This is Jessica Piazza's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Jessica Piazza's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Jessica Piazza
Los Angeles, CA and Brooklyn, NY
Where are we going and what's with that hand-basket?
Interests: poetic meter, tag-team cooking, unmanageable nostalgia, difficult people.
Recent Activity
Image
Yesterday, my lovely friend Meaghan took me (along with our friends Bree and Adrian) to the most remarkable place. It’s called “the Cathedral of Junk,” and it lives in a backyard in South Austin. I can’t explain it. I have pictures, which I’ll post below. If you want to read about it, you can go here: Cathedral of Junk article. However—while this spectacle is unique, perfectly representative of Austin and, yes, dumbfounding—the reason I’m posting about it here is because it reminded me a little of my last post about where artists get their material. That post, of course, discussed personal material as inspiration. This one will be about junk. Or, as some people call it, “found” material. As poets, so many of us use other people’s words while creating our own pieces. Whether beginning with an epigram or including a line from a book, movie, or bit of conversation we overhear into our work, whether using other writers’ lines in a cento or, like some more experimental poets, simply transcribing some other linguistic piece (I’m thinking Ken Goldsmith’s project of transcribing the New York Times, and other such endeavors), “found language” is so common in poetry that I don’t even really think about it much. But it’s hard not to, sometimes. Poetry has a dismally small audience (I’ve mentioned this before, yes) and sometimes it’s hard to remember that we intend our poems as conversations…with other poems, at the very least, since what came before us informs what we do. But more than that, most of the poets I know are trying to speak not only about, but with, the world around them, asking readers to see everyday things as extraordinary. The fact that some of those everyday things are actual bits of language the people themselves produce, well, that’s a sort of a gift, isn’t it? Here—the act of creating this way seems to say—here’s something you’ve said on the subway, or that exists on your bookshelf, or in a pamphlet, or on a bathroom wall or a graffiti-scrawled train car—here, let me show you how cool it is. Everything, anything, can be wonderful. That seems to me to be the project of the Cathedral of Junk. It’s a pretty fantastic one, actually. But if you read that article I’ve linked to, you’ll see that neighbors complain. The city tries to shut it down. It’s basically a mess, right, but that doesn’t stop people from coming, climbing, loving, being utterly awed by it. How very, very cool. Pictures follow. But, your question! Which, today, is only partially a question: Have you tried to work with found language? Maybe you’ll post a little of it here, in these comments, for us to read? Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Josh and I got into our first heated debate of the trip today. Not a fight—since it was approached in a largely intellectual manner—but certainly it was a passionate discussion containing several points on which we vehemently disagreed. Here’s how the story goes: We left Marfa behind us (sadly, determined to get back there someday, and soon), and began the seven(ish)-hour drive to Austin. Josh and I love each other dearly and find each other infinitely fascinating, but after four days of nonstop togetherness we were definitely ready for a conversational lull. Today, we spent much of the drive listening to podcasts of NPR’s This American Life. (Which are so damn good, by the way, so if you ever have a long car or plane trip, think about downloading some. Yay Ira Glass!) Somewhere around the time the landscape transformed from desolate desert and mountain to a greener, hillier central Texas, we were between podcasts and Josh brought up an interesting point. “You love This American Life because of the stories,” he said. “But your poetry isn’t particularly narrative.” And thus started our long, meandering conversation about the nature of storytelling in poetry. And This American Life actually fed into it all perfectly. On one episode, we learn about a 52-year-old man (Jerry) who’s exhaustively listed his every daily activity since he was 10-years-old. From the interview, it seemed likely that he was autistic, or in some way challenged, but that wasn’t the focus of the piece. After detailing how his friends and family thought the lists were insane, how they mocked him and/or tried to talk him out of doing it, the reporter eventually wrapped it up with his own opinion, which was that Jerry did it so he could feel like he’s done something with his life. In other words, it was his way of telling his life story. Which led Josh and I to discuss autobiography and (because semantics came up a lot in this conversation) the use of autobiographical material in writing. As a poet who recently decided to try her hand at fiction in a dedicated way, I’ve found that I’m much more comfortable (and excited) about writing wholly fictional stories than I am writing poems that have no specific link to my own experiences and viewpoints. My process of poetry writing is totally different than for writing fiction; for each, I’m using my imagination in a completely different way. When I write fiction, I’m imagining myself in someone’s life, and I’m trying to become the megaphone for some (fictional) other person’s voice. Of course, everything I write is informed by my opinions, politics, history, even gender, race and culture. The point is, though, I’m making up a life I haven’t lived and becoming a person I’m not. In poetry, I don’t do this actively. Certainly my poetry isn’t all (nor even mostly) true, if there’s such thing as truth in art. But much of what I write about is based in actual experiences I’ve... Continue reading
