Your book, “All That Shines Under The Hollywood Sign” what’s the significance of your title?

I’m a native Angeleno, the lore and the lure of Los Angeles and Hollywood is ultimately what’s shaped who I am.  I’ve always been infatuated with Hollywood and it’s rich history. This book is just my way of saying thank you.

Artwork by Scott Aicher

Part #1

Palm trees
standing gorgeous
erect and regal
they call to me
they whisper things
to each other

 

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! 

what’s the harm in
letting your toes wriggle
away from your shoes
& over the sudden edge
of a waterfall? painting
the town not in red but
in earth tones? saying no?

Why do you write about menstrual blood, clitorises, and multiple orgasms?

Because the body is beautiful, our anatomy is beautiful. I want to celebrate its power and its limitations. Because these are experiences inherent and integral to womanhood, that are yet shamed, politicized and fetishized simultaneously. How many people out there are ashamed of the way their labium is shaped? Ashamed of their size, the slope of their breast, the stretch marks on their skin? Who out there has experienced sexual trauma? Puritan repression? Molestation, assault, rape? Who’s been told that their sexual preferences or gender are unnatural? Who is unable to orgasm? Who orgasms too quickly? Who’s been told they are ugly? Who’s been told they are too sexy? So much silence and pain. How many girls are terrified to go to school because of their cycle, told their blood is gross and stinks? How many were taught that marriage would save them? Told to be more attractive but remain pure virgins? Did you know the ‘father of gynecology’ was a slave owner who experimented on black women because he believed they didn’t feel pain? A father of gynecology. Can you swallow the irony? Did you know midwives and healers were deemed witches and cast out of society? Look up the rate of this country’s infant mortality. Did you know priests are still abusing young boys in silence and circumcision is rooted in sexual oppression? Our bodies are our temples, the only thing we truly own. Why can’t I talk about my nipples the same way I talk about my feet? I fed and nourished my son with my nipples. I bled to create and birth him. How is this not poetry? I name body parts because they need a voice. I name body parts so that I might heal, so that we might heal. I believe we have all been traumatized by the structural values of the patriarchy—and language can call it out, name the thing, heal the thing. Language can destroy, yes, but it can empower, too. Language can be a lie, but it can also be true. It can shine light into the shadow. The shadow is the reason I write. To talk to demons. To excavate the inside so that I might see, understand, know the outside more clearly. Our personal and collective traumas are asking us for a throat, a tongue, a song, an utterance, something, anything. I write about menstrual blood, clitorises, and multiple orgasms because I do not choose my themes, they choose me.

Sylvia,

Aren’t we all looking for a way out of the owl’s talons?

A way not to remember

the honeybee’s sting, the shape of a boot on your back,

all the nights your breasts would leak, a child,

the sucking, the screaming.

Aren’t we all looking for a way not to remember

the poems that cry us to sleep, the little ghosts

we carry in our hands, dare we tell?

Forget the Ativan, the razor, your car in Little River.

You wrote in blood, and for your sacrifice, I thank you,

dear Poetess, dear Mother, you took care of your children

the best you could. I’ve heard the stories.

ACT 1
i’m stooping scooping
ants out of their home
where grass meets path

The Good Humor ice cream stick
catapults them into the air
to drop and scurry crazily about

i dig with a vengeance
faster and deeper
to get to the bottom of things

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

 

How do you synthesize what feels like nine lives, consolidate them into one?

Giant-sized puzzles take time to assemble, especially jigsaws with four different

I do plots. Raised in Barbie-Cinderella era, unrealistic narratives

 

skewed your sense of reality. Grateful for your upbringing, girlhood was cushioned

with advantage: stylish clothing, summer travel, pricey dinners at fancy restaurants.

