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An Interview with Jenny Boully [Interview]

by Mack Curry IV

Question 1: What inspired you to do creative writing?

I think I have always had a tendency towards quiet. As a child I was extremely lonely and introverted. I can’t say that these qualities have sloughed off in my adult life. Writing was the way to make the inner world tangible. I was often overlooked and ignored and creative writing was a way to stand out and be unique even if there was no audience.

Question 2: I see that you’ve written poetry, fiction, and nonfiction work. Have you had any issues with writing in any of the three genres?

I think the only issue I’ve had with varying genres is knowing exactly how to pinpoint any piece of writing when it came to submission or publication time. Much of my work is a combination of all three of these genres, but I do have much work that can be clearly demarcated. For more than a decade now, I have mostly identified as an essayist, but I don’t think the literary world sees me as such. For most readers, I am considered a poet, and I suppose that’s fine. I just have had a difficult time teaching or relating to poetry lately. I write fiction mainly because it’s so freeing and I tend to embody personas rather obsessively. When it comes to writing, I tend to just surrender to whatever mode I’m embodying. Sometimes there is the need to explain or expound, sometimes to dream or imagine–whatever the need, I always strive to accomplish the work with poetic graces and let the language lead.

Question 3: Who are some of your influences?

I have loved deeply at one time or another or presently: Roland Barthes, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Kathy Acker, Lawrence Sterne, Emerson, Cervantes, J.M. Barrie, Nabokov, Susan Sontag, Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, Jeannette Winterson, Heraclitus, and many others.

Question 4: Since you received your MFA in poetry, what motivated you to write fiction and nonfiction work as well?

I attended Hollins University as an undergrad. We were encouraged to write in all genres, and our workshops weren’t demarcated. We were expected to be good critics of not only our main genre, but all literary genres. It was freeing and exciting. I tied myself mainly to poetry then, and I was quite intense about it. But towards the end of my MA year there, I began to write prose poetry. I then began work on my first book, The Body: An Essay, the summer before starting the MFA in poetry at the University of Notre Dame. Moving in an MFA was a strange experience to me, especially as I was already writing in prose by then but having that prose workshopped in a poetry MFA course. I just wasn’t interested in line breaks with the same intensity I had before. I wasn’t interested in the line anymore. I was on the trail of something else. That said, my experience learning poetry in an MFA program was amazing and heavily scholarly. I learned how to be a good student. It was great preparation for my Ph.D.

Question 5: What advice would you give to other poets who want to explore writing in different genres?

I would say that poetry could be sublimated into oneself. It should never be abandoned. Language should be the guide in whatever new literary foray one undertakes. Read: learn the pulse and rhythms and syntax of other minds.

Question 6: What advice would you give to up and coming creative writers as a whole?

I think we should always mean it. Always mean it. Don’t write it if you don’t mean it and if you won’t defend it. Know that you will defend it. Someday, someone, even if it’s just a peer in workshop, will want you to defend it. Mean it wholeheartedly, and write as if you were dying. Remind yourself that you are indeed dying. So waste no time in writing it down and meaning it wholeheartedly. Don’t think about some “reader.” Don’t think about people you know. Don’t go after perfection. That’s a dead-end, a trap. As Ruskin reminds, we’re meant to be imperfect, and that makes us beautiful.

 

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Jenny Boully is the author of The Book of Beginnings and Endings (Sarabande), not merely because of the unknown that was stalking towards them (Tarpaulin Sky Press), and The Body: An Essay (Essay Press). Born in Thailand and raised in Texas, she holds a Ph.D. in English from the CUNY-Graduate Center. She lives in Chicago with her family and teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.

Mack Curry IV is from Bowie, Maryland. He graduated from Hampton University in 2013 with a B.A. in English. Currently, Mack is first-year MFA student in poetry at ODU and he works as a Teacher Assistant at New Horizons Regional Education Centers in Newport News, VA.

 

 


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