Interview with Read Women Contributor, Jessica Piazza

This month, Locked Horn Press editor, Carolann Madden, had the chance to interview Read Women contributor, Jessica Piazza, who gave us a glimpse into a world where Poetry Has Value, "neurosis abounds," and poets become the dearest of friends. Piazza is a dynamic woman on a mission, part of which involves reminding us all that the craft of poetry is not only beautiful, but also valuable. And what is she locking horns with most right now? We think all you poets (and all writers/artists, really!) will relate to her answer below…

CM: Thank you so much for contributing a couple of seriously fantastic poems to LHP’s Read Women! While Read Women focused on the work of poets who gender-identify as women, would you say that gender influences your poetry, in general? And why, or why not?

JP: In certain ways, some subtle and some overt, gender influences everything. It’s like privilege; we might not think about it, but it’s there, dictating some of the shots called and some of the opportunities available to us. That being said, I wouldn’t say I write overtly about gender. But I do think that because most of my poems mine relationships of varying sorts, it’s easy for some people to think of the subject matter as being very female-oriented. Of course, that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? Convention is swinging a bit so that we don’t necessarily think women have to write about relationships, but hasn’t moved enough that the general notion of masculinity can include delving too much into feelings.

CM: What, if anything, are your concerns as a poet? Similarly, because Locked Horn Press is interested in exploring spaces where conflict exists, what are the issues, or where are the spaces, with which you “lock horns”?

JP: Oh, so many concerns. Concerns about having time to write. Concerns that I do my subjects justice. Concerns that I find topics that are important, as well as interesting. I’m constantly concerned about being brave enough in my writing.  What measure of success I’ve had has hinged upon a certain voice and style, and my forthcoming book is all erasure poems that deviate wildly from my usual sound. So, I’m worried about staying stagnant, but I’m worried about people liking a new style of work, too. Neurosis abounds! Right now, though, I’m mostly locking horns with the tension between poetry itself, poets and the industry we are a part of. Po’ business, I guess. And the issue of how we’re going to support and sustain this world we love, monetarily and philosophically.

CM: Can you talk a little about your awesome project, Poetry Has Value? And for people who don’t know about Dena Rash Guzman’s challenge to herself, perhaps could you explain that a little, and how the idea affected you personally?

JP: This kind of stems from what I mentioned above. I’m thinking a lot lately about the way so many literary journals, especially poetry journals, don’t pay their writers. I started the Poetry Has Value project to explore that question, and the site/project has a lot of angles. The first is the pledge. You mentioned Dena, who is a friend of mine. She was the one who brought up the idea (to me and some mutual friends) of trying to submit to more paying journals this year. Like so many writers, she was thinking about money, and trying to figure out her budget and address some monetary questions. She mentioned how much time and effort she put into poetry without any monetary return to help her deal with these regular life issues. The idea struck me immediately, actually; what would happen if I submitted ONLY to paying journals? Would I get anything published? Would I feel differently about the process of creating or the process of submitting and publishing? Dena didn’t insist on sending only to paying markets (because she’s not crazy like I am), but her idea sparked the whole thing, because it sent me off on this experimental tangent. So I did it. I pledged to only send to paying markets in 2015, and to refuse solicitations from non-paying journals for the year. And it’s actually been kind of amazing.

Most importantly, though, the site moved way beyond blogging my own personal experience with the pledge, and became more of a curated site that explores questions of poetry, money, and worth. One part of the site is a live Google document that I started, that’s fully sharable, readable, and editable by the public, that lists all the paying poetry journals that we know of. I thought it would be a fantastic resource for poets who were thinking about the money angle. Another element of the site is my editor interview series where I ask editors/publishers of paying journals about their funding, how and why they pay writers, and a whole host of questions about how they make a paying model work. I’ve interviewed many editors so far, including those at Rattle, Baltimore Review, Barrelhouse, Prism Review, and just a bunch of other great magazines. I love how individually they are just random interviews, but together they start to form a picture about the various options journals have if they are thinking of becoming paying venues.

CM: Are there any poets who come to mind, or books that come to mind, as having been especially influential to your work?

JP: My best friend Jill Alexander Essbaum has been hugely influential to me. We always had similar tastes and some overlap in style, and in our decade or so of friendship our voices have been honed and sometimes changed in ways that I think really benefited from the others’ ideas, critiques, and edits. She’s a famous novelist now, though, so she got crazy fancy on us measly poets!

My general circle of poetry friends (including Rebecca Lindenberg, Joshua Rivkin, Heather Aimee O’Neill, Elizabeth Cantwell, Cody Todd, and some other great friends who I know are going to be mad I forgot to add them here) have been invaluable to me, too.

As far as poets I don’t know who have had a huge effect on my writing, I’d probably note Edna St. Vincent Millay as my poetic ancestor, and Gerard Manley Hopkins for his sound work. In college I was all about Marilyn Hacker and other formalists who were really technically accomplished but also daring. In the early post-college years, I was bowled over by certain poets’ first books, including Timothy Donnelly, Olena Kalytiak Davis, and Richard Siken, all of whom are really different writers but who shared a bravery in their approach to poetry that I just lusted after. 

CM: What gets you out of bed in the morning; in other words, what inspires you, encourages you to keep going, writing, moving, etc.?

JP: I’m a poet. Is there another choice?

CM: And finally, are there any books or poets you have read lately that you loved, or would like to tell us about?

JP: I talked about Dena Rash Guzman above, and her book Life Cycle is great, but I’m REALLY excited for the manuscript she’s shopping around now called JOSEPH. Google her name and JOSEPH; you’ll find some seriously amazing work.

Leia Penina Wilson had a book come out this year called i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown) and it is KICKASS and weird and fascinating. Karen Skolfield’s Frost in the Low Areas is beautiful, and KMA Sullivan’s Necessary Fire is wonderful.  Danez Smith’s [insert] boy is wrenching and important.

But regardless of what books I love right now, I'm really dedicated to buying more poetry in general moving forward. Journals AND collections, I mean. So many editors I've interviewed insisted that if even a small portion of the people who submitted to journals subscribed to them too, the whole industry would change for the better. I'm certain the same goes for presses and those who submit manuscripts to them. So, needless to say, BUY POETRY!


Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections from Red Hen Press: Interrobang--winner of the AROHO 2011 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize and the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize -- and Obliterations (with Heather Aimee O'Neill, forthcoming), as well as the chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press.) She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California, and now teaches for the Writing Program at USC and the online MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She is the poetry editor of The Southern Pacific Review, and in 2015 she started the "Poetry Has Value" project, hoping to spark conversations about poetry and worth. Learn more at or