West Branch, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Georgia Review. I was looking to see where my mentors were being published. Either actual mentors or people I felt were mentors on the page. I wanted to know. Then it becomes — I guess every writer does this — a detective story. You pick up Rita Dove’s most recent poetry collection and you turn to the page with the acknowledgments and you want to see where this work appeared. That’s usually how I found my way to these literary journals.
SA: You mentioned antipathy. Can you talk a little more about that?
SJ: Absolutely. Maybe it’s not even antipathy but you’re trying to create a sense of prestige and one of the ways you can do that is by closing yourself off and making people come to you. And I can understand that to a certain extent. I feel we’re living right now in a cultural moment in which art has to be in conversation with our lives and I think that’s part of why Claudia Rankine and her work right now is so essential. If Citizen for some reason was kept in this really elite circle that kept it from everyday people, if she’d only been writing this book for other poets, for example, I think that would have been such a loss. She’s telling us how to live. I was talking to Mark Doty a couple weeks ago and he said she’s bringing the lyric into the public sphere. I’m very interested in that.
I think often when we talk about accessibility, the implication is less quality. Watering it down. I’m not interested in doing that at all. I think that’s a really insulting way to think about our country and to think about readers, to assume that making something more accessible means dumbing it down. I don’t think that’s actually the issue. I think it’s actually people being made to feel that literary work is not for them, either in terms of how the content is packaged and discussed and presented or the people who are being presented as gatekeepers.