1. When did you start writing?
"I wrote a lot of poetry in High School (mostly bad) and college (a little better) and then abruptly stopped as I went to grad school and became a teacher and a father. Every so often I’d teach a poetry unit and I would write something (still not that great). A couple years ago, my grandmother passed away. In the months leading up to her passing, she would ask why I wasn’t writing. She had a binder full of my poems and stories from the past 25 years printed out from emails and tucked away. When COVID hit and lock-down started here in NYC, I thought of that and said to myself ‘What are you waiting for?’ I started trying to write in earnest that April and here we are. Now I write or think about writing every day and have incorporated it into my routines and lesson plans and the way I approach daily life."
2. Where do you draw inspiration?
"My daughters are five and ten years old and they both say and do things that shock me, because they never follow the habits or logic that I’m expecting as an adult. Sometimes that is distilled right into a poem; other times it is just useful to think about how to break from my much more boring mind. When I’m not thinking about them, I am focused on my grief, still life paintings, or nature and nature documentaries (especially David Attenborough). I am an avid reader and often read in obsessive bursts, like only poetry or only nonfiction about climate change or all of Toni Morrison. My writing tends to work in the same way. I will latch on to something, a phrase from a poet, a topic from the last poem I wrote and then try to write around that. My process is still evolving and I’ve learned to trust it and just ride things out."
3. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
I type almost all of my poems on a single gdoc file called 'Textual Mess.' It is a scrap heap of lines or titles or ideas or prompts I’ve given myself. Some of them sit there for months. The document is a workshop space. When I finish a poem draft, I will paste it into another file titled something like Poems July – September 2021 but I’ll often grab from those, paste back into the textual mess and tinker or cannibalize a poem in service of another. Sometimes, if I’m in a drought, I will go back to using a little notebook and try writing some lines in there, but I will switch back to my computer if the poem starts getting momentum.
4. Could you share your process and thoughts on writing?
"I used to think that writing was every day at a set time and I know a lot of writers who do this for various reasons, but as with teaching and parenting, I need to go through low periods or let things simmer so I am learning to think and tinker and write without the pressure of a finished draft until the rhythm returns and so far it has. I was writing one poem a week for a couple months and then a chapbook MS cohered in the space of two weeks. Writing is also not a solitary thing. I send work to my writer friends for feedback and they help punch holes in the work or find out where the music of a line resides. When they write back ‘Holy shit, Jared’ I know that I’ve got something. Having friends who send me their poems or manuscripts to read, who share their successes and acceptances, helps me think about the structure of things I’m working on or share the glow of what they are feeling."
5. How do you know when a poem is done?
"I will get to a point where the poem doesn’t seem to want to go any further or I will have developed a punch for the end (think of the heroic couplets in traditional sonnets). If I have a through-line to that end that isn’t just a load of imagery then I know I have a draft to start putting final touches on. However, there are times now when I will go back and look at a poem I’ve published and start paring it down or cutting a stanza because my style has evolved. So I guess ‘done’ is relative to the time and headspace I’m in."
6. What can you tell me about your works-in-progress?
"I have a short full-length manuscript (54 poems) I am working on and molding to cohere. It is most of my stronger, published poems set in clear sections, so I’m in the process of building a larger through-line for the work as a whole. I also have a new chapbook MS about climate change that I feel good about and have been shopping around. I vacillate between thinking this is part of the larger manuscript or the beginning of something else that could be larger."
7. What other project(s) do you hope to take on?
"I wrote a poem called ‘The Challah Uprising’ that was published in the Rise Up Review that relies on multiple voices, like competing characters or oral histories. If you have ever been to the Holocaust museum, there are rooms of voices speaking their stories from that time. The poem I wrote had very clear characters in my mind and the hint of a larger story of failed resistance and larger tragedy so eventually, I want to explore writing that out into a coherent arc of poems or a polyphonic novel."
8. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"I care a lot about how we connect or yearn to connect to a number of things: what we see in art, how we love, what we haven’t said, what we miss as we think from the human perspective about the larger world. I hope that people read my poems and begin to reflect on these strands of (dis)connection for themselves and their experiences."
9. What writing advice do you find totally useless?
"I find a lot of writing advice to be useful even if it doesn’t apply to me. Why are they suggesting this, what does it do for them? How does this translate to me. It sounds like a cop-out but I haven’t found anything completely useless, just not as useful to me. As I said earlier, I don’t believe writing is a robotic routine or that you MUST do it every day. I guess I am trying to say that “writing” here means something much broader: walking, observing, joy. The words or ideas will arrive if you are open to receive them—my daughter eating animal crackers out of a large plastic bear led to a prose poem about endangered animals and deforestation, looking at lichen and tromping along a trail led to a poem 2 months later about my daughter growing up. What I am trying to avoid most of the time is forcing a poem to happen or forcing myself to write something good. If I find I am copying my successful work without an idea of what I want a poem to say, I make myself stop for a bit. If I am relying solely on observations and imagery, then I work not to kid myself that I have a poem. So far this is working for me."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I don’t talk about my teaching enough. I haven’t written about it as a subject of my poems. It feels too personal in a way and there are probably institutional guidelines that I’ve internalized, like how you aren’t supposed to post about your students online, etc. I have been teaching English Language Arts and AP English Literature for 15 years in the NYC public school system and I taught in some form or another at the college level as an adjunct or TA during grad school. A lot of my time and creativity has gone into being an accessible teacher. When I first started teaching in public school I was coming out of academia into a 7th grade classroom. I had to learn how to translate myself in a way that was clear and also elevated my students without falling into the trap of thinking my knowledge or process for learning was the only template. Now, as I help my daughters navigate their own learning and special needs has forced me to reorient what learning is for and what the ‘success narrative’ means for them and my students at school. This has led to a pretty wonky set of discussions with my colleagues about equity and grading and mastery, which I will spare you the details of here."
Hear Jared read his poem "A Florida man ‘thumbed’ an alligator in the eye to rescue his dog from a ‘death roll’ (Or this is how we say 'I love you')."
Jared Beloff is a teacher and poet who lives in Queens, NY with his wife and two daughters. You can find his work in Contrary Magazine, Rise Up Review, Barren Magazine, The Shore and elsewhere. He is currently a peer reviewer for Whale Road Review. You can find him online at www.jaredbeloff.com. Follow him on twitter @read_instead.
Amy Cipolla Barnes
Cristina A. Bejan
Elizabeth M Castillo
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Emily M. Goldsmith
Lukas Ray Hall
B. Tyler Lee
June Lin (mini)
Calia Jane Mayfield
Maria S. Picone
Charlie D’Aniello Trigueros
Heath Joseph Wooten