A Chat with Tim Jurney

Interviewed by Shannon Hewson

Tim Jurney’s poem, Bonespace, was published in the fourth issue of Niche. It can be downloaded and read on the issue page but meanwhile we invited him to Niche for a brief chat and he kindly agreed.

NICHE: As a Spanish major, have you found that your bilingual studies have affected the way you approach language?

TIM JURNEY: Yes, definitely. The Spanish language is more beautiful than the English language, sonically. And its simplicity reduces a lot of the stigma we have in the English language about straightforwardness — without twelve synonyms for everything, in Spanish you can just say “love” or “hate” or “wings” without scrambling for some fresh iteration. I think that’s very liberating. And it has also led me to appreciate the English language for what it does have to offer: complexity, specificity, technicality. Plus I have spent a lot of time translating from Spanish into English, which is a constant reminder of how artificial our words are. There’s a really beautiful thing about ceasing to believe wholeheartedly in your own tools. They lose some of their oppressive power when you can be selective about your faith in them.

NICHE: Do you read any Spanish-language poets?

TIM JURNEY: Absolutely. Piedad Bonnett (http://www.piedadbonnett.co )is a stunning Columbian poet who I cannot get enough of. Juan Gelman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Gelman) wields a pen like a sledgehammer. Ernesto Cardenal (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/ernesto-cardenal) belongs in the hearts and minds of anyone who thinks Humanity is the greatest gift to humanity.

NICHE: Who would you say has influenced you?

TIM JURNEY: We’re all of us just the product of influences, you know? So like, most people I’ve met or read or seen or loved. But I recently tried to make a list of my greatest influences. It’s a great experiment. My list was cluttered with family members so to simplify things, I put FAMILY in all-caps at the top. After FAMILY, it’s mostly historical figures and animals:

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (everyone should read his memoirs) Pocahontas (the real pocahontas stood for most things i’d like to stand for, including love) Juan Gelman (this man screamed for justice) Sea Turtles (true story: learned my most valuable life lesson from one) Franz Kafka (have you read his diary!?) Toni Morrison (she taught me that poetry is everywhere) Damselfish (they farm their own algae!) Oscar Wilde (ahead of his time in too many ways, but kind to the end) Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (I know she’s a colonialist, but she was the most conscientious of them all) Mata Hari (whenever life is hard the memory of her picks me back up) Frank Ocean (i keep finding more poetry in everything he touches) Paul Monette (this man woke me up to my particular history; all queer people owe him so much)

NICHE: What are you aspirations for your work? Where do you see yourself with it in the future?

TIM JURNEY: I hope to keep writing, and to be read. Poetry is in so many ways dead (who reads it? mostly other poets). But there’s gotta be hope! I think people read poetry so much more when it’s on the internet and when it is performed. I keep playing with these two things in my head. Perhaps I’ll perform my poetry on the internet. It’s such pander, but a huge part of art is pander, whether we want to admit it or not.

NICHE: Your piece in Niche, Bonespace, evokes an almost tactile sense of absence, turning nothingness into a palpable something. Are there any themes or imagery you find yourself returning to in your work?

TIM JURNEY: What a beautiful way to look at Bonespace, thank you! To answer the question: I write poetry about the stuff that I can’t put into an email. If it’s easy, I message a friend or call up my mom. If it’s tough, I sit alone and wrestle with language until I’m at some kind of peace. In the past year I was twenty — I think twenty is often a year of coming up against a new wall of aloneness. There’s enough adulthood to realize that in the end you’re all you’ve got, but also enough adulthood to realize that aloneness is a feeling not a reality (there are always other people we can be alone together with). So I’ve been writing a lot about absence.

NICHE: Tell us a little about your writing process.

TIM JURNEY: I draft. Like a lot. Nobody ever sees a first draft, or a fifth draft. I take apart poems and put them back together, tinker endlessly. I never finish anything — but there always comes a point where something has been reworked too many times, and the poem tells me that it needs to rest, and then it has finished itself. I think this is not the best way to write poetry. But it’s how it happens for me, you know?

NICHE: What advise would you give aspiring writers?

TIM JURNEY: From one aspiring writer to another: I think that in production we should just produce, not worry about if it is Good or Bad. But in revision we need to think about context. Why does most contemporary poetry feel distant to me? Because it’s not written in my language. The internet generation speaks and thinks in a radically different vocabulary, using spelling and punctuation to communicate tone and inflection and personality, not just message. This is powerful! What we do with emoticons and texting-lingo isn’t just idiosyncratic buffoonery. It’s an adaptation to a world where many important conversations are held using text not voice. What if this started sneaking into poetry more? I need to take this advice myself, too. Often the best advice we give is the advice we need to hear.

NICHE: Is there anything else you want your readership to know?

TIM JURNEY: I wish poets communicated more. If anyone wants to share ideas or poems, argue or agree, chat: please do send me an email at tjurney@gmail.com (mailto:tjurney@gmail.com). I might not respond right away but I would love to talk.

This interview was originally published on Niche’s website on April 30, 2014.

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