Jennifer H. Fortin, New School MFA alum and author of We Lack in Equipment & Control, recently spoke with current MFA student B.C. Griffith about the Slow Writing movement, images versus text, and her poetry journal, Leveler. We Lack in Equipment & Control is currently available to order on the H_NGM_N Books site.
B.C. Griffith: In interviews you’ve spoken about a Slow Writing movement, having said, “We need help, I believe, understanding that not everything we think and say needs to be documented—it’s not all precious, worth energized pursuit.” Can you speak more to Slow Writing, or what kinds of things merit documentation?
Jennifer H. Fortin: This is just beginning to gel for me. I’m absolutely no commander of what merits documentation, but I’ve developed some thoughts toward it (pertinent, at least, to my own work). Here goes:
We of the Slow Writing Movement are certainly not saying what goes down on paper needs to be polished, or even finished. We are gung-ho readers, all for tracing the development of writers’ work, their tug-o’-war struggles and victories. We advise against hoarding your writing until you think it’s beyond improvement—in your eyes, this might never be the case, and meanwhile, we just may want to get our hands on it.
We’re deeply aware of and entangled in imperfection. And imperfection in writing. But writing ought to be a difficult process; it ought to be apparatus, an installation. It should be costly, in that you’ve spent some of your allocated words and time on it. In Bulgarian, the word for time and the word for weather are the same—spend some weather, too, on your writing; bear up, note what’s going on around you, survive, and exert energy doing so. Acknowledge that exposure affects you.
In Bulgarian, the past tense is reserved, when you talk about being born, for the dead. A dead person was born in such-and-such year, whereas you are born. But that’s for another apology.
We set out on our quest to protect our attention, to resist the fast, the haphazard (unless these have been shaped or cooked after they spilled out). Keep it local. Local to yourself, your imagination; don’t rely on sensationalism to pull you through.
While allowing for accidents of attention, information (language, text, writing) needs to be wrangled and limited, including your own output. There’s some value in speaking until you eventually hit on a gem (odds), but what seeks our attention in the end needs to be that gem, not—unless you’ve quite earned it, and we yearn to see absolutely everything—the entire process.
Forgive me if these aren’t the declarations to make, but maybe they are. Yes, we’re proposing a pair of contradictory ideas at once: Studying an artist’s process is significant/restrict your harvest. This neck-and-neck against-ness is the origin of the argument’s pull.
BCG: Who are some contemporary poets whose work you find engaging and enjoyable?
JHF: You say “contemporary.” I don’t keep up with who’s new/newer/newest. I’m both discriminating (because it’s impossible to read it all) and indiscriminate. All language—printed in book form; on the screen; on the parking ticket; dimly, within an illuminated manuscript; under sedation; in the memo of understanding; in a poem; in your brain; wild, in your id—belongs to the same time, to my time. To me. It’s my pulse, honestly it feels like that.
With much satisfaction I use all text I encounter. I’m not dodging the question, but, really, the power native to the act of reading is where the pleasure lies. Everything I read improves and elaborates on everything I already have read. Despite the fact that the author is another (assuming I’m not reading my own work), at the end of the day, it’s all taking pleasure in oneself. I’m here, ready to engage with what comes next.
And isn’t text nearly always engaging? The onus is on the reader to engage with it how she sees fit, to beam her focus appropriately. The poem or article or book might not be pioneering, or make you want to join just everything visible together, or radically keep your hands by your sides all day—something like that—but you can read!, be secured by the words (secure in the words). They’re there, they mean, you have a relationship with all beings. Reading anything is the best.
This said, I do try to ask after and read what my friends are writing, and not only my poet friends, but also those who are secret poets—meaning those who say crystalline things, who discover and describe templates, their authority shining through. I can almost see excerpts, bracketed, lifted from their speech and writing, to be documented, already lovely.
To be not only included, but to be not excluded.
BCG: Your poetry shows a real tension between language that’s clear and recognizable, and grammar that often resists firm interpretation. How do you approach this tension? Do you feel your poems successfully resolve it?
JHF: I’m only trying to be precise. Don’t you find that strain is precise almost always?
No, I don’t think my poems successfully resolve that tension, which is why I continue to write them.
BCG: Your comic on the topic of MARVEL is really great. What do you feel images add to your poetry? Do you feel your illustrative style shares anything aesthetically with your writing style?
JHF: Why, thank you—it was big fun to make that thing. It seems that, since they don’t inherently mean, images supplement any other primary, primal thing. Their provocative capacity is in their silence, like the spiritual state you’re able to reach only by way of being still in the midst of stillness.
I’m not sure I have any particular illustrative style, but that of the comic may overlap somewhat with some of my writing. I’d call it anxious, homespun, nagging and nagged, grim, very celebratory in a very lonely way, liquid, hunched over something you can’t quite understand (nor can I!), ludicrous, impossible, bleak, exalted.
BCG: You do something interesting in your online magazine, LEVELER: Each poem has an “explanatory note,” called “levelheaded.” Why add this section?
JHF: That section makes unique our journal. Our editors’ note says it well:
To assure our readers we are being responsible editors and to increase the transparency of our editorial process as a whole, each poem published by LEVELER is accompanied by a brief note on our selection entitled levelheaded. Here we look at what a poem conveys and how. In no way do we claim levelheaded is a final, authoritative take on any corresponding poem. Instead, we hope to provide readers with another way into the poem, thereby encouraging closer readings, and ultimately, challenges to our findings.
BCG: You just had a new book come out, We Lack in Equipment & Control, from H_NGM_N Books. What’s new for you in the latest book? What was your impetus for writing it?
JHF: Connection via isolation, both real and imagined (the connection and the isolation). Learning how to reconcile.
The book is a product of earnestness and uneasiness. It’s a log of eagerness and immediate personal agitation. Of sleep deprivation. Back to the basics.
We Lack in Equipment & Control is Jennifer H. Fortin’s second book. Lowbrow Press published her first, Mined Muzzle Velocity, in 2011. Fortin is also the author of four chapbooks, from Dancing Girl Press, the Dusie Kollektiv, Poor Claudia, and Greying Ghost Press. With three other poets, she founded and edits LEVELER. Fortin is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bulgaria 2004-2006). She received her Poetry MFA from The New School.
BC Griffith is finishing his MFA in Poetry at The New School. His work has previously appeared in Construction Magazine , and Keep This Bag Away From Children. You can reach him at GregJGriffith@gmail.com or by visiting BetaCrow.com