Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Jacq Greyja
What’s the earliest experience, or a stand-out experience, you can remember that made you realize that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you? Has this been difficult for you?
I started writing regularly shortly after I turned 18. I had moved out of my mom’s house, was living alone in LA, and had recently been diagnosed with Bipolar I. My therapist stressed the importance of tracking myself through journaling: pulling at those seemingly abrupt (yet frequent) moments when I only knew that I was breaking, that my heart was leaving my body, that I was everything or nothing and sometimes, often, both. I think she wanted journaling to give me a tangible, slowed-down means of understanding, measuring, and really seeing how my experiences of reliving trauma and despair and pronounced mania—which always felt so unparalleled and disconnected from one another—were actually very cyclic, relational, and part of a complex but comprehensible psychic landscape.
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I didn’t go to therapy for very long. I liked that I was writing, I liked that I was actually stretching and prolonging these otherwise incommunicable realities. But it never felt right to make that kind of writing a part of a mental health program that I was very suspicious of at the time. I’ve been in very helpful and rewarding therapy programs since then, but there was something about this one that scared me. I was scared that, at its core, what they really wanted was for me to learn how to shut the fuck up and calm the fuck down. Like that was more important than deepening a relationship with myself. I realized that I didn’t want to track or monitor myself, but to instead dive into myself away from a speculative or clinical eye. I grew to depend on this practice. I was no longer a static, colored rage, but something more powerful and clear and communicative.
Maybe it is because I am older now, or that I’ve been medicated for some years, or that my life is less precarious and generally much more stable, but I find myself writing less often with this frantic, cataclysmic despair or euphoria. It’s softer, quieter. Slower. But the kind of desperate ravenousness that jump-started my writing back then is still there, at my foundation. I think the time I spent cultivating an exclusively personal and uncensored relationship to writing has become a reservoir for the kinds of writing and thinking I do today.
How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter? What brings you joy?
I’ve never really been good at self-care. I’m not good at getting out of the way of myself, whatever that means. I get terrible, bodily anxiety when I feel that I should communicate the pit of myself to someone on the outside looking in, especially during moments when I am lost in myself. I grew up in a very New Age home, and I am still resentful of how certain practices normalized dissociation, coerced vulnerability, isolation, and censorship, even as they claimed to want to furnish the opposite. So I’m kind of adverse to most forms of self-help and self-care; anything methodical terrifies me. I think this sense of being allergic to outside help has isolated me from a lot of potentially wonderful self-help practices. Maybe isolation is my self-care, my imperfect response. If I am alone I can choose to process or hide, but at least I know I made that choice for myself.
I’m not very productive as a very sensitive person who feels too much. I choose to hide and self-medicate often. But when I do write, I feel that I need to be basically reliving things fully in order to know and explore the occurrences of being. I don’t necessarily get joy from doing it, but I do feel that I know myself a bit better as it happens. And when I am ready to share my work, I want to know that I’m sharing something sincere and vulnerable and myself. I think that gives me something like joy.
Does gender or gender performance affect your writing?
Yes, it collides with everything. I’m a Cancer and I’m always deeply consumed by ideas and memories of the family and the home. And gender is all the fuck over there, it’s everywhere, it’s dying. When writing, I sometimes find myself on two intersecting paths—one moving backwards, re-living the home(s) I’ve been within and without, and another path that snakes, faintly, from the beginning to the now. Lately I’m interested in rethinking and reimagining backwardness, and so the gendering of my early life is always at the forefront of my writing and thinking.
Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them?
JACQ GREYJA is a queer poet from California. Their work has been featured in The Columbia Poetry Review, The Fem, The Nottingham Review, Yes Poetry, Berkeley Poetry Review, and elsewhere. Their first chapbook, Greater Grave, is forthcoming from The Operating System. Find Jacq on Twitter or at jacquelinelast.com.
This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”
Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.