A Conversation with Jen Rouse

Congratulations on Riding with Anne Sexton! How has Anne Sexton influenced this collection and yourself as a poet?

JR: Thank you so much, Lauren! This collection is some of my most important work and very close to my heart. I started reading Anne Sexton as an angsty teen, and, when I really began to study her work and realize her importance to the writing of women and confessional poets, especially, I was hooked. Anne Sexton is a kind of problematic figure, of course, and my new book really takes on the complexity of what it means to write poetry in a fictional conversation with someone who is somewhat mythical, grand—in both positive and negative ways. Of course, all the poems are also reflections of self and my own struggles and successes in this life—but what book of poetry isn’t?! Lol. My sincere thanks to Bone and Ink Press and dancing girl press for supporting this work!

Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?

JR: I believe very much in the power of relationships between women. Those relationships have been most influential in my work. And Headmistress Press is really responsible for my most recent success in this field. HP made me feel important, wanted, and necessary in this community of writers. I’m deeply indebted.

Riding with Anne Sexton is your second collection of poetry and with that comes greater experience and knowledge of the publishing industry. What advice would you offer writers who are yet to be published that you wish you had known when you began your journey?

JR: I’m not entirely certain there is any good advice to be given, as we all experience such different and uncertain paths through this life. I do believe that if you really love writing, if you believe in the process, if you can’t live without it—you won’t. You will find ways to always be a writer. Whatever happens during that time is a gift. It won’t always feel like a gift. But knowing that there is something uniquely yours in this life is pretty special. Finding a community you trust to write with can be important. When you do start to publish, work with people who are good to you and want to support and lift you up. And return those favors when you can. Sometimes people will disappoint you along the way. Sometimes you will disappoint yourself. We are complicated creatures. Be brave. And ask for what you need.

What is your creative process?

JR: Oh. Anger. Ha. Actually, my brain loves to trick me into writing. It also loves to trick me into deep unyielding episodes of depression. I write a great deal when I am in a more hypomanic phase—and that is usually fueled by a lot of anger and sadness. I’m grateful for good friends who stick by me during these times. Because I am also the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College, mom to a 13 year old, all the things—ya know?—I write a great deal in my head before it ever hits the page. So I don’t revise a great deal anymore. Though, I’m also interested in critique, and I do listen and sometimes make changes. But maybe fewer changes than I did when I was younger. I’m also a true lifelong learner. I love to dip my toe into something that interests me, turn it into a research project, and write creative pieces from there.

As well as being a poet and playwright you are also a visual artist. How does your writing inform your art and vice versa?

JR: Sometimes I combine visual and written work. In one of my plays—Conjure—a great deal of the writing is about the work of an artist, so many of my digital pieces have been used interactively in the play. Painting and drawing are also important to the language of my poetry. My work is image rich, and a lot of that language comes from starting out my early life thinking I might become a visual artist one day, all those years studying and loving art. I also think best when I’m using my hands. Whether I write, paint, cook, or whatever, there’s always something creative going on.

What is your greatest challenge when it comes to your creative endeavors and how do you overcome it?

JR: My greatest challenge for a long time has been having a voice outside of my poetry. Only in the last few years have I gained a kind of confidence in what I have to say about my own work and the work and world of the poet. I’ve always felt strongly about my own work and my process, my commitment to that—and mostly confident in that realm. It takes a different kind of voice, however, to present oneself to a community of writers or an audience, and that is still a role I’m growing into. And that’s ok. I’m going slowly and learning to enjoy the ride.

So, what’s next for Jen Rouse?

JR: In Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, he says: “And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” So, what’s next? To keep living. To keep living into the answers.

Jen Rouse’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Poet Lore, Midwestern Gothic, Sandy River Review, Yes Poetry, former cactus, Up the Staircase, Southern Florida Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She was named a finalist for the Mississippi Review 2018 Prize Issue and was the winner of the 2017 Gulf Stream Summer Contest Issue. Rouse’s chapbook, Acid and Tender, was published in 2016 by Headmistress Press. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter @jrouse.

Lauren Walsburg is an Australian writer, editor, and artist. She has been published or has forthcoming work in Skive Magazine, Positive Words, Cauldron Anthology, The Mystic Blue Review and Riggwelter. Her debut poetry collection Ink Stained Heart was released in April 2017. You can find her at laurenwalsburg.com and @LaurenWalsburg.

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