Posted Dec 18, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
We’re still in Marfa, though we made a quick zip over to Ft. Davis, which was a great little town. We stopped at a rattlesnake museum. And the fort itself, an old military post from the mid-1800s, was incredible. There was an elderly couple who worked there as volunteers for a few months, hiking and covering the fort museum, while on a cross-country RV journey. (Josh named them Earl and Sherry, because we didn't catch their names but, man, did they totally look like an Earl and Sherry.) Also, there was a really interesting, nice guy named Doug who breeds and trains camels, and brought three of them to the fort for a kid’s event they’d had earlier. I’m in love with camels. Before the fort, we took the early half of the Chinati Foundation tour, where we saw a bunch of installations of Donald Judd’s art, along with other artists’s work permanently installed in the buildings on the foundation’s property. Partially because of these great sights, this post will be mostly photographs…but also partially because I’m exhausted and I want to take a nap before we eat dinner. Josh's blog will probably cover some more crucial details eventually, plus is just an interesting read generally. However, I will say that seeing the art this morning reminded me of a conversation we had over drinks with Tim and Caitlin last night. (Who really are awesome, by the way. We had a great time with them.) Tim’s interested in concrete poems, which are rather out of vogue these days. But some of his poems are political, and concrete or more art-based poems can be interesting, I think, in terms of “poetry as monument.” The artifact of the poem becomes a testimonial the same way a memorial statue or a plaque might. And funny enough, Tim has had plenty of his poems shown at art shows, even when literary journals might not be as responsive. It’s a question, then, whether visual artists are simply more open-minded to mixing genres without re-labeling the work. Because, sure, we poets often collaborate with artists, but for some reason I feel like we don’t generally call these collaborations “poems,” where an artist might more easily call them “artworks.” So, pictures. But first, your question for today: What’s your favorite piece of writing about art? Or animals? Or forts, for that matter? And more below.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Plans have changed. Negotiations have been made. Hill country has been eschewed, and Marfa is now, officially, our favorite place ever. We’re staying an extra night here. Also, maybe we’re never leaving. After the morning we had, who would have thought today would have turned out so great? Not us, I tell you. At the cold, dawn-dark Days Inn in Van Horn, TX—after a breakfast of egg-like disks on stale mini-bagels and NO WAFFLES because some mean lady took the last one and, adding insult to injury, said “too bad because these are so good— we almost got busted for not reporting our pet to the front desk. (Yes, we lied. But Special is so good! He would never cause any damage!) Anyway, by then we were certainly enthused to speed our way merrily along Highway 90 toward better, artsier days. “Speed” being the pivotal word there, as somewhere down the road we got pulled over for going 84 in a 75 mph zone. (Really? I mean, that’s not that fast.) Thankfully, I have a system for getting out of speeding tickets, especially in Texas. I banter. You think this wouldn’t work, but it does. The guy (aviators, five o’clock shadow first thing in the morning, pure Texas Highway Patrol) looked at my New York license and my Cali plates and asked “where exactly ARE you from, anyway?” From the way he said it, neither answer was better—obnoxious Yank or ditzy LA rich girl—so I just told the truth, which is that I'm from both places. I then went on to make a fool of myself. “But I went to school at UT, so I’d never root for the Trojans, I’m all ‘hook ‘em, Horns!’ you know!” “I hate UT,” he deadpanned. Josh couldn’t help it. He snorted. Quietly, but still. Anyway, the point is, he may hate the Longhorns (and I may have been lying, since I care about football a lot less than, say, getting a waffle at the free breakfast bar at a bad motel), we still got off with a warning only. Which was fabulous. We drove away (at a reasonable speed), blasting Wu-Tang (the cop would have loved that, I bet) and giggling. Shortly after, we reached Prada Marfa, an art installation just on the border of Valentine, TX. For those of you who don’t know it, Prada Marfa is an art installation, a free-standing building on the side of the highway, lit from the inside and surrounded only by desert, where several Prada bags and (all right foot) shoes are starkly displayed. It’s pretty incredible. The rumor is it’s partially funded by Prada and that they select the merchandise for display themselves, but I haven’t found confirmation of that. Either way, it’s funny, since the whole affair is a fairly stark commentary on the ridiculousness of consumerism and “luxury” when juxtaposed with nature (the beauty of it, but also the desolation) and the everyday lives of ordinary Americans. So, okay, we swing into Marfa,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Greetings, fellow traveler… Congratulations on making it this far! It’s been a full day of adventures, and as the sun finishes its descent, purpling the hills over lovely Phoenix, AZ, and Josh hums along to Arcade Fire behind the wheel while Special the Dog snores loudly in the backseat, I’m happy to take this time to reflect on what we’ve learned today. So what