in college.
I took creative writing workshops in college, but I don’t think I had realized that living people still wrote poetry. I had to learn that in college. It was towards the very end that my poetry professor, the rather famous poet Dean Young, who happened to be teaching at the school I went to, asked, “Why don’t you go do an MFA?” I didn’t know what that was, and I didn’t know what kind of path would take place from there. But that is sort of the long version of a lifelong kind of interest in poetry, and then somewhere along the way, a teacher kind of pushed me, and said “Hey, why don’t you think about pursuing this a little more seriously?” And I did, not knowing anything about what I was doing. I had no idea how to publish or to get a job as a professor or any of that. I just kept going, one thing led to another, and that worked out so far, I guess.
BF: What was your goal in going to get your MFA? Was it to teach or just because you loved the art?
JB: Teaching was important to me. It was sort of a nice cover story. I could tell my parents “Hey, I’m going to graduate school and there might be a job when I’m done.” But at that time, the programs that I applied to and got into offered full funding, so it was one of those things where no one could stop me. I kept in the back of my mind that when all of this fell through and didn’t work out, I would probably be forced to go to law school or something. I had worked office jobs so I thought I would just end up doing that, but then it all kept working out. I kept applying for opportunities and it all kept coming together.
“I was drawn to writing and stories and reading, even song lyrics. I was always curious when I would hear the songs on the radio; I was curious about what the lyrics meant.”
I don’t think I knew at that time how long those odds were. If I did, I don’t think I would have done it. If I had known anything about how hard it was or rare it would be to get books published and to get jobs, I would have thought differently. But at the time, I had no idea, I just thought, “Hey, you know what, it’s two years of my life, I’m getting some funding, I get to go live in a different town, and write poetry full-time. That wouldn’t be so bad.” So, I did that for a couple years, got my MFA, and got a chance to teach and I really, really liked teaching; I enjoyed it.
Then I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep doing this. I knew I needed to have a book published and I didn’t have a book published at that time. I took a job as an editor, took a full year as an adjunct teacher in Michigan, and then I got a full job as an editor back in Chicago. Then I thought, “I don’t know how I’m really going to get into teaching. Maybe I should look at getting a PhD?” Then I did five years in Ohio at Ohio University, not far from you. That degree, I really went into with a plan, trying to get a job at a University. But when getting my MFA, I had no idea, I just wanted to write.
BF: How does your teaching influence your writing and how does your writing influence your teaching?
JB: Teaching always influences the writing, I think. It effects your work because it forces you to come up with different frameworks and different ways of thinking about the thing that you are already doing. It’s one thing to swing a baseball bat but having to explain it to somebody makes you self-conscious. “Well, what am I doing with my arms and my wrist and my foot?” You have to think about all of those things, and if you think about them long and hard enough as you’re trying to explain it to somebody else, it opens your eyes to your own work. It was so funny, I was reading a student’s poem and telling her not to do something, and there I was doing the very same exact thing I was telling her not to do. That’s the kind of feedback you get.
I also think it gives you perspective on your location in relationship to the greater art and history of the art. As you move forward in your career, you might realize that people look to you for a specific aspect of writing. If that’s the case, it might help you feel that you do know a little something about what you are doing. It gives you more confidence and at the same time, makes you humble. You realize that there are lots of people who would love to be doing what you are doing. It is somewhat of a charmed life, so you don’t want to dismiss it. You don’t want to say, “Wow, well, I just got lucky.” You want to say, “I didn’t just get lucky, I worked really hard.” You realize that there are so many students who are talented and either had the opportunities or lacked the opportunities that you received, and you feel humbled. I wasn’t really that special. Teaching keeps you grounded. It makes you appreciate where you’re at, but then also keeping you confident in that you know what you’re doing.
Then, the way my work influences my teaching. I know what I like to read, and I know what I don’t like to read. I know the particular ways that I like to write, and not everybody writes the way that I do. Not everybody focuses on humor or weird ways of looking at things. Everybody does a version of it. I like to share what I’m working on with colleagues, and it may be totally different. People may come to writing and may have only read Rumi or Dickinson, and they think they can only write a sort of earnest work or something. And then someone like me comes along and says, “No, you can write about the gas station next to your house, and you can have fun with it. And you can talk about politics and you can talk about robots, and you can really do whatever you want.” That’s the way my own writing, hopefully, has an impact on others.
