HER SOUL FOR YOURS: An Interview with Joanna Valente
always had a fascination--a predisposition to the arts. I started
out as a visual artist, as opposed to a writer, which I think still
greatly influences my writing process, and how I perceive the
"If you asked me who writes my poems, I would tell you my
environment around me... Also] I'm very afraid of forgetting
inner witch does." -Joanna Valente
things--or not [being able to] process the people around me
accurately. This is probably why I write so much--in order to
In the realm of twentieth-century American contemporary
understand these things [and] gain awareness about myself and
poetry, Anne Sexton's "Her Kind" and Sylvia Plath's "Witch
Burning" used the figure of the witch-woman as both a
declaration--and reclamation--of female power. Now, a new
Was poetry something you always knew you wanted to pursue,
and promising female voice emerges in the coven of poetry:
or did you just fall into it fiercely? Where did your creativity
recent Purchase alumna, Joanna Valente. A poet of a powerful
have its genesis?
and haunting presence, Joanna is no stranger to The
Submission, not only as a published student, but also serving as
I started writing at the age of eleven. In some ways, my desire
Assistant Editor during the 2010-2011 academic year.
to write isn't so surprising, since I was drawing and painting
Graduating just last May with an impressive two degrees in
since I can remember. It's hard to say exactly why this need [to
both Creative Writing and Literature under her belt, Joanna's
express myself] went from being exacted in painting to poetry;
poetry has been featured in The Westchester Review, The
perhaps it's that as I got older, I began to be able to articulate
Houston Literary Review, Owen Wister Review and many other
my feelings more acutely, whereas with painting, it's a different
publications. She now finds herself balancing the editing duties
form of communication entirely. I like to be precise, and I feel
of her own literary magazine, Yes Poetry, with the demands of
I can be more precise with my language.
being a first-year MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College.
Although Joanna may jest that her own "inner-witch" is
[One] memory is of the first time I read Emily Dickinson. For
responsible for conjuring up a poem, her true command of the
whatever reason, my mother felt buying me Emily Dickinson's
craft is both serious and unrelenting--leaving her readers
collected poems was a good idea for an eleven-year-old. Of
course, I had no idea what her poems meant. (Because
honestly, who really does?) But not understanding them didn't
The dreaded first question: your back-story. Where are you
bother me. Reading her poems lit a fire in my brain; for some
from? How would you describe what you do?
reason, I wanted to be able to do what she did, to write poems.
I was born and raised in New York; specifically, I was born in
Manhattan but raised in Yonkers. In this way, I've had a very
In this way, I knew for a long time that poetry was something I
interesting experience, in that I grew up understanding the
was serious about, but I never felt like I had a huge choice.
nuances of the suburbs and the city at the same time. I
Growing up writing it and reading it, wanting to be an artist, it
remember family trips to museums from a young age. I've
just seemed like the natural thing for me to do. A lot of times
I've struggled with that, because while it's amazing to know
who you are and what you want, being an artist isn't practical at
If anything, being a poet/artist is selfish, because it's all based
all. When you're paying bills, it can be a bit depressing
on an urge to communicate, so it's not so much about other
knowing if I just went into another career, the struggle that
people, as it is about this need to talk to an imaginary space,
everyone has to survive wouldn't be so hard. I really grappled
which happens to be the reader. And in doing that, a certain
with this idea when I applied to grad school, wondering if I
intimacy is created between the reader and speaker, but it isn't
made the right choice. Of course, I don't doubt my decision,
something I keep in mind when I write. I don't choose to have a
but I think the idea of "always" knowing can be daunting. I
specific audience, that seems too exclusive. If you asked me
think it's more who I am, rather than something I'm pursuing.
who writes my poems, I would tell you my inner witch does.
What would you say is your favorite book? Are you reading
Who are some of your influences?
