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Fellowship recipient Jae Choi

Jae Choi is a 2009 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient in poetry. She recently graduated with an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow and recipient of the Alberta Metcalf Kelly Fellowship. She lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

Poetry judge Joanna Klink had this to say about Jae’s work:

“These are poems of iridescent disrepair. In houses full of strangers and strangely hemmed-in rural landscapes—floating woods and tides—a captive self takes shape, increment by increment. Hovering between alienation and intimacy, with her surrealist eye, Choi shows us what it feels like to be wrenched apart from the elements that define and flatten us, then tracks the drift that ensues, “daylight detached from a heather field.” We are cast into a luminous freefall, where fear and wonder seem inseparable and inwardness a thing that can be emptied out. Brilliant and hard-surfaced, chipped with light, Choi’s gorgeous poems unlock grief and leave a trail of desire, a way of being “with no remnant but want.”

We asked Jae some questions:

What are you working on currently?
Currently, I’m working toward a book-length manuscript of poems. Sometimes, to curb any potential anxiety that might surface from knowing I need to write about thirty more poems to complete a “book-length,” I’ll trick myself by saying, I’m working on my next poem. It breaks things down for me in a really digestible, compassionate way and sometimes I’m easily fooled.

Do you have a writing schedule?
I do try to stick to one, but I also try to be flexible about it. In the past, I’ve tried to schedule myself at my desk or at my favorite coffee shop for concentrated hours, but it’s frustrating when nothing’s happening and you’re just tapping keys, tilling turned dirt. I think that can be too disheartening so I definitely allow myself days I can pack up when the muse is tapped. Routine is incredibly important though. Dean Young told his students it’s a mistake for writers to wait to grab a pen after some bolt of inspiration strikes. He stressed the importance of having a routine in place to actively will inspiration to come about, he saw the pen as lightning rod. So I’m trying that out. Right now I have the idea that I can only write in the mornings, first thing. That may change. Haruki Murakami has such an intense writing schedule. Every day, he gets up at 4am, writes for hours and hours, goes for a 10 kilometer run, and is in bed by 9pm. I envy writers with that kind of discipline, but the obvious yet strangely secret ingredient to that level of rigor is time. It’s so important for writing to be the paramount task for the day, for the day to flexible enough to sacrifice all other plans if a poem or piece of a poem really gets going. But not many of us have that luxury. Graduate study was the best thing that happened to me, purely for that reason. My writing grew legs.

What inspires you?
A couple of years ago, I had a severe case of writer’s block so my teacher lent me a Hopkins book; he said to read the prose with equal attention. I read one passage from his journals about glimpsing a lunar halo from a library window and I was hooked, the way Hopkins steers language around and is so attuned to its vividness—his diction is incredible. Ever since, he’s been my go-to text for inspiration. Also, I’ve been collecting Mt. St. Helens eruption ephemera and when I’m stuck I’ll often think about being at the base of the mountain looking up.

One thought on “Fellowship recipient Jae Choi

  1. Great interview, and congratulations to Jae. Her comments about Mt. St. Helens remind me of Anne Carson’s onetime obsession with volcanoes. There’s just something about exploding mountains that seems to inspire people.

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