BF: What were the goals or intentions that you had when publishing your last three collections?
JB: The first book was basically my MFA thesis. At that time, I don’t think I was really writing individual poems. I was thinking more abstract. I studied philosophy in undergrad and had a fascination with language and the way that language fails to accurately convey experience. There’s only so much we can say that can give someone else the sensation of what it’s like to be us. You try and you fail. The first book deals with that idea, it’s an experiment. It’s having fun with language and then understanding when language can’t do everything we want it to. After writing that book, trying to get it published, and then finally getting it published, I couldn’t send the poems anywhere because I thought, “In order to understand this poem, you have to read this poem or to have read the other four poems in the book.” They were all interconnected.
For the second book, I tried to write individual poems. I didn’t want them to be about me, I didn’t want to write confessional poems. I wanted to write persona poems using the “I” and the “we,” but these characters are not me. What that allowed me to do was play a language game. The poems that came in the second book are fictional; it’s like a work of fiction. They’re about things that never happened to me and people I never met. The voice was still earnest and sincere, but it’s a lot like the work that a fiction writer does. You have these experiences and you project them onto characters and circumstances that you’ve never experienced. I’ve got poems in the book that are from the voice of senators that are writing letters back to their mistresses. Then there was one that was a mirror to my life. There was a lot of fictionizing, but there were still poems that were closer to what was on my mind and my everyday life. I think it’s a more topical book. I don’t think any of them are any more political than the others, but I think they get called that sometimes because of the title and the topic. It includes language that we hear all the time, about the news or about Obama or Mitch McConnell. You hear all that and then think, “Why haven’t I ever seen a poem with the word ‘filibuster’ in it?” I don’t know that I’ve ever written a poem with the word “filibuster” in it, but it was that kind of mentality behind them. It was me trying to get language that no one is expecting into poetry. That’s always been my interest.
So, in my most recent book, it turned into something that was more interesting to me. I adored Barack Obama and worked on his campaign, and I was so invested and focused on politics; that was permeating the work. All of a sudden, Trump was elected, and it was funny because most of the poems were written before that happened, yet they were addressing the very things that were happening at that time. It was a weird thing. I remember when it was going to get published and I was thinking that everybody would think I wrote the book as a protest to Trump, but it wasn’t. Some poems were written after that all shook out, but I was trying to get political language and content into poems where they weren’t expected before, while still doing all that other work. I was trying to fictionalize, but also be sincere. I think I was wrestling more with being a person of color in this country, more directly. Perhaps that comes out a lot more in the third book.
BF: The third book felt like commentary to me. I am wondering, as a poet and as a person of color, do you think there is a role that poets play to speak to the current times in their work?
JB: Yes, absolutely. I think what the poet can do is make us conscious of the language we are using. When politicians give their speeches, they’re trying to depict a certain part of the past that they want you to believe in, very similar to what a writer does. What the poet, the essayist, and the writer can all do is call our attention to look at and think about something in a different way. As a writer, you can say, “I can put language together to get you to think about this subject in a way that you haven’t thought about it before.” Hopefully, if you do that well, the person never looks back and sees it quite the same way again. Sometimes writers are expressing something about [things] they want you to directly know about, sometimes they’re trying to make you uncomfortable or find some humor in some element of what’s happening in the political sphere. Poets and comedians both play this role. We’re looking for a different effect coming from a totally different place, but all working through language. The thing about a joke is that it’s got to be perfectly worded and perfectly timed, very similar to poets. Comedians have the added pressure of performing, but some poets do perform. It’s part of their world and they perform the same. If we think about why we turn to comedians during certain difficult times, tense times, or just anytime, someone may say, “Because they make us laugh.” And yes, but that’s also a poet’s job. Poets make you laugh by making you look at the world a little differently. The poet’s job is to make you laugh, maybe make you cry, and maybe give you things to consider. Again, it’s the same thing that the comedian does, it’s the same thing that the politician does. It’s like the journalist, they’re just trying to get us to look at the world a little bit differently.
BF: How do you approach the topic of race and ethnicity in your work, including your own personal narrative?
