Thursday May 23

JillianBrall Jillian Brall received both her BA in Creative Writing in 2004 and her MFA in Poetry in 2009 from The New School, in New York, NY. She is a NYC certified Teaching Artist, currently living in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. She recently published a book of poems, Wet Information, under her press, ZoeWo Press. She is also a saxophonist and visual artist, currently focused on mixed media collage and painting. Several of her collages can be seen in the current issue of Pax Americana, as well as featured on The Best American Poetry Blog, and have been used as cover art for several electronic poetry books published by Scantily Clad Press. Prints of her collages, as well as copies of her book, Wet Information, are available for purchase.
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Jillian Brall Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand

Your love of language and its sounds—its rhythms, rhymes, and repetitions—are delightful to read. More than that, though, through the juxtaposition of all of these interesting sounds, surprising and meaningful thoughts emerge in your poetry. What comes first for you, both in composition and in importance (in terms of voice): does language lead you to thoughts and meaning, or do thoughts and meaning lead you to language? Does this distinction, or process, factor into your understanding of what poetry is?

Language is an awesome music. Distinct rhythms and intonations exist when people speak. I love the sounds of languages, and I love noises (animals, nature, industry, electronics) and music of all kinds. I've been studying saxophone since I was very young. Jazz, blues, rock, funk, classical, klezmer and other world musics were always styles I listened to a great deal and played. Later on, I started listening to a lot of Hip Hop and Rap. Both instrumental and vocal music has influenced me a great deal. Rhyme and alliteration are elements that may not occur as frequently in real life conversations as they do in my poems, but that is because I am harnessing them at that moment. But my intent when I write poems is not to merely have fun with language, but to have fun with language through saying something that is meaningful to me, and I am very conscious of not muddling my meaning beneath a pile of linguistic play. Things like alliteration, repetition and rhyme draw attention to words and phrases, and I use them for this as well as for the sheer sound of them. Sometimes words and phrases spontaneously come to my mind, and sometimes I hear them somewhere else and they strike me. They usually strike me not only because of their sound but because of what they lead my mind to consider. Certain subjects are of particular interest to me, and so I tend to use diction associated with these subjects, such as technology, machinery, biology, physics and nature. For instance, in "Stuff I Can See," I use the words sinew and sinewy. Words and sounds are simultaneously musical and meaningful to me, and this has always been a main part of my thought process. It is how I interpret and digest information. Inevitably, the type of poems I write are a result of this. Everyone processes information differently and has distinct preferences that manifest in their poetry.

Form, like sound, is a major factor in your poetry. Some of your poems, like "Days," juggle a number of formal elements, including multiple speakers; multiple sentence structures (questions, statements, exclamations, and directives); a speaker who directly addresses a reader, or readers, insisting that they "perform" an "experiment" together; song lyrics; long, breathless lists as in the first few lines of "Stuff I Can See"; and the juxtaposition of long and very short lines, to name a few. How do you understand this wide range of formal devices to be part of your voice? Do you see this as, partly, a reflection on (or of) the influence of pop culture?

I think that pop culture has certainly influenced the diction I choose to use, in terms of there being so many new words and new objects with new names created during my life. For the most part, I use my normal colloquialisms in my poetry. I make my formal decisions in order to enhance what I am writing and to engage the reader on many levels at once in experiencing the same thought and emotion I am writing about, whether that means delaying the reading of a word until the next line, or compelling the reader to read an exhausting list. The form enhances the meaning. Long, monotonous lists are long and monotonous, and I want them to feel long and monotonous. If I choose to beseech the reader with urgency, I want the reader to feel urgently beseeched (as in the first, fourth and fifth stanzas of my poem, "Days"). I want the reader to affirm my experiences with me. But I don't dislike traditional forms. Being given restraints and rules often pushes my mind to be more creative, allowing less traditional ways of expressing ideas to really bloom wildly, but not be total chaos. Having an entire field in which to plant flowers can be overwhelming. You can plant straight rows, make shapes, write words, disperse them randomly all over the field, make a pattern, create both straight lines and random configurations, the possibilities are basically endless. But if you have the same large field and are given rules such as "no more than 7 flowers in a row" and "daisies may not touch roses," etc., you must approach finding ways to express yourself creatively in an entirely different manner. I love experimenting and playing. Reading and writing a wide variety of styles has always been a great deal of fun for me.

Communication—particularly problems associated with communicating—is a theme in your poetry. Letters go unsent; people grunt rather than speak the same language; speakers wonder whether they are able to communicate with rain and flowers; men seek parties where they don't have to hide their sighs; speakers are subjected to forces demanding their (divided) attention. Can you speak to this theme, why it recurs in your poetry, and how it relates to your purpose in writing poetry?

