What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what poets have influenced your writing?
It would be hard to name my favorite chapbooks; however, my greatest influences have all come from Kentucky. Kentucky has such a rich literary history. I greatly admire the work of Kentucky poets Wendell Berry, Maurice Manning, and Rebecca Gayle Howell. Most recently, I’ve discovered bell hooks’ wonderful poetry collection, Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. I am deeply indebted to Green River Writers for their encouragement and support. Most notably, to their president and founder, Mary O’Dell, as well as to fellow members Georgia Wallace and E. Gail Chandler—all of whom have written beautiful chapbooks.
What might these favorite or influential authors suggest about you and your writing?
I appreciate poems that celebrate (or grieve) a sense of place. I was born in Kentucky, and for a short while, lived there on a small family farm. I still feel a great connection to the land. Maybe some of my work comes from a cellular level—where I am able to draw from memories of my ancestors.
What’s your chapbook about?
It contains twenty-eight poems and is about cleaning ladies, crop circles, churches, bait shops, fence posts, funerals, Ford Torinos, Alfa Romeos…and more.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?
“Crickets Crying” is the oldest poem in the collection and was one of the first poems I sent out for publication. Nerve Cowboy published it in 2006.
Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
I think it’s important to have empty spaces within poems—letting a poem breath itself into existence. By that, I mean really listening to where the lines want to break and knowing what words need to stand alone.
Where did the title for the chapbook come from?
I pulled the phrase “Bullets and Blank Bibles” from a poem I had written in a poetry workshop taught by Simone Muench during the 2010 Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Interestingly enough, the poem I wrote in the workshop is not in the chapbook. I guess you could say that when looking for new writing material, don’t overlook the wealth of information available in the poems you have already written.
What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?
The individual titles came after each poem was written, with the exception of the last poem, which is also the title poem in the collection.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was fortunate that the editors of Liquid Paper Press—Joseph Shields, Jerry Hagins, and Elissa Yeates—agreed to use a photograph I had taken in Cerrillos, New Mexico. There’s something about the photo that suggests you might be looking at a wall in front of a firing squad.
As a side note, there is a poem in the chapbook called “Turquoise” which ends, “The woman at the Indian market in Santa Fe said turquoise would protect you. She did not know about your heritage, how this land can hold a man, tie him down with rust and vine.” For the most part, the poems in this collection are clearly set in the Midwest. However, those who read the collection carefully will sense the narrator of many of these poems is keenly aware that there is another world outside the one in which she inhabits.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a poetry collection where the central theme revolves around giving birth (metaphorically speaking).
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
As you are working on your manuscript, carry it with you wherever you go. You have to own it. Be ruthless in throwing out poems that don’t fit (even though you think they are your best work). Read your poems out loud. Often. Repeat. Read your poems out loud. Often. This keeps them real. Be real. Write what you know. Don’t try too hard.
Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?
That would have to be “Italian Sports Cars Make the Best Lovers.” It’s definitely the “bad girl” of the collection; because, well, “Every girl needs a Romeo.”
How do you use computers/ digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
When I first start a poem, I write it on a legal pad. Only when I believe I’ve captured the poem (where I actually have a beginning, middle, and end) will I use a computer and start doing revisions to the structure (bones) of the piece. Do I have any writing quirks? I like writing in purple ink.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
All kinds, really. I am especially fond of garden catalogs and field guides about earth sciences. I keep a list of unusual words that I find when reading that I would like to use later on in my poetry. For example, the word “wake-robin” had been on my word list for years before I was able to use it in the poem, “Future Home of the Mammoth Mega Church.”
Jessica D. Thompson lives with her husband, Hugh, in a purple house near the banks of the Wabash River in the small historical town of New Harmony, Indiana. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Atlanta Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and the anthology New Poetry from the Midwest (New American Press, 2015). She is the grateful recipient of the James Baker Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry (New Southerner, 2013), and the Kudzu Poetry Prize (Kudzu, 2014). She was a finalist in the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize (Ruminate Magazine, 2014).
Future Home of the Mammoth Mega Church
This land has been a working farm
for as long as I can remember.
Come late fall, the song of frogs
and their Hurry! Hurry!
The end is near; find a place
to huddle down and pray.
A fox runs over the surveyed
ground. Blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed is the carpenter bee,
the caterpillar and the serpent.
Blessed are those with horns:
cattle, deer, the numbered
buffalo (hallowed be thy name).
Blessed are the pitchforks
that lift up the hay.
Blessed the trees now marked
with X’s. Body of Christ, full
of grace: cowslip and May
apple. Gone the wake-robin,
Indian pipe, ginseng, and wood
violet. All turned to dust
and for this: a church
filled with hymnals
from which we will mouth
Listen, the sound of wings: geese flying south.