Thursday, April 2, 2020

Michael Sikkema : An interview with Jennifer MacBain-Stephens

Small Press Intravues:
Occasional Interviews with writers working and publishing in the small press ecosystem

Interview #1: We caught up with Jennifer MacBain-Stephens who has published widely in the small press world and has some new exciting work recently published or soon to be coming out, including, The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows from Apocalypse Party.

How did you get started in writing?

My first memory of writing was writing my mother notes that she treated me unfairly. Then I started writing my whole life down in journals. My first joy in writing was probably in High school writing a different monologue for Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet as an assignment. Then when I was an intern at the Public Theater in New York, I wrote little zines from the intern’s perspective and passed them out to the crew. It was at this time I tried writing short stories but I never knew how to end them. When I moved to CA I joined a poetry group in Lake Arrowhead and we published our own little book. These were the first poems I had ever written and it will always be special to me. Then I got more serious about poetry moving to Iowa City and participating in an Artist’s Way group. I thought I would do more visual art, but instead, I focused on the writing. Now I am also excited to be writing song lyrics with some of my musician friends. I love the collaboration of it.

Why poetry instead of some other form?  I like it because it is short. I feel like I can say what I want to say and not go on and on about it.  This sounds terrible but sometimes when I go to fiction readings now, it’s hard for me to pay attention and sit still and I think “too many words.” Or maybe it’s just hard for me to sit still. 😊

What other form do you see your work influenced by or continuous with? Music? Magic? Science? Jouralism? Gardening?  

 I’m majorly influenced by visual art, other poets, anything gothic or sort of dark, science fiction, feminism, magical realism, and Noir.

With music one example I remember is writing a lot of poems after driving around in one of my first Iowa winters. I listened to the Stars “North,” on repeat and wrote many poems about snow, the cold, things dying, birch trees, etc.

My favorite songs are the ones where you don’t know what the singer is going to say. Like when Spoon lists off “pot holders,” “Elgin soldiers,” and “high rollers,” I can’t even live my life. Lol.

I am also very inspired by horror movies: any movie with a girl in a white dress walking around a windy hillside is my jam and I’ll write about it. I feel like Juliet Cook and Danielle Pafunda and Sarah Nichols write really well about dead girls.

I also like how one never knows what will inspire them. When I went to CO last year, I ended up writing a lot of poems about rocks. Or sometimes something will really gross you out and you have to write about it- like too many little circles in a pattern in one place is gross. Lol.

What infinitives best sum up your writing practice? To explore, to investigate, to express, to interrogate, to perform, to reveal, to layer, to obfuscate, to connect? Please choose as many as you wish and explain.

I think To Explore and To Express would be good ones- because a lot of times I am not sure why I am stuck on writing about a certain subject- and then later, people will tell me- oh this was dripping with isolation, or this was all about trying to connect with someone, and I always love those moments. So many times, it doesn’t jump out to me until much later why I chose to write about something, and I am cool with that.

But I also noticed that if I am at a poetry reading, I will read my  more literal poems like Chain Book Store, or Lisa’s Ghost Twin Sister at the Grocery Store, because people connect faster with less abstract ideas. I probably wouldn’t read my 3 page poem about that time I was wandering around a grave yard talking about granite…

What ecosystems do you see your work fitting into? That is, who are the other artists and makers and writers that your work is in relationship with?  

What a fun question. I love all of these people: Sarah Nichols, Jesse Janeshek, Chris Eck, Ashley Heffernen, Ms. Christine, Fox Frasier Foley, Sarah Lilius, E. Kristin Anderson, The authors at Stalking Horse Press, Grey Book Press, Shirt Pocket Press, surreal art, landscape photography, mountains, the woods, outerspace, putting things together that don’t seem they should go together but then they do. I’ve had fun lately writing about music and landscapes, and demons, and being on some kind of trail.

What are your current projects? What are you working on? If you’re not writing, are you busy with something else?  

My chapbook The Female Citizens of Sunshine Nation Face off with Light Sucking Demons is going to come out soon from Grey Book Press. And my chapbook Teeth have a Hardness Scale of 5 (the poems about the rocks) is also going to be published this year. I have a bunch of poems out to different places. One project that I am in the middle of are drawings I did of a greenhouse in Washington state and then I am going to put words over the top of these pictures so it will be a combination of text and image. It scares me but also excites me.

What stuff do you have out in the world, and how can people get their hands on it? Books, chapbooks, individual poems, essays, other interviews, songs, anything else?

Most of my writing is listed on this web site somewhere:

And here are some books and chapbooks:

We’re Going to Need a Higher Fence (Lit Fest Press.) Can get at amazon
The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows. (Apocalypse Party Press)
The Messenger is Already Dead (Stalking Horse Press.)
Your Best Asset is a White Lace Dress  (first full length) is available from Amazon. (Yellow Chair Press.)

R O B O T is available from BPL Press: The Birds We Piled Loosely.
Buy Alaphalena  (micro chapbook) at Rinky Dink Press.
Buy Clown Machine here  from Grey Book Press.
Read my poem from “Clown Machine” “The Contortionist has Damaged Taste Buds” here at Literary Orphans.
Here is also “Styling the Bearded Lady”  from “Clown Machine”  at Cider Press Review
The Visitant here: Shirt Pocket Press
Here are some poems from The Visitant at Menacing Hedge.
Buy my chapbook Every Her Dies hereELJ Publications
Every Her Dies is also available to read at the Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange
My chapbook Backyard Poems is available from Dancing Girl Press.
Buy Jeanne (Poems About Light, Ants and Revenge) here: Be About it Press
xx poems is available to purchase from Crisis Chronicles Press here
(“xx poems” is a micro-chap.) Nine poems for $4.99, as part of the Ninesense series.
Dixit: Every Picture Tells a Story, or, The Wrong Items is an e-chap available to read free online at  White Knuckle Press.
She Came out From Under the Bed (Poems Inspired by the Films of Guillermo del Toro) is available to order from Dancing Girl Press.

What would you tell people who are just starting to get involved with writing and publishing?

I would say work on something until you are happy with it. Usually if you are happy with it, the work will find a home somewhere. Only you have your voice. No one else has your voice. You are valuable. Follow the energy- wherever that takes you. When you are looking at a place to send your work / manuscripts, look at the web site and see if you like it. If you don’t like it that much, you probably won’t like other things they do…

What media are you enjoying lately? Music, tv, movies, art?

I’ve been listening to Grimes, Soccer Mommy, The Chromatics, Tame Impala, Phantogram, Broken Social Scene, and a mix of music that I just call “Big MF’ing Mix.” I’m going to see Built to Spill in an old barn in Iowa at the end of the summer and I’m looking forward to that – (at Codfish Hollow.)

I’m super psyched to finish the last season of the Good Place with my boyfriend and cry all over each other.

I also love watching Sabrina, the reboot, with my daughter and it has awesome feminist writing. I haven’t seen the film Parasite yet but want to.  So many things.

I also read recently that saying “No” is  the new independence, so I am trying to whittle things down to what I really want to see and do.

Michael Sikkema is the editor of Shirt Pocket Press, a small run chapbook press, as well as the author of 5 full length books of poems, mostly recently You've Got a Pretty Hellmouth, with Trembling Pillow Press. He is also the author of a couple dozen chapbooks, most recently Here on Huron, with above/ground press and Welcome to the Last Earth Show, with Where is the River.

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