did we learn, exactly? Well, let’s rewind to this morning—after we spent a good half hour at the Tetris-style game of trunk packing and were finally situated—to the moment we turned on the car radio. Or, tried to turn on the radio, to be exact…only to face an LCD radio screen as scarily blank as the first page of a new writing notebook. “Dead, dead, deadsky,” as Beetlejuice would say, which is clearly not acceptable for a several day drive. (Even if you’re Josh and Jess, yappers extraordinaire.) So there we were, cruising toward Volksgolf Repair Shop in Culver City, where we eventually learned that it was just a weird radio code thing, easily fixed in a half hour by Luis, my car guy who must moonlight as a rock star, he’s that awesome. But, still. Being detoured before we even got started wasn’t the best of all signs, some might say. As annoying as that was, though, it sort of fit in to the conversation Josh and I had been carrying on since he arrived last night. We’ve been discussing the uses and benefits of doubt, especially in terms of our writing careers. See, as thrilled as I am to be sharing this journey with you, my new BFFs at Best American Poetry, lingering in the back of my mind is the knowledge that most of the bloggers here have at least one, if not many, books. I don’t, and neither does Josh, and we’re both writing up a storm and reading everything we can, talking about poetry all the time and sending manuscripts to publishers and contests. Somewhere in the middle of the country, desert and rock formation and green hill and wind farm—so much to see, but not yet where we’re going—both of us are feeling the metaphor. We’re in that limbo between publishing a lot and having a book, the moment of truth where the industry declares, yes, you’re welcome here, you’re, dare I say it, potentially employable (that dirty, dirty word.) The sun is setting, and this is where doubt sets in. We started out this morning, screaming “road trip!” like idiots, laughing hysterically at nothing, assuring each other that the hours would fly by; when I began writing “seriously” (as only a 17-year-old can think of it), it was the most fun thing I could think of, and I was too naïve and under-read to know I was bad. It’s hours later now. It’s years later now. Will we be able to keep going once it’s dark, or will we get too tired to drive? In the world of poetry,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Hi travel pal! It’s almost six p.m., and daytime is only a glowing line of bright yellow clinging to the black hills of West Texas. We just rolled through border patrol, where a very nice female officer inquired about our citizenship. “USA,” we said, and she snickered. Me with my Apple laptop plugged via converter into the car charger, and the GPS system suction-cupped to the windshield telling us it’s “recalculating.” When she asked where we’re going and we said Marfa we got yet another eye-roll, my crazy-looking dog turning around in his doggie-booster seat and Josh flashing a charming smile behind his aviators and hipster-fisherman’s cap. Small artists’ community in the desert? Umm, obviously. In this case, we were exactly what the officer expected. But during the trip today, with nothing—and I mean nothing—but scrub brush and the occasional metal pre-fab shed for a hundred miles at a time (what’s in those things, anyway?), Josh and I started talking about a particular unexpected phenomenon we sometimes witness: the terribly good or wonderfully bad poetry reading. It all started because, between This American Life podcasts and naps, I sat in the passenger seat and read aloud each of the poems from the “56 Days” section of Kate Greenstreet's latest book “The Last 4 Things.” For those of you who know Greenstreet’s absolutely wonderful poems, they’re an eerie, disjunctive lot, full of recurring lines, reappearing characters and settings, random bits of dialogue between unknown persons and scarce little linear storytelling. Which, honestly, isn’t such an easy read out loud (though she does quite the job herself, as anyone who’s heard her knows). “The eye fills in what it knows,” she writes in one poem, but so does the ear. Surrealistic and leaping, the listener of these poems can never really anticipate what might come next, so the speaker has to slow down, stay focused, and, ultimately, use the voice to convey some of the emotional import and changes in mood the text attempts. I did my best. I think this difficulty rings true for much non-narrative poetry, but also for any poetry read in public to an audience. And that’s where I declared a major problem I have with graduate poetry-writing programs in general: the lack of focus on public reading skills, as though those weren’t integral to our work as professional poets. As a PhD student, I’m not required (nor even encouraged) to take public speaking or drama courses. Nowhere in the curricula is it acknowledged that, because we poets have a devastatingly small audience matched by terrible underrepresentation in book stores, most of us will sell the majority of our books (if we’re lucky enough to publish some) at poetry readings. Shouldn’t that fact be considered when deciding what professional poets should learn in school? Josh agreed that readings are important, but brought up an interesting point. Though we concurred on some fairly obvious ways that poetry recitations can fail (we’ll get to those later), Josh noted that a... Continue reading
Posted Dec 15, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
15
Image