JB: I think from early on, I kind of tried to avoid it. I think that when I did my MFA, and when I did my undergraduate degree, it wasn’t something we were encouraged to talk about. We were sort of told, “Well, the poet talks about universal things, big ideas.” We were always taught that those “bigger things” were bigger than race and gender and sexuality. Everything else has to do with identity. We were kind of discouraged from writing poetry with those themes. I was a good student. I did what I was told, and even if I was having those feelings, the norm was to downplay them. I do talk about them in my personal essays. I have some essays that will be coming out in the spring called, “On Color.” All the essays, from different angles, dive into growing up here as an immigrant and someone of color. As I got older, I realized that no matter what I do to downplay this, it keeps coming back. I realized that maybe I wasn’t supposed to change things about myself to fit in, but maybe it’s the culture around me that isn’t letting me in. It doesn’t matter where you were born or your religion, there’s always someone that comes around that says, “you’re different.” That difference is often rooted in race and physical appearance. It’s sad that people still think that way, but it’s a fact that some do. I’ve tried to get to a certain stage, perspective, and experience as a writer to where it didn’t feel didactic to me or as if I was just repeating things that other people were saying.
“There’s only so much we can say that can give someone else the sensation of what it’s like to be us. You try and you fail. [Carrier Wave] deals with that idea, it’s an experiment. It’s having fun with language and then understanding when language can’t do everything we want it to.”
Functionally, we all know that racism is bad. What I ended up doing was screwing with language, words, and perspectives. I am no longer willing to make plain statements about myself and my identity and my race. In the same way that I said you don’t hear people use “filibuster” in a poem because it’s not appropriate or something, we were taught that it’s not appropriate for race to be in a poem. Well, why not? I think about it all the time; I talk about it. So why can’t it come into the poem? When it comes in, some people will say, “There he goes talking about that political stuff again.” Some people will say, “Well, there he goes, he’s talking about the same things that affect me.” I have decided that I would rather be engaging that audience and having empathy. That might be some of the progression. But it’s still something that I wrestle with. I still think it’s important to talk about it and put it out there. You do it, you put it out there, and you hope that it reaches somebody.
BF: This makes me think about poets of color who sometimes feel the pressure to speak on behalf of their entire community. Have you experienced this? If so, how do poets of color handle the expectation/pressure to speak on behalf of their entire race, especially in predominantly all-white communities?
JB: You only hear that among predominantly white audiences. Among audiences of color, I feel nervous because I think, “Everybody here has their own version of this and they know better. They’ve read more than me or experienced greater hardships.” In that context, I don’t feel that I’m speaking for anybody else, I’d rather listen. I struggled with even calling the essay book, On Color because I don’t want anyone to think I’m grabbing this mantel and claiming it for myself; it’s just a theory and thoughts about color. The fact is that I am just one of many people, one of a majority on the planet. But sure, among predominantly white audiences, there is this feeling. But I don’t think that people think of me as someone to speak for an entire community. I just kind of avoided that. But yes, I guess on a small scale, in that context they don’t mind it that much. They don’t know the difference between someone from this region or someone from Pakistan and they can’t tell the difference between that and someone Middle eastern or Latin American. There’s such little awareness out there that in those cases, I don’t mind representing a group or a community, but, as opposed to speaking for the community, I am speaking from it. I think I know what you’re saying. It feels uncomfortable to be put in that position. So maybe that’s been a good way for me to articulate that. Even if it is to say, I don’t speak “for” anybody, but I can speak “from” a place.
BF: In an article I read, you discussed that as writers we need to be aware of and destruct the culture of privilege that insulates us. I am wondering, as writers, how do you suggest we do this?
JB: Some of this speaks to people who make decisions about people who come into MFA programs. We can speak from the inside to say, “Look, do we really need application fees? Do we really need to spend all these resources on GRE scores, or can we just let people in from unconventional places?” There’s also a way that we cultivate. When you want to be a poet, there’s a culture, language, etc. attached to it, and that is associated with people who have money and people who are with a particular race and strata. One way that you just destruct that is by showing up and not being from that place. Another is, not letting yourself get indoctrinated into it, so that you don’t become another cheese-eating, wine-drinking person who likes to hobnob and talk about literature. Don’t forget who else is out there. You get to sit in your graduate classroom or wherever you’re sitting in comfort, your stuff is not better, your life and your perspective on it is not better than that of someone who doesn’t have the time or access or, frankly, the privilege to sit around writing poems about it. So, when I go to write, I try to keep that experience in mind. You can’t always represent this, but you try to remember it.
