Jessica Bell is one of those multi-talented Renaissance gals who seems to be able to turn her hand to anything. Musician, singer, poet, novelist, teacher, editor...Jessica visits us today to talk about her new poetry book Fabric, which I reviewed at The Compulsive Reader.
How did the collection originate?
Well, if you want me to start from the very beginning, it started when I printed up all the poems I’d written from the last year and tried to find a concurrent theme in order to put together a new collection. I realized that I had a substantial amount of poems that included a fabric of some kind … “ooh,” I thought, “that’s a pretty cool title.” Of course, a piece of fabric appearing in every poem was not meaty enough to base a collection on, so I brainstormed some symbolic links. That’s when I came up with “the fabric of society”. From then on the collection began to bloom. I wrote new pieces, tweaked old ones, and rewrote some entirely to fit the theme.
Talk to me about the process of pulling it together.
I probably write one poem a week, sometimes more, and store them in a folder under the month and year. Initially, I don’t write with a specific theme in mind, I just write whatever I’m inspired by in that particular moment. I let myself at it for about a year, so that at the end of that year I have a decent amount of pieces to consider. Only 20 out of the 60 poems I wrote in 2011 made it into Fabric. The remaining eight I wrote for the collection specifically.
Anyway, once I had the 20 poems I wanted to include, I tweaked them all to fit the theme of ethical and moral philosophy, i.e. the fabric of societyu. There are a lot of references to different fabrics in the collection, and I love that the textures and weights of these fabrics, their durability and/or fragility, also symbolize the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals that are represented.
I absolutely adore the vignette. And that’s what these poems are: slices of life. They explore specific moments in different people’s lives that are significant to whom they have become, the choices they’ve made, how they perceive the world around them, and how each and every one of their thoughts and actions contributes to the fabric of society.
What were the most challenging poems to write?
I’m not a big utilizer of form, but I certainly enjoy trying to write to specific rules now and again. I find the restriction forces my imagination into a totally different place than what I’m used to. So the formalistic poems were definitely the most challenging and, of course. they were the poems I spent the most time perfecting.
Once, which is a mirror poem. The second group of stanzas must mirror the first group of stanzas on the page, and still make sense!
We Need Women, which is an Alphabet poem. Each word must begin with each letter of the alphabet and in succession. What’s the most challenging about this is not finding the right words, but making sure the tone doesn’t sound like a kindergarten teacher!
What You Found, which is a list poem. You’d think these are easy, but try evoking an emotional response from a list and incorporating a subtext through imagery. It’s harder than you think.
Postpartum, which is a ballad. Rhyming and maintaining the correct iambic pentameter in each line is difficult. This poem was even more of a challenge because rhyming poetry has such a fun and bouncy feel to it, and I had to make sure the juxtaposition of this with the dark subject matter worked to its benefit.
Talk to me a bit about the numerology behind the book.
I’ve always been fascinated with symbolism. And I think when it is utilized in poetry it makes it all the more richer. The numerology in Fabric is not something the average reader is going to pick up, either, so that’s why I’ve talked about it in the Note From The Author in the back of the book. It’s a bit hard for me to talk about this without repeating what’s in the book, and it’s also something that readers should really only be aware of after they’ve read the poems, as I think it will offer them a whole new perspective on the work and inspire them to read it again with a fresh mind.
You use Greek words throughout the book, but this is primarily an English poetry book. Are there particular difficulties in promoting an English book in Greece, or from Greece?
To be honest, I don’t really promote my work in Greece. The only thing I promote here, is my music, as that is a universal language. I’ve also established myself fairly well with a US, UK and Australian audience through my blog, so my location doesn’t seem to make much difference to me. Thank goodness for the Internet!
What’s next? What’s the biggest, most exciting project you’re working on?
My third novel, Muted.
Muted will explore a variety of themes such as overcoming loss, coping with mental illness and disability, dealing with discrimination, loss of freedom, inhibited self-expression, motivation to succeed, escaping oppression, expression through art and music, self-sacrifice, channelling the thoughts of the deceased, and challenging moral views and values. I also plan to write a soundtrack for this one too, just like I did for String Bridge.
Here’s a rough blurb:
In Arles, France, it’s illegal to wear clothes. In some streets, it’s also illegal to sing without accompanying instruments. Concetta, a famous a cappella singer from before “the change,” breaks these laws. As punishment, her vocal chords are brutally slashed and her eardrums surgically perforated. Unable to cope living a life without song, she resolves to drown herself in the river clothed in a dress stained with performance memories. But Concetta’s suicide attempt is cut short as someone grabs her by the throat and pulls her to the surface. Is it the busking harpist, who encouraged her to feel music through vibration, acting as savior? Or a street warden on the prowl for another offender to detain?
Following is the book trailer for Fabric:
If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. And not because she currently lives in Greece, either. The Australian-native author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist has her roots firmly planted in music, and admits inspiration often stems from lyrics she’s written.
She is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and co-hosts the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek Isle of Ithaca, with Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest.
For more information about Jessica Bell, please visit:
String Bridge (a novel): www.stringbridge.com
Retreat & workshop site: www.hwrw.blogspot.com
Vine Leaves: www.vineleavesliteraryjournal.com