Jessa Heath is the 2013 recipient of The Oregon Poetry Community Fellowship. She grew up in Henniker, New Hampshire. Currently an MFA candidate and the Kidd Tutorial Fellow at the University of Oregon, she is the recipient of the Karen Jackson Ford Poetry Prize and an MFA scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
Heath was kind enough to answer several of our questions about her creative process and being a fellowship recipient.
1. What are your sources of inspiration?
Reading is often the first step in a day of writing for me. Today that means Gjertrud Schnackenberg and Larry Levis. I also came back to Lolita this winter, and there’s a poem beginning for me in that. Sometimes inspiration is as simple as a striking image or phrase that takes hold and won’t let go.
2. How would you describe your creative process?
Slow. I take a long time with each poem, especially in the revision process. It can be difficult to inhabit the particular music or syntax you found when you began writing a poem after you leave it alone for a while, but that distance can also be great for reading the work more objectively.
3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
I am pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon, and I have not submitted my work for publication while focusing on graduate school. Receiving a fellowship let me know that readers outside of my program also see promise in my writing.
4. What are you currently working on?
I am working on a sequence about the Hudson River School artists, and Thomas Cole in particular. I’m interested in poetry that responds to visual art and also how narratives can be created out of scenes that are temporally frozen. I’ll be traveling to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts at the end of the month to conduct further research on Cole and his work.
5. What advice do you have for future applicants?
Seek feedback on your writing sample from other writers or readers. Their perspectives can help you identify your most polished work.
2013 OLF Judge Phillis Levin had this to say about Heath’s work:
“Jessa Heath is a poet whose courage and clarity are matched by formal power and subtle music. With candor, elegance, and urgency, she gives shape to fleeting experience, the ever-changing substance of a life wherein ‘Some wishes are granted by the thimbleful.’ In a matter of lines, Heath moves from the humble to the majestic, from a winter cabin to ‘The weight on the heart: inheritance.’ In the stark syntax of ‘Palomino’ she arrives at tragic understanding, deploying parallel structure to juxtapose a series of images that compose a double-portrait of the aging body—a grandmother who ‘pours thick molasses over oats / to mask the metallic taste of ground pills’ and a horse who ‘buckles under her own weight / into the pasture’s late spring melt’—a fully realized lyric of remarkable mystery and mastery. In ‘Fence,’ a deft ars poetica, she is fully at home in her craft, aware how any human creation is marked by a tension between passion and limit, and how a poem in its unfolding mimics the way of all living things. Her observations are patient and precise, her intuitions quick, so the conceit appears rooted in the poem’s ecology.”
Completed applications for the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowships are due to Literary Arts by Friday, June 28, 2013. Fellowships are awarded to Oregon residents in poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama, and young readers literature. Fellowships are also awarded to publishers. Applications and guidelines are available at https://literary-arts.org/oba-home/apply/fellowships, or by contacting Susan Denning at firstname.lastname@example.org.