Each week we will be connecting with our contributors showing where they have been, where they are now, and what’s up for the future.
Name: Jen Town
Title of Piece published in Sweet: Ghost Theories and Diorama Turned to Ashes
Jen resides in Columbus, Ohio. She can be found either at her house in German Village or in a coffee shop. You can find out more about her at www.jentown.com.
What are some major accomplishments you have had since your Sweet publication?
My first book, The Light of What Comes After, won the 2017 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize from Bauhan Publishing, and was published in April 2018. Since then I’ve done some readings, including at Penn State Behrend and the Columbus College of Art and Design.
Can you tell us about a current/ongoing project that you’re excited about?
I’m working on two book projects. One is a collection of mostly ekphrastic poems, called Paper Girl. The other, The Futurist, features poems with robots, dinosaurs, octopuses, bivalves, and ghosts. I’m also writing book reviews for the online review site, The Bind.
Who is your favorite author?
I don’t think I have one. Should I? I like so many and it changes frequently. I went to a reading by Elizabeth Strout. I’d already read a few of her books, and now I have a goal to read all of them. I like Jorie Graham, I like Diane Seuss, I like Kathy Fagan, I like Jamaal May, I like Lo Kwa Mei-en. I read Larry Levis, Richard Hugo, Rilke in undergraduate and they are still incredibly important to me. I reread Levis when I feel stuck, and I just reread Hugo’s A Triggering Town. I like Gabrielle Calvocoressi. George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo made me cry. Willie Lincoln dies! It’s not even a spoiler–we all know he dies. But it was so well written and his portrayal of both Lincoln and Willie was so poignant; it was 11 PM at night, I’m reading in bed, and my wife comes in to find me sobbing.
What is your favorite poem/essay/book?
For a while I would have said Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s Hemingway’s memoir
on his time in Paris in the twenties, his marriage to his first wife, Hadley. All the characters are there: F. Scott and Zelda, Gertrude Stein, Picasso. It’s about that period of excess sandwiched between the despair of WWI and then the Great Depression and then WWII. Stars burn brightest before they die. It’s also just…Hemingway is so clearly creating this narrative of himself and it’s pretty dramatic stuff. “Hunger is good discipline,” he said. But also there’s lots of white wine and oysters and trips to go skiing. It’s also about being young, like The Great Gatsby. So it’s about youth, and wine, and hunger, and nostalgia, and learning to write those Hemingway sentences. It’s great stuff, if you’re into all that. I’ve been telling everyone I can about Black Hole Blues by Janna Levin, which is about LIGO and the journey to detect gravitational waves. It’s about the science, but also about the personalities of the scientists who worked on LIGO and how science like this gets done. Levin is an astrophysicist, but also a good writer. It was an engrossing book. I’m still not over reading Just Kids by Patti Smith and also M Train. She’s always sitting in cafes writing things out long hand in pencil, wearing a watchcap (what the rest of us would call a beanie), and eating brown toast. In M Train, there’s a chapter where Smith describes the objects in the room around her and her space is still so Bohemian New York in the Seventies, it’s wonderful. As Liz Lemon said in 30 Rock, “I want to go to there”.
What inspires you to write?
Reading inspires me, of course. Also, animals inspire me, and news articles about science, and strange happenings–like how in the very cold winter they had in 2017 in Florida, iguanas were falling from the trees. But they weren’t dead–they were frozen. And when the sun came out, they warmed up and walked off. I want to learn new things that change how I see the world. I listen to a lot of podcasts, including Every Little Thing, Cosmic Vertigo, Philosophize This, and Radiolab. I’m interested in etymology and really like the NPR podcast, That’s What They Say. Also history, famous women in history, fashion history, the Roaring Twenties, Henry the VIII and his many wives….I’m practicing a kind of research decadence right now.
What is your favorite sweet?
I’m glad you asked because this gives me the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about one of my non-writing passions, The Great British Bake Off (GBBO). Particularly series 5.
My wife and I started watching GBBO about a year and a half ago, and my wife took up baking in earnest around that time. The show itself is this safe space from the world, which is so full of noise and terrible news. In the GBBO tent, people are from different parts of Great Britain, they have different customs and accents, but they all come together to create the best bakes, to avoid soggy bottoms and whip their egg whites into glossy, stiff peaks, to engage in friendly competition with no cash money in the end. Meanwhile Mel and Sue, the hosts, wield not whisks but puns, and Mary Berry’s eyes light up at bakes with a bit of “tipple” in them, and Paul Hollywood’s piercing blue eyes and–like some British bread-baking Hemingway–peacocking puffery serves as the counterpoint to Mary’s gentle criticism and floral blazers. And I haven’t even mentioned the amateur bakers themselves, how each has an endearing personal story and families that loves them and shed tears of joy at their progress.
As part of Carrie’s baking frenzy, inspired by this television confection, she made Toasted Cashew and Marzipan Brownies. We’d (I say “we” but I do the dishes and offer unsolicited advice when I shouldn’t and show up conveniently at the end to lick a spoon) never baked with marzipan and had a little trouble finding it. Luckily, we live in a German neighborhood and Juergen’s Bakery had some. It’s worth seeking out, trust me. These blondies are decadent and you can eat a small bit and be sated. Or you can eat a large bit in some kind of Marie Antoinette, Sofia Coppola-like sugar orgy. It’s up to you.
Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to reconnect with us. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!