On a daily, practical level, for me, in my position, it’s about making sure that students who come through my class are not thinking that this is something that I should or could or would be doing. At least, give it a longer look. Some of those folks can’t. They have to get jobs, they have to take care of family, and they have to go other places. But you know, those are the experiences that I want to see writing poetry. Not just the standard person who, “I went to this school or this school and I want to be a poetry professor, and I want to go to this degree program,” and everything just sort of falls into place. I don’t have a full answer on it. In part, I’ve just always been cognizant of it. I remind myself and my students in my classroom that “Hey, we get to be here. And not some place else.” We don’t have to apologize constantly. It’s not that I or anyone should live as, “Boy, I got into graduate school, I sure do suck because I’m privileged.” I’ve seen students who have so much guilt about the things that they have going for them. I’ve had waves of things like that happen to me too, but you don’t have to give up all of your possessions and go walk the earth to help other people. I think you can just stay where you are as long as you don’t forget those other people. I think that’s one of the things that essay was touching on. How beguiling it is and how easy it is to get your MFA and forget everything else. We get so fixated on this world.
There are others who I feel are in this world and come from that place, use it in their writing, and then try to win prizes and get this fellowship or that recognition just to get on Twitter make themselves known. It’s to always kind of be aware of the ego. You’re here, but it’s not about you. Enjoy where you are, but remember that you are lucky, so do what you can to help everybody else. Sometimes it’s not taking the paycheck you get and going out and buying the best iPhone and the finest clothes, but instead, spending the money somewhere else to help people. You only are going to do that if you remember those people are out there. That essay really touches on how easy it is to forget the rest of that world out there and I don’t want us to do that.
BF: As writers who are going into MFA programs or are currently in MFA programs, what kind of advice would you give them?
JB: I tell students who I’ve worked with from the very beginning to remember that we’re lucky to be here. Let yourselves be in the MFA program, let yourself enjoy that experience, be grateful for it, don’t have any survivors guilt about it. Don’t think, “Man, I’m here while there are people starving out there.” It’s okay to be here, so give yourself that time and space to be able to think about your writing and to really enjoy it and love it. It requires you to be generous to yourself. You can be generous to yourself and you can be generous to those around you. I always try to remind everybody that what we’re doing is not the center of the world. You should enjoy it, make the most of it, but don’t mistake it for something else, it’s not your calling. Don’t think this is a world-altering thing that you’re doing. You may alter the world by what you write, but don’t make that your world. Keep yourself focused. There’s so much criticism out there in the world, in the world of Twitter and Facebook, and everybody feels the need to comment, complain, or compete. The one thing that I’m trying to focus on this year and moving forward is the poetry that I love and asking everybody around me about the poetry they love. Have conversations with them, allowing them to enjoy talking about what they love, and you’ll come to love that too.
If you are generous enough to treat yourselves and each other that way, then I think, no matter what comes after, whether you become a famous poet or get a job, or you don’t, at least you’ve brought more things into your mind that weren’t there previously. If you are being competitive and saying, “I’m going to make it, I’m going to get published there and there,” then everybody else around you becomes an adversary. They become someone who is standing in your way. You will be critical of them and say, “Well, that person’s work sucks, that person’s advice is terrible, and I don’t like this professor of this class,” and you’ll be negative. If you focus on what you love, share that with other people, and ask them to share that with you, it becomes okay. You’ll end up doing your time in an MFA program, and hopefully, you will have learned a lot, had some really cool conversations, and whatever comes of this, let that come.
BF: Can you offer any advice to the MFA students who are either trying to get published, submitting for the first time, or want to become better at submitting?
JB: I think there are almost too many tools that are at disposal. I worry that I don’t have enough time in my day to read the hundreds of literary materials that are published. I just don’t have time. Nobody does. Yet, sometimes when I talk to people, they say, “Oh, I submitted this poem to like thirty different magazines,” and then I ask, “Are you reading those thirty different magazines?” I think the answer is often, “No.” It’s really, “Oh, I saw a list of journals on Facebook that I should be submitting to, so I started sending to them.” “Well, how many years have you been reading that journal?” “Oh, I’ve never read that journal.” It’s not the same thing, but it’s similar, “Focus on what you love.” Read the journals and read the books that are coming in. If you’re reading a book by someone, find the books that have the same publisher. Ask yourself, “Do I like all of the books that were published by this publisher?” Read all of them and then if you say, “Man, I really love what this journal puts out, month after month or year after year, that’s the journal I want to be in.” I’d be willing to bet there would be a lot more success getting published with that journal because you’ll have read it, you’ll have more perspective on your work, you’ll start writing differently, and you’ll start refining and revising differently. Eventually, you’ll find that your work reads better in certain places. From there, you can start to grow a readership.
