Rachel Nix: It’s been wonderful getting to work with you on this issue, Wes. Seeing your thoughts on our essay submissions urged a new appreciation of the craft for me.
What drew you into the essay circle? What is it about writing in this form that appeases your creativity?
Wes Jamison: It has been an honor to work with cahoodaloodaling and to get to know each of you, and I am very excited for your new appreciation of the essay.
I was drawn to it, initially, by solipsism, which seems a pretty complicated idea in writing. Maybe my entrance into nonfiction was misguided; but, once there, I was also entranced: “The Death of the Moth” began a love-affair with not only Woolf but also the essay, and intellectual gravity (and guidance from my nonfiction professor, Shannon Lakanen) directed me from there.
I think that I struggled within the genre, despite my love for it, until I found myself needing to navigate multiple identities, some of which I wanted and adopted and others that were suddenly in my blood and to which I held no alignment.
That floundering occurred in all genres, not due to an inability to generate an appropriate persona in a text but because I wanted to be, as Bernard says in The Waves, “not one and simple but complex and many.”
That is what appeases my creativity, reading or writing in any form, though most frequently in the essay: seeing that we are each plural.
RN: For folks like myself, who aren’t as familiar with what makes an essay a lyric essay, would you tell us the attributes you look for?
WJ: It was perhaps only while reading for this issue that I began to think of the lyric essay as an essay exponented: there needs to be essaying, first and foremost, but the components of the texts themselves—form, constraint, metaphor, intertextuality, hybridity, lyricism—must compound and create positive feedback rather than merely be tangential and exist simultaneously without informing each other. This warrants essaying in which there are multiple explorations or explorations on multiple planes. The lyric essay is an essay where the attempt happens in the resonance between components.
Lyric essays are essays that perform less maintenance work, less hand-holding for the reader—though I resist the belief that lyric essays are generally obtuse because of this.
I have a taste for significant use of the unreal or otherwise not-factual, whether that come in the form of dream, extended metaphor, mythology, symbol—but I think what I look for are associative properties of dream-logic or parataxis, especially.
RN: From your take, which venues are best at amplifying essayists? Admittedly, I’m just finding my way into this form of writing. That said, who and from where should I be reading?
WJ: I would be remiss not to explicitly mention Cleveland State University, Coffee House Press, Essay Press, Graywolf, and Sarabande. I could list favorites from each, but these are our champions, for sure. And it should go without saying that cahoodaloodaling now too champions the essay.
This may be a collection bias, but it seems as though small, queer, digital presses are adamant proponents of the essay. This is unsurprising, as the genre itself is queer. But these are presses that I see as more willing to accept texts that don’t look like others, that don’t act like others, where identity is in flux and curated. And that’s just how essays operate.
RN: After we published “No-One Suspects Your Shoulderblades of Wings” in our Solitude’s Spectrum issue last year, I went looking for more of your work and discovered and Melancholia, your digital chapbook available at Essay Press. Would you tell us about this chapbook and what inspired it?
WJ: First, let me thank you for having found and Melancholia.
For a year or so, writing only happened while I was in transit, away from the toxicity of the relationship I was in, the one that told me I should love nothing, least of all writing, as much as I was supposed to love him. So I wrote on trains and buses or while walking to work; and this afforded only fragments.
I had begun a project, Mornings, left unfinished until recently, ostensibly about having grown up in rural land, my mother, and rural mornings and mornings with my mother. I lovingly refer to and Melancholia as a trash bin because it is composed of the fragments that did not make it into that project.
I didn’t know that I had actually written a separate text until I collected the flotsam and found in it a text, unified by an insistence on anaphora, about not only burning down an already burnt-down city but also about regretting that I chose these rather than those mornings.
RN: You’ve been working with us long enough to know we’re a nosey bunch, so how about making things easy on us? Where can we find more of your work—any newly published pieces or other projects going on that we should know about?
WJ: 1) I love your noses.
2) An excerpt of the above mentioned project (and hopefully I will be able to share it in its entirety with you soon enough) may be found in Gertrude Press.
3) An excerpt of an ongoing project about making and destroying a golem was recently published in Diagram 17.6.
4) But I think that, before anything else, you can expect to see more essays from me about things that fall from the sky, like “Laika,” which appears in Boiler Journal, and what you already published about Icarus.