September 03, 2020
I know Sophie Jennis from the internet. The internet is also where I first read her poems. That’s relevant because Sophie’s work, particularly the poems in her debut full length Hot Young Stars (House of Vlad), engages with what it is like to be online. I don’t mean that these poems recycle the language of the internet, or the general “mood,” but that they are fractured and spontaneous; elusive and aphoristic. Sophie often writes about the body, but this is a body made unreal with language. A body made of voice, obscured, filtered. We conducted this interview over a few hours in July via email. My body was in Syracuse, NY. Sophie was in the same state, further south.
Sophie Jennis is a poet from the Hudson Valley of New York. Her writing has appeared at NY Tyrant and Hobart, among other places. Her poetry chapbook, Find Peace Either Way, was published by Blush in 2019. Hot Young Stars is available now, get it here.
What was your process writing these poems/where was your starting point? How did the book end up in the shape it’s in?
The first poem I wrote with the intention of starting a full-length collection is also the first poem in the book. I wanted to show the process of what developed naturally based off of the tone it set for me. Before I wrote that poem I had the intention of wanting to make a really fun book, especially to contrast my chapbook, which is a bit serious both in its tone and content. The process of writing these poems was pretty random, mostly written on the notes app in various settings; otherwise it involved staring at a Google doc in the hopes of writing four or five at a time. I write really fast, one reason being that the poems are so short, and also because my style is to not think at all before I write. That has brought me the most success in terms of the poems being genuine and spirited (I did this also for my chapbook), and the only thing that feels natural to me.
Given that none of the poems are titled, do you want people to read Hot Young Stars as a sort of long poem?
I actually don’t intend for it to be read as one long poem, but I can certainly see how it might come across that way. I like keeping each idea separate, but however anyone wants to approach its format is cool with me!
It seems like you sort of have three main modes/types of poems in the book. There’s the, for lack of better term, prose-poem-y ones. That’s most of them. But there’s also the one liners and the ones that seem maybe like found language pieces, like the one that starts, “9. What disorders and/or symptoms include the following differential disorders?” What was your approach to balancing them?
My approach to balancing the three types of poems was somewhat natural and somewhat intentional. I write prose-y poems the most, so it was easy for that type to be represented the most and was definitely the way I wanted it to be.
Is “who is the speaker” something you think about? I know you name yourself in a couple poems.
I’ve thought about how, when reading and analyzing poetry, one considers the speaker, but I’ve always had a hard time not viewing the speaker as the poet. I do feel a degree of detachment from my personal voice in some of my poems, but I’ve never explicitly considered another character outside of myself. Not every prose-y poem in the book represents my dominant personality, voice, identity, but it’s always coming from “me.”
To be honest I always find poems were the poet is like “actually this is written in the voice of Joanne of Arc” or something like that a little silly. But the speaker(s) do feel of a whole. There’s common obsessions. What do you think you’re obsessed with? Both in these poems and in general.
I’m obsessed with the chase and elation of enjoying food, seeing and being in spaces that are not cluttered, beautiful women, spiritual theories and practices, Twitter, maintaining a perfect hairdo at all times, and beautiful clothing.
Why are you obsessed with Twitter? Twitter so often feels like hell. But also you are always observing other people on twitter, and always being observed, which feels fitting.
I should clarify that lately I’ve been struggling with the amount of news available on Twitter that I do not consent to viewing other than in my decision to go on Twitter in the first place. I’ve developed such a sweet, supportive community both of writers and also girls around my age who join together to talk about cute girl stuff. So I love hopping on to feel connected to my ~internet friends~. I also follow about 4 or 5 people who regularly post the most hilarious content that makes me feel a little special to be “in” on the jokes it because the stuff can be soo specific and odd.
Who do you think posts the funniest content?
omg, @Jessi_Rihanna ..
What have you been reading lately that you really like and/or what were you reading while you were working on the book?
When it comes to poetry in particular, I have a hard time reading full length collections because I tend to get super excited more about specific poems across many writers than one big bulk from one person. Even just single lines I’ll go crazy about. Definitely have had that experience with Chelsey Minnis. One poet who has been influential for me is Jillian Mukavetz, but when you google her it’s hard to find much content at all! So here is one link to her writing- it’s definitely similar to my style, but she gets a bit more ‘out there’ than I do. http://www.coconutpoetry.org/mukavetz19 . I recently bought a big book all about shame (how and why it manifests, transcending it), but about half-way through I was like, this is overwhelming, I’m over shame, I’m good.
Shame is actually a really good transition. I feel like it’s at the center of a lot of Jewish literature (particularly male Jewish literature, to be fair), but there’s nothing shameful about Hot Young Stars. It does however seem like, at least to me, a Jew, an extremely Jewish book in a way I can’t totally put my finger on. What are your feelings about being a Jewish writer?
That’s so interesting to hear! I feel like the stereotype about Jews, especially within the context of male writers, is a sort of neurotic sexual obsession… Maybe that’s it… This might be an unfortunate or a neutral statement, but I don’t feel much about the idea of being a Jewish writer other than I’m happy that I’m Jewish. I’m not too connected to my faith but since I grew up Being Jewish it definitely feels like a part of my identity. I think I definitely do feel a connection to other Jewish writers’ work. Not to be corny, but I’m very proud that we have Curb Your Enthusiasm.
I feel like that’s a very (American) Jewish position—not deeply tied to the faith, but a part of this nebulous culture/pride…What is the spiritual practice you are more invested in? And how does that inform your poetry?
I think a spiritual practice that is most important to me is following my intuition, strengthened by meditation. Meditation itself isn’t my favorite thing to do, and I don’t always receive intuitive guidance during it, but I believe it opens up a channel outside of our automatic thoughts/actions for us to connect with our inner knowing and guidance. The nudges we get can be so easy to overlook. One reason I find this practice so cool and impactful is because one of my favorite spiritual teachers described how she followed a nudge to go on a walk and met someone who offered her a job that started her hugely successful business. Even following the call toward smaller decisions that end up improving our well-being. I got a random nudge to send someone a message and he became my partner. I start all of my poems with intuitive nudges. It’s empowering to know we have a wealth of guidance within us, and that is what I hope everyone can come to know in this lifetime.