Greetings, fellow traveler… Congratulations on making it this far! It’s been a full day of adventures, and as the sun finishes its descent, purpling the hills over lovely Phoenix, AZ, and Josh hums along to Arcade Fire behind the wheel while Special the Dog snores loudly in the backseat, I’m happy to take this time to reflect on what we’ve learned today. So what did we learn, exactly? Well, let’s rewind to this morning—after we spent a good half hour at the Tetris-style game of trunk packing and were finally situated—to the moment we turned on the car radio. Or, tried to turn on the radio, to be exact…only to face an LCD radio screen as scarily blank as the first page of a new writing notebook. “Dead, dead, deadsky,” as Beetlejuice would say, which is clearly not acceptable for a several day drive. (Even if you’re Josh and Jess, yappers extraordinaire.) So there we were, cruising toward Volksgolf Repair Shop in Culver City, where we eventually learned that it was just a weird radio code thing, easily fixed in a half hour by Luis, my car guy who must moonlight as a rock star, he’s that awesome. But, still. Being detoured before we even got started wasn’t the best of all signs, some might say. As annoying as that was, though, it sort of fit in to the conversation Josh and I had been carrying on since he arrived last night. We’ve been discussing the uses and benefits of doubt, especially in terms of our writing careers. See, as thrilled as I am to be sharing this journey with you, my new BFFs at Best American Poetry, lingering in the back of my mind is the knowledge that most of the bloggers here have at least one, if not many, books. I don’t, and neither does Josh, and we’re both writing up a storm and reading everything we can, talking about poetry all the time and sending manuscripts to publishers and contests. Somewhere in the middle of the country, desert and rock formation and green hill and wind farm—so much to see, but not yet where we’re going—both of us are feeling the metaphor. We’re in that limbo between publishing a lot and having a book, the moment of truth where the industry declares, yes, you’re welcome here, you’re, dare I say it, potentially employable (that dirty, dirty word.) The sun is setting, and this is where doubt sets in. We started out this morning, screaming “road trip!” like idiots, laughing hysterically at nothing, assuring each other that the hours would fly by; when I began writing “seriously” (as only a 17-year-old can think of it), it was the most fun thing I could think of, and I was too naïve and under-read to know I was bad. It’s hours later now. It’s years later now. Will we be able to keep going once it’s dark, or will we get too tired to drive? In the world of poetry,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 14, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
Image
Hello all. My name's Jess. You don’t know me, but very soon, you will. You see, just like the sleep-away camp summers of (other, richer) children’s youth forged lifelong friendships in unreasonably short time periods, you and I are going to benefit from long, happy memory-making hours in close and somewhat uncomfortable proximity. However, instead of mosquito-infested wooden cabins and mess halls, we'll be in the heated leather front seats of a white, 2002 Jetta named Bobby Frost, on a cross-country car trip over the next week that will, I promise, make us BFFs forthwith. Bobby Frost You and I, buddy: we’re going from Los Angeles, CA to Austin, TX, and along the way we’ll be talking poetry, truck stops, stoplights, headlights, Marfalights (we’ll be stopping in Marfa, yes), Newport Lights (not really, but I wish—I quit smoking ages ago and still miss it, especially while I’m driving), eating light (somehow, despite all the McDonald's drive-throughs and Cracker Barrel Family Restaurantscalling our names), lighting fires under our writing careers’ asses, and fiery obsessions of the fearful and lustful varieties. Hopefully, these and all sorts of other fascinations will make the potentially hellish hurtle through ironing-board flat West Texas seem as lively as an impromptu game of Twister with a secret crush. But fear not, lest the overwhelming intimacy of it all frighten you; we won’t have to go it alone! (I mean, I get it… driving this long with a stranger might be little uncomfortable. All those awkward silences. Varying tastes in driving music. Trying to politely haggle over gas money. The ever annoying elephant in the front seat—how I’m a real person and you’re just an imaginary Internet blog reader—that neither of us is comfortable discussing.) To allay such dramas, we'll have some friends along with us to serve as buffer, social lubricant and/or devil’s advocate, as needed: Joshua Rivkin Dear friend. Poet of astonishing talent. Graduate of the Houston MFA program and former Stegner Fellow. Jewfro-sporter. Runner. Wise-cracker, Spanish speaker, world traveler, swine-flu survivor, fraternal twin (not to me, though, nor you) and my favorite tag-team cooking partner. We are blessed to have him with us on this journey. (NB: Sometimes we will refer to Josh by his nickname, "Crash," which he earned by being the only person ever to have had an accident with a parked fire-truck while driving a U-Haul.) Special the Dog Despite looking like Winston Churchill, speaking only the mysterious dog-language Rouge, suffering from rather upsetting flatulence and being a self-hating dog, we are sure Special has a rich inner life. His reflections, whatever they are, would probably be invaluable to this chronicle could we decipher them. As it is, we cannot. Thus, we will just have to use him (and his doggie car seat and his prodigious, free-hanging face meats) for comic relief. Along the way we’ll also encounter plenty of wily characters (some of whom we know, some whom we will get to know, and others who will randomly talk to us... Continue reading
Posted Dec 13, 2009 at The Best American Poetry
19
Jessica Piazza is now following The Typepad Team
Dec 12, 2009