As if your early story had been written in purple prose. After your father died,

 

the mouth is so ridiculous

 

it’s way too important

to me, like a hole

among all the leaves

it’s a project

to me

 

 

 

I want high blood

 

or I want the blood

to be high up there

 

 

 

imagine standing ovations

 

that span over

an entire life

look what the cat dragged in

an entire life

it can be minimalism

this is burning

 

 

 

I’ve heard

 

that there are schools

that are more neurotic

than other schools

1.
During the quarantine, we were all in the living room,
the four of us, playing a game,
an unremarkable afternoon in April,
National Poetry Month,
and a small bird flew in through the dog’s foot-wide opening
in the sliding glass door to the backyard,
and the dog, Berkeley,
sprang up and barked and ran to the dining room
where the bird was fluttering against the glass and falling—
I could hear it, it was painful—
and before we could protest enough he had killed the small
gray-feathered bird with a swift, vicious bite.

Okay, let’s start with the title of your debut collection, ‘all these urban fields’ — what are urban fields? What does this mean to you?

Hey, me! A very good question right off the bat, if I do say so myself! A friend once texted me, ‘i was on the subway & saw all of these air conditioners sprawled out on the roof of an apartment building, like this whole field, & i finally got it, i got your title!’

If that text doesn’t fully answer your question, then let’s go with this: I lived in Brooklyn — urban — for two years, and while it was a daunting experience in many ways, it was also incredibly fulfilling. That being said, I could not have lived there, could not have fully survived, I don’t think, without drawing from the experiences I had on a farm in Vermont — pastoral – and my trips to smaller towns in Massachusetts. I think, in essence, the title — and the collection as a whole — is meant to be an ode to both types of landscapes, to how well they balance one another out.

i.

interest me, in me, lost woman amongst the garden cubes.
the fire that, finally, really burned, in real time — our home
in maine drowned under the saint george river.                       yes I

tore the body

that we wanted

plucked the weeds we wetted
(the bare chests)

when the bears crawled, at night, to our bed (burned),
we made it out alive because we were not yet sleeping.

it was alright because you — gosh — held my hand

Let’s not do this. How much meat are on these bones?

I … don’t understand?

 

Where do you go from here? What’s next? Is this book thing as big a deal as you thought it would be?

Well, yes, it’s a very big deal to me, it’s everything I’ve worked for since I was a teen, for three decades, it’s . . .

She says, Mama, I feel two beats on each side of me, so I think I have two hearts. I answer, When I was a little girl I read about the earth and the way it spins. Then at night when I lay in bed beside the big window in my room, and the crickets and cicadas sung to me through the dark while the scent of honeysuckle crawled past the window’s sash, I’d have moments where I felt myself spun too, whirling very fast, as if I’d returned to that playground ride where the older kids kept running the carousel faster and faster, and eventually I whipped into the air, a little flag of blonde hair and corduroy snapping to and fro, my scream lost in the wind. I thought I was going to die. I’d recall that chaos, that lost control, later when I’d been tucked into my sheet and my hair smoothed and my mother sang goodnight. When she left the room I became the axis on which the world spun, whirling with it and growing dizzy from insect song and the scent of flowers opening in the humid dark. It is amazing what the mind draws forth. I tell her, I like your two hearts. I imagine they are birds, though I will tell you about your blood and the way it carries a word, repeated, through the pathways of your body. I want you to believe me. And yet, I want for you those summer nights, too, when you lie awake and imagine all the ways you don’t.

Photo credit: Farah Sosa, Courtesy of the California Arts Council

Why are your Poems so Dark?

I hesitate to define poems as light or dark, because I think the poem exists as it is, in its own sphere, its own space.  A poem tells its own story, and poems are supposed to tell some sort of essential truth. There is light in the world and darkness, of course. When we write from the dark space, we are simply tapping into one of the parts of the world that exists and needs a voice.  Many people who read my poems, tell me that my work has opened up a space in them that they didn’t know existed , or didn’t give permission to exist. I think in order to be fully in touch with ourselves as a writer, we need to allow all of the shades of our writing to make an entrance into the room.