Different poets influence me, and have influenced me, at
I'm in the process of reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, and it's
various times. I like to experiment with new styles, so it's
wonderful, because it gets me thinking about what an artist is,
always changing to some degree. Right now, I would say
what it means to be an artist, what you choose to deal with to
Richard Siken, Louise Gluck, Mathias Svalina, Barbara Guest,
be one. My favorite book has to be The Wild Iris by Louise
Bernadette Mayer, Jack Gilbert, Claudia Rankine, and so
Gluck or Crush by Richard Siken, which I've loved since
many, many more.
What else inspires you?
What motivated you to pursue an MFA in Poetry Writing? How
Tarot, public transportation, music, film, cooking, the body,
did your experience at Purchase prepare you for it?
forensics, magic-realism, et cetera.
My ultimate dream would be to teach creative writing at the
college level...So, in some ways, an MFA is a degree that
Do you believe that you have a specific responsibility as a
could potentially lead to a career, similar to other master's
programs. I also want to pursue editing as a career. For me,
With every poem I write, I try to portray a moment--a world. I
that's what my MFA has taught me the most so far: to be a
try to do it as objectively as I can (which is obviously a
better editor. There is also nothing like being with a group of
crapshoot, objective is almost an impossibility.) I don't really
writers who are excited and passionate about their work; you
think of myself as a poet that has a specific role, per se, in that
literally live and breathe poetry.
I'm not a prophet or Seer by any means. But, I like to think I
could potentially enlighten someone to an idea or perspective
Purchase led me to choose the MFA, because I had been
they didn't have before. I like to think that I could enlighten
workshopping [my poetry] for four straight years already...I
almost felt like I would be betraying myself if I didn't at least
feel the waves, see the horizon--that is my ideal spot. I love
water, I love the smell of salt.
Tell me about Yes, Poetry. What was the process of developing
What has been the best gift you've ever received from
your own publication?
I started YP in 2010, so I was a junior at Purchase. I actually
A kitchen-aid. I can now make cupcakes in half the time,
enjoy editing, so I wanted to start a project where I could
because the mixing is done for me.
publish people of all kinds of backgrounds, especially people
who are in other careers...The short version of the story is that
What is your favorite word?
I bought the domain for the website and used Tumblr as my
Right now, "summon."
hosting site, since my HTML knowledge is pretty basic. I set
the site up, and would post frequently with writing prompts,
What else is Joanna Valente working on?
book reviews, and events going around in NYC.
I'm currently working on a few different projects. I'm editing
my senior project from Purchase, I'm working on a small
Now I've expanded, so there are two more editors on staff, and
collection in the voice of my grandmother, and I'm compiling a
we make e-books, which people can download for free online.
collection from the work I've written this past year at Sarah
We have bigger plans for the future, which include having print
issues, chapbooks, and readings...My main goal is to keep
publishing writers and to make it an enjoyable experience for
Where can we find you?
I can be found all over the place on the internet. My cyber-
How does being an Editor-In-Chief differ from your previous
home is http://joannavalente.com, which I occasionally update
editing experience with The Submission? Is it similar?
with new poems and voice recordings of me reading my
It is similar and different. Editing is editing, in that your own
work...it also includes a link to my new blog More Marvelous
preferences and skills sets won't change even if the title of the
(http://moremarvelous.tumblr.com) and of course, Yes, Poetry
magazine does. The only difference now is that I make most of
the major decisions, whereas at The Submission, I was working
with other people in a set structure that was predetermined
before my arrival. I have the freedom to lead the magazine
where I want it to go, to reinvent it as time goes on.
Describe your ideal setting to write in.
A cottage by the sea, where I would have a porch to sit on and
Children of Paradise (Lost)
You breath yourself:
sounds begging red / fear frequencies.
A disappearing act is hard to pull off:
hides don't hide.
Slept in your bed for
six yrs--millipedes crawled out of my cunt
billowing pelicans. white pants
and laid their eggs
echo on wild
after eating mine
vegetable garden mimes growth:
What you call your son
skin sack of moth larva,
at midnight, he will hatch.
you will pray to bargain
her soul for yours. summon
your body of performance.