When I was beginning, it was all so new. It was actually looked down upon to get an online publication. You wanted to be in print. I remember having a poem published through an online journal that I really liked. I submitted to them and they said, “We really like what you are doing, but if you wouldn’t mind, we would like to publish one of these on our website.” I told them that I was okay with it, but I was a little disappointed. The issue is probably archived somewhere, but that poem that was published on the internet is going to live forever, and it has had its moments of viral sharing.
“You don’t have to give up all of your possessions and go walk the earth to help other people. I think you can just stay where you are as long as you don’t forget those other people.”
It’s interesting how things have changed. Back then, you definitely had to read the journals to whom you were sending your work. You also couldn’t afford to subscribe to all of them, so you would have to go to the library or to your MFA program to a room where they would receive all the issues and put them on a table. When I was at Michigan, we would go into the room and pick up one of the copies and read it, but you had to know it, you would have kind of a reverence for it. There was something sacred about sending to a place. If you were accepted, it was exciting. Now it feels as if people are just looking to just take off and get something published and then move on to the next thing. I think it’s okay that people are getting published, I just get worried that they aren’t reading anyone else who is getting published. That’s one thing I would caution people on. If you’re submitting to forty places, look in the mirror and be honest about if you’re reading those places. If you can’t, then you should be. Going back to the question about “privilege,” imagine you’re at a place where you’re so fixed into your own work that you’re not even reading the journals where you’re trying to get published, and then you get into an MFA program. If you’re already not reading journals, then you’re not going to want to read your classmates’ work either. If you do read it, you’re going to read it kind of competitively.
BF: If you could change anything in your educational experience or your literary journey, would you change anything?
JB: On the education side, probably not. I didn’t have scholarships to go to Harvard or anything like that. But if I hadn’t gone to Loyola in Chicago, then I would’ve never met Dean Young, who was teaching at the time. Had I not met Dean Young, I probably would’ve continued doing what I was doing and I never would have gotten to where I am. It’s one of those old Hollywood movie tropes where there are mirrors or sliding doors; if one thing ends up different, then you end up in a different place. So, I wouldn’t change anything in my educational history because I’m really happy about who I am and what I’m doing. I think if I were miserable, I might feel different. Honestly, I think that’s how most of us look back on our lives. That’s how we got to where we are. Why would we change anything? I think part of that is not being competitive with the people around you too. It’s not saying, “Man, I’m driving this car, but I could be driving this car.” Or “I could be living in that house, or in that house.” You start to think that way and then you think, “Oh, I should’ve gone to that other school or I should’ve gotten that other job.” Then it gets really dark. I think one of the best things is when you can appreciate where you are and find joy in where you are, then you can find joy in where you were. I think that’s what has gotten us here.
In terms of literary, I wish that I had read more. I majored in philosophy and read a lot, but there’s so much that I just don’t know much about. I still have things that I read later, like Little House on the Prairie. There are things like that up until a few years ago I hadn’t read, like I hadn’t read any James Baldwin. I wasn’t in classes where that was taught to me so, I’ve been trying. We just had a baby, so I’ve been trying to read. My wife awhile ago would tell me about books that she loved to read, and it’s so funny, growing up, I just had never read this book or that book because we weren’t girls, so we were discouraged to read them. So, I’m trying to go back and read some of those books. I went back and read Little Women a few summers ago. I feel like I should read one Babysitter’s Club book, just to find out what the heck that was that some of the girls were reading at school. Those are goofy examples, but they make the greater point that no matter how much you have read, there is always a vast library of work that you have completely missed. And that’s just in this country alone.
