Fall 2016 Issue: An Interview with Poet, Janice Worthen


This October, on the 1st of the month, the BACKWORDS Press team has the distinct pleasure of sharing the work of our Fall 2016 poets: Bianca Flores, Stephanie Adams-Santos, and Janice Worthen. We're collaborating with a new graphic designer for the issue—we'll introduce you to him later on—because right now we'd like to acquaint you with our new writers.

Like we've done with past issues, our Fall 2016 Issue writers have helped us to gear up for the October release with a series of brief interviews—which have posted over the past two weeks. Today, you'll be meeting our final poet of the issue, Janice Worthen.

Here's her bio: Janice Worthen lives in the Bay Area of California. She received her MFA in Writing from University of San Francisco. Her poems have appeared in The Rectangle, Your Impossible Voice, Switchback, Bitterzoet Magazine, and as a printed insert inside bags of gourmet coffee by Nomadic Ground Press. She also works as a freelance journalist and manages a blog for a celebrity pug.

Read the interview below:

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BACKWORDS Press: How do you begin a poem?

Janice Worthen: The poem usually begins me, actually. A line will pop into my head while I’m doing something totally unrelated to poetry. Sometimes I write this line down and go from there, but most of the time, I’ll compose the entire poem in my mind as lines keeps surfacing, keep building. Of course, once I get it all down (in writing or on the computer), I end up changing about 90% of it. Ok, ok. 99%.

BACKWORDS Press: How long have you been writing?

JW: As soon as I learned how to write I started composing elaborate crayon manifestos to my mom, many with deformed illustrations to help make my point when words failed me. I think I may have even given her a runaway note in burnt sienna once when I didn’t get my way. It’s pretty much been downhill from there.

BACKWORDS Press: In terms of prosody or form, what really makes a poem tick for you? What makes it speak?

JW: I like a poem that’s honest. And vulnerable. And breaks the rules. What does that mean in terms of form? Well, I guess it means that the form is not a flourish but a nail. Which is to say, I like a poem that bleeds, that makes me bleed, that leaves a hole at the end. I’m disappointed if a poem doesn’t surprise itself—if line breaks, diction, imagery don’t surprise me. I guess I like a poem that makes me feel like I’m jumping out of an airplane. All is chaos and movement, but at a certain point you pull the chord on the chute that was there all along…or you don’t.

BACKWORDS Press: Which poets do you continually go back to?

JW: Wow. Um, well, I guess I go back to Rilke. Langston Hughes. Claude McKay. Audre Lorde. Philip Levine. Tomas Tranströmer. Li-Young Lee. Ai. Elizabeth Robinson. Norma Cole…Usually when I get sick of the grandstanding, peacocking, and pretension I often see in poetry these days. I return to poets that, for me, cut through all the poetry scene drama and b.s., poets and poems that talk about the real stuff. I haven’t gone back so much lately because there’s a lot of exciting things going on right now, so I guess I go forward to poets like Aja Monet, Jacqui Germain, Monica Ong, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Danez Smith, Amanda Ngoho Reavey, Athena Farrokhzad, Mai Doan, Lourdes Figueroa…I love everything Nomadic Press releases. Timeless, Infinite Light rocked my world with Amy Berkowitz and Angel Dominguez. Button Poetry is putting out work I find essential. And many of my friends are doing exciting stuff like starting their own chapbook series, and mags, and presses. Publishing the work of new poets with new perspectives and putting their own work out into the world. One day my shelves will snap, and I’ll have a glorious mess on my hands.

BACKWORDS Press: Why BACKWORDS Press? What made you want to submit?

JW: I love how Backwords Press is activating poetry in the world, the unique encounters the press fosters. Poetry is often shared within a specific, and often small, community. Backwords Press is breaking beyond this. When I go out with my Wes Solether or Laura Walker or Lourdes Figueroa tote, I’m sharing work by poets I love with people who may or may not read poetry, who may be touched by that work, and share that work with someone they love. I’m traveling but whatever poetry I’m wearing/carrying is traveling too, forming connections, existing with me and apart from me. I love that.

BACKWORDS Press: Are you on Facebook, Twitter, or any other Social Media platforms? How does this affect your writing, community?

JW: I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress…but I’m not on Instagram. Not yet, anyway. I’m always torn about social media, about its ability to build a positive and supportive community on one hand and its ability to create a toxic, authoritarian, and restrictive community on the other. I’ve found it invaluable to keep up with and share the literary comings and goings of myself and friends. But I’ve also been disgusted on multiple occasions by people who use it to ostracize, silence, shame, and bully people into submission and agreement with the Group Mind. I’ve found that if I don’t stick to a community-approved script, “community” often vanishes. I’ve found there’s community and Community, and for better or worse, social media has helped me see who’s who.

BACKWORDS Press: Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or your work?

JW: I love pen pals. Like, the old-fashioned kind…stamps, postcards, handwriting. Hey, postcards had a character limit long before Twitter, y’all. I’m actually more interested in reading the work of others right now than writing my own. I’ve started a little online journal called Night Music, and I’m accepting submissions for the first issue (nightmusicjournal.com, deadline extended to October 1st). I take way too many pictures of just about everything. I embrace any opportunity to be silly, especially when cotton candy’s involved. Seriously, I’ll run up to those pink and blue clouds of bliss like a five-year old, without shame. The Last Unicorn soundtrack is at the top of my Pandora stations. I agree with Jewel that in the end, only kindness matters. And almond croissants.

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Worthen's poem, “blue light,” is one of three original poems written by working writers for the Fall 2016 Issue. The full issue will be released on October 1st, 2016, everywhere, available online in the BACKWORDS Press Shop.

For the Fall 2016 Issue, we're grateful to be working with graphic designer, Costner Cude, freelancer and graduate of Idaho State University. You can connect with Costner on Twitter here.

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