NZ Poetry Day Interview: Jamie de Jong / by Time Out Bookstore

We decided to do things a little differently for the second in our interview series! Join us as poet Jamie de Jong takes the interviewer seat with Jenn and Suri. See the collaborative interview below:

Suri: We’ve decided to reverse the format a little bit- Jamie’s going to take the lead on the questions!

Jamie: What is it like to be a young poet in New Zealand?

Suri: Jamie you can probably answer this better than we can…

Jamie: We talked about this before and we kind of came to a consensus that it feels like an quite exclusive term at the moment. I don’t know many of my friends who I would say are poets; that would be comfortable to claim that they’re poets. For myself, I  write poetry but I wouldn’t say I’m a poet. What about you? Because you write poetry as well Jenn.

Jenn:  I don’t know. Being a poet is in line with being published as well, though. Writing poetry- it feels like anyone can do it. You don’t call yourself a poet because it’s a weird, exclusive term, but writing poetry- anyone can do it. 

Suri: I always just wonder what part of that hesitance is, because I feel like people that write fiction, whether they’ve been published or not, will say they’re an author and a published author will say they’re a ‘published author’. I feel like that hesitance for people to call themselves poets quite interesting. I don’t know if that’s because most poets are multi-disciplinary and will do poetry and other types of writing, or whether it is like Jenn said, ‘Do I have to wait to be published?’

Jenn: I do have a question though- would you be more comfortable calling yourself a writer?

Jamie: Personally, if I said I was a poet, it would ask so many questions that I just can’t be bothered answering, like ‘What do you do on the side?’

Suri: Do you think you have to a particular focus on form when you’re writing poetry?

Jamie: Not personally. I think when I started writing poetry, it was pretty traditional, just pretty ‘boring’, but now I get a lot of inspiration from poetry that I’m reading and I try and ‘copy’- for lack of a better word, their format. I think anthologies are good for that because you can flick through and see a short one or a long one with awkward spacing and where you can use that in one of your poems. 

Jamie: What excites you about the current poetry landscape?

Suri: I love seeing a lot more women being published and women of colour. I think poetry is such an interesting medium that really lends itself to telling these stories in quite a unique way. 

Jenn: Exactly what Suri said, but also people getting out there and writing about the tiny things as well. They don’t have to write about these big, grand ideas like love  and death. They can write about these really small things and connect it to this universal thing that we all feel, you know? I think that’s really cool. 

Jamie: And maybe the shorter nature of poetry means it’s accessible to people who might not have read otherwise maybe? Like it’s accessible for everyone to get these viewpoints. 

Suri: For sure, and for people like Tusiata Avia, being able to put in histographies and mythologies and traditions all into these small poems- just a few lines- being able to put all these ideas so eloquently and interestingly. 

Jamie: With Spirit House, I felt honoured to be let into that book. It was a privilege. 

Suri: I think there’s also something about the intimacy of poetry that I really like. 

Jamie: Who are some of your favourite poets? 

Suri: I love Tusiata Avia, Selina Tusitala Marsh, Hera Lindsay Bird, Courtney Sina Meredith, Tayi Tibble and Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle.

Jamie: I just read that book, ‘Autobiography of a Magueritte’

Suri: What did you think?

Jamie: I loved it, it was so good.

Suri: What about you Jamie? Who are some of your favourites?

Jamie: All the ones you mentioned before, definitely. I also love Ashleigh Young, Emily Berry (a British writer) Alice Oswald and Don Lee Choi. What about you Jenn?

Jenn: You guys have covered it all. I also love Gertrude Stein though. She’s so crazy funny and clever with her sounds. 

Jamie: We should probably mention Lisa Samuels…

Suri: Oh, because you were both taught by Lisa Samuels, right?

Jamie: Yeah that’s a plug for a good grade!

Suri: What class does she take?

Jenn: She takes the Critical Modern Writing and Critical Thinking paper- it’s really cool!

Jamie: She’s really good, you should take her poetry paper!

Jamie: Poetry is always delegated to the bottom of the literary genres- do you think the resurgence of poetry, particularly the poetry of young women, has sparked a change in the way poetry has been received by the literary world? You had something interesting to say about this, in regards to Rupi Kaur. 

Suri: I think, no matter how I feel about her poetry, her ability to touch on these quite universal but also personal ideas, the way women feel in their daily lives, obviously a lot of people really connected to that and I think it made poetry as a genre a lot more accessible. Even at the shop, I think a lot of people who would have never picked up poetry books came in for Rupi Kaur and then kept coming back for recommendations for other young female poets. That grew exponentially after her poetry books. So I think seeing more women write quite personally about their experiences has really evolved the poetry landscape. I love poetry that’s just observant about the things around you, but I think poetry’s shifted away from just being external observations to being really intimate and beautiful and witty and feminist.

Jenn: I read an essay recently where the author was like, when I started reading the books of people who were the same ethnicity as me, I realised that I existed as well, and that I was part of their existence. When you read poetry that’s just white guys, you’re like ‘Does my voice really exist? Can I really say things that I want to?’ And I think getting women’s voices out there, and women of colour, provides this representation and people think ‘Yeah I can say this! I’m contributing to the world as well’. I thought that was so cool, it really spoke to me. People feel like they’re not themselves, or they’re not part of a thing, just because they’re not being represented. 

Jamie: I think going back to the first question, the term poet really has to catch up with this rising movement of women and women of colour especially, because the term’s so outdated. I think that’s part of why people are so uncomfortable using it. 

Jamie: What drew you to poetry over other literary genres? 

Jamie: I don’t discriminate one form over the other.

Jenn: Different forms fit different thoughts.

Jamie: Or even different days.

Jenn: It’s like a different colour.

Jamie: I guess different situations call for different forms. I think there was a good quote from a [University] paper, that the form informs the content. Sometimes I’ll start writing a poem- like I started writing a poem about mice in our house, and half-way through I realised that was an essay. There was so much else connected to it

Jamie will be performing at Time Out's All Tomorrow's Poets on National Poetry Day. Check out the event details here.