Jennifer Firestone is the author of five books of poetry and four chapbooks including Story (UDP), Ten, (BlazeVOX [books]), Gates & Fields (Belladonna* Collaborative), Swimming Pool (DoubleCross Press), Flashes (Shearsman Books), Holiday (Shearsman Books), Waves (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs), from Flashes and snapshot (Sona Books) and Fanimaly (Dusie Kollektiv). She co-edited (with Dana Teen Lomax) Letters To Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics and Community (Saturnalia Books) and is collaborating with Marcella Durand on a book about Feminist Avant-garde Poetics. Firestone has work anthologized in Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Songs, & Stories for Children and Building is a Process / Light is an Element: essays and excursions for Myung Mi Kim. She won the 2014 Marsh Hawk Press’ Robert Creeley Memorial Prize. Firestone is an Associate Professor of Literary Studies at the New School’s Eugene Lang College and is also the Director of their Academic Fellows pedagogy program.
How did you first engage with poetry?
When I was younger I would come home from elementary school/middle school and put on my dad’s very large, cushy headphones and sit on the rug near the stereo. I would stay that way for hours listening to all kinds of music, replaying songs and thinking about the lyrics. I loved Janis Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Blondie, Diana Ross, the list goes on. I had an ear for music though I couldn’t play an instrument for the life of me. I could pick up on subtleties, nuances in a musical piece and bring language to express what I thought it was doing. I think this location in sound was meaningful to me, connected to meaning, and was a somewhat natural segue to writing/reading poetry.
Additional influences/introductions to poetry were through teachers in my early education. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Rickenbacker was dynamic, smart, generous. She told my parents I had a talent for writing and that my parents should save my writing, and so they did: stacks and stacks of fiction and poetry on the top shelf of my closet.
Also Ms. Dresser and Mr. Moore, both hard-ass high school English teachers that my peers complained of as being mean and too strict. I sat toward the front of their classes and was tentative because of the rumors that I heard but instead I found them to be committed, passionate, intelligent, and caring deeply about literature. I remember keeping my admiration of them, my joy for their classes, hidden from my peers. Mrs. Dresser was a white woman from Berkeley (or maybe she was getting a graduate degree in Berkeley). She had punkish short, red hair and was a no- nonsense kind of person. She was my first teacher who seemed like a real feminist. And Mr. Moore, an elegant, middle-aged black man, always in a suit, with a deep voice and a face that wouldn’t dare smile. I remember viscerally how I felt in their classes. It would not be over-stating to say I soared (privately), knotting and unknotting the language of poems of Dickinson and Hughes, etc., the feeling of “getting something,” the import of the poem, sonically before semantically, was completely exciting to me, the feeling of almost being there but never really there, intellectually satisfied.