So, I constantly feel bad about things I’ve never read, and that might not ever go away. That’s a feeling that is always with me. I’ll like read an article or hear students talk, and I’ll think, “I still have not read that, I don’t know anything about that.” I wouldn’t change anything in my education other than I would change everything I’ve ever read. Or I would’ve just read and included more. I know many people who are amazing readers, but they don’t write. That’s the other thing, when you’re a writer on top of a reader. If there’s something I get excited about, then I want to go write. I don’t have as much time to read as other people do, so I’m making up lost ground. Like getting through the Baldwin catalog, which is quite huge, and reading about Latin American writers, and authors in Europe that I don’t know about. So that work is never done.
“I think one of the best things is when you can appreciate where you are and find joy in where you are, then you can find joy in where you were. I think that’s what has gotten us here.”
BF: What is your dream for your own work? What do you hope it does in the world?
JB: I don’t really know. I have just gotten to the point where I can write the things that I am excited about writing. I don’t really feel a lot of pressure about what I publish. I can write the things that I love. Following from that, the dream is just for someone else to find it great and exciting. If they don’t, then frankly, that’s okay, but nobody is required to like the things that I produce. You hope that people do. You hope that on the backend, it might help them look at some small or big thing a little bit differently. I think about all the writing in my life that helps me look at something differently. There was a poet that I loved who died recently, we talked about it at Antioch at the Meet the Mentors panel, his book that I just loved was called Actual Air. He was a songwriter too and had amazing lyrics. I think about how much those individual lines between us still effect the way that I look at things. The line that was in my head this morning was from a song a guy wrote where he asked his dad for a car and then the dad said, “Well, first, you gotta cut that hair.” The kid says, “Yeah, but Jesus had long hair.” The dad then says, “Yes, that’s right son, and Jesus walked everywhere.” And for whatever reason, that line was in my head. Probably because it’s almost my son’s first birthday, and it’s actually my birthday today. I was thinking about fathers and sons and sons growing up and asking for things. For whatever reason, that popped into my head. I think about that writer, whom I never got to meet. We corresponded a little here and there, and I loved his work. He’s long gone, but he will in some way be in the back of my mind forever. Somewhat like my relationship with my own son for years to come. I think great writing does that. It just sticks in you somewhere. If I have any hope, it’s to have my lines stick to someone in a positive way. That’s how I feel about poems I love, they’re always there to help. There always stuck in my head and they help. That’s what I can hope for my work.
BF: What are you working on right now?
JB: The book of essays. I’m trying to finish my very final essay. That will be out next year. I’m also working on a collection of poems, (I’m not sure if this will hold for the entire manuscript), but so far, they’re all elegies. They’re all elegies in weird ways. It’s me trying to remember things that I would like to be taken out of the world, but then also remembering things that I have missed about the world. It was all born of this. My wife, because of her job, had to go to Italy. She goes to Rome once a year to teach for our study abroad program. I went with her on one of these trips about a year and a half ago when she was pregnant because I was worried about her possible pregnancy complications. It happened over our spring break, so I got to go. Obviously, it’s Rome, why wouldn’t it be cool? We were at a very famous tomb, and there’s a quote there by an emperor that they have translated into English. It says something like, “Now it is time for the soul, the little companion, and guest of the body to go down into the little colorless arduous places where we will no longer have the usual entertainment.” And I thought, what a weird phrase. This whole concept that in his tomb, is a poem that he wrote, talking about his own soul and how his soul was this little companion of the body, and now it had to go down into some dark colorless place. I thought it was a weird perspective. From that, I started to think about the idea of “usual entertainment.” What is it that the soul would miss about the world? It was a funny thing and suddenly, it began generating little elegies that don’t necessarily make sense. So, they’re fun, they’re fun elegies. We’ll see what comes of it.
Barbara Fant has been writing and performing for thirteen years. She has represented Columbus, OH, in nine National Poetry Slam competitions and placed eighth out of ninety-six poets in the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is a 2014 graduate of the Lincoln Theatre Incubation program, a TEDx speaker, a GCAC Columbus Makes Art Campaign artist, and a 2017 Columbus Alive People to Watch. She is the author of one poetry collection, several chapbooks, and the co-author of two stage productions. She has been commissioned by over ten national organizations and has received residencies in Idyllwild, CA, and Havana, Cuba. She holds a BA in literature, a Masters in theological studies, and is currently pursuing an MFA in poetry. The founder of Bloom Barb Fant, LLC, she teaches poetry at Transit Arts and in correctional institutions. Barbara believes in the transformative power of art and considers poetry her ministry. Find her at www.barbarafant.com.