When I write in my poems about problems communicating it is one way that I express one particular issue that is always on my mind. The issue being both the limitations and potentialities of the human brain. For example, I think about certain individuals with autism who are able to accomplish things using their brains that no other "ordinary" human brain is able to accomplish, such as perfectly producing drawings of landscapes after one brief viewing, or quickly computing very complicated mathematical equations, or learning new languages in a matter of weeks. But it is not just "problems" communicating, I also write about problems seeing and hearing and comprehending and interpreting. I think about people who are blind, deaf or both. How do they experience their world? My poem, "Stuff I Can See," is all about the eyes and the brain and what they are capable of, as well as what they are not capable of. In my poem, "If I Only," I am also commenting on the inabilities of the brain, in a very straightforward way. I also think about the brain in terms of psychosis and the chemicals that cause delusions and make a misinterpreted puzzle of a person's sense of reality. And I think about how we are not just chemicals, but decision-makers, we desire to execute free will regarding our actions and our words and our beliefs. In my poetry, I seek to discuss and examine these issues through a medium that, just like every medium, in some ways will always fall short, but which is able to get at the issues in a way that normal conversation cannot. I think this is what most poets have always sought to do – try to get at something from a unique angle and with a unique approach that enables the reader to think about or feel something about an issue differently than they normally do, and in doing this, open up the reader's sense of reality a bit wider.

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Love Song For Cells


This is not an artistic dramatization. This is not
a woman appearing as a white silhouette with red lightning
bolts assaulting her forehead in order to demonstrate a headache.
This is the actual headache. Meaning,
bodies touched
in a way that causes death.
And this is a poem about love.
I am speaking about something so teeny tiny,
a ballet non-viewable, no matter the microscope.
You can send samples to laboratories and lovers
without even knowing it, you're trapped in that envelope.
Well, sometimes you know it. While you're licking
you think about how your saliva will end up in Switzerland
on your friend's desk, with her beautiful daughter nearby.
But that is the wet stuff. You hardly ever consider the dry things.
The sloughed skin and the split end of your sun-coppered hair.
Does it bother you?
Should it?
All these people spitting all over the city streets and underground
on the subway platforms, spreading what around? Germs?
Everyone thinks about germs, but what about the non-harmful information?
What about his eyes without the contact lenses, the way they see you
like a puff of smoke lit by whatever's around.
What about his mother's extra finger? Does that information stick
to the tiles lining the walls of that station, within the mosaic of a fish?

 

 

Stuff I Can See


My eyes bounce. My eyes bounce because
my mind bounces. My divided attention.
The white and hazel and black and brown and red
and pink and blue and purple and yellow balls roll
and widen and squint and blink and raise up and turn
down and turn left and close and open and
turn right as a result of the electric action, I don't even hear
a crackle or a zap. And yet, the force:
No, don't look there, look here. No,
don't look there, look here. No, don't
look there, look here. A litany
has been created! A sordid assortment
of sinewy stuff, stuff I can see. I haven't created
a database or anything that visibly categorizes
this dilemma of divided attention. But
that muscle has been pushing itself
down on the page like the leg of a superhero,
held back by a forcefield, always invisible
(why should I see something not made of sinew?)
The autistic woman noted that when
the cow died, all that remained was meat.
"It's just meat now!" She declared.
"Where did it go?"

 

 

Days


Hurry.
The lovely part could be changing.

A fool investigates what blue is like forever.
And that is before he is dead.

The buds ask boldly:
Why the untrimmed darkness?
Is it the dry bones
unsinging, and brainteeth
going unused?

Perform this heart experiment with me.
Play my daughter's unborn rocket music
louder than you'd really like to.

Break books with me before
the green day changes
and begins shouting:
Night is a mean masterpiece!
Mean!

Where is the good party where
a man can bring his stained bones and not
hide that he is sighing tonight?

And again she said: I feel like dying.
And again she said: But it is just a feeling.

 

 

If I Only


The song says that if he had a brain he would converse with the flowers and conspire with the rain.
Well, I have a brain. And using it, I can't even tell whether or not I can do these two things.
I can't even tell.
I know a shovel can dig with the help of a hand, and a nail can get dirtier and dirtier.
And then when I want a shower, will the rain and I conspire?
I don't think it has anything to do with me at all.
Nothing at all.
First the girl says she's psychic. Then she says her breasts are psychic.
"They can tell when it's going to rain", she says. She says, "Well,
they can tell when it's raining." So let the newscasters
impersonate the comforts of braininess, the knowing,
the understanding, the being one with what is happening. Act
like you're interacting with petals and stems. Your brain
is not a song lyric, it's your computer in need
of several thousand updates.

 

 

Time Travel


She writes down a letter, he lets her unsend it. Don't send it,
just bend it, and squeeze it and feel how ripe. It's ripe with potential,
please don't be parental. Don't touch it with guidelines or rules.
Don't seal with your saliva the fool whose envelope is busting.
Don't recklessly stick your finger in there like that, you might get cut.
Even when one is very careful, paper is still a possible assailant.
That's your kind of business, getting busy with the messes you make.
Sure, yes, make messes of my tresses, get them stuck in the sink.
Sink my head in the cotton cushion river. Can't live with her, can't
post the letter to deliver. Don't deliver to the deliverers.
Don't de-liver your body, you need that thing, you know,
if you're even thinking of having a drink or two. That's the thing.
Ding a ling, hear them sing? What time is it in the city?
Sit, he did. He did it without asking. Sat down and took it out.
It? It. Out? Out.
But why pout? I've got a letter and the letter is you.
What's that? You've found a loophole?
You stamp what you wrote with a signature pixel?
We both speak the same language, no need to grunt.
What do I want? Oh, a little of this, a little of that. Grab it
the next time you time travel. Remember how? Just spray
some water into the corner over there,
and when it begins to glow, dive through.
If it doesn't work, the worst that will happen is that
your head will be wet and sore.