October 31, 2017 orangeq2017

On “[Ugly ground you are seen]”: An Interview with Jacob Schepers

[Ugly ground you are seen] is a poem by Jacob Schepers published in the REVIVAL issue of Orange Quarterly (OQ 5), released in fall 2017 (on October 31).

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What inspired you to write this poem?

My poem, “[Ugly ground           you are seen],” stems from a manuscript I’m working on in which I set out to write something like a “people-less” poetics. Due to this setup, the series has unexpectedly taken on an allegorical bent. Deliberately voiding this piece of a locatable “I,” I found myself much more interested in the agents (or non-agents) that this poem is trying to give a “voice” to. I tend to work in series, interrogating a certain line of inquiry and pushing it as far as I’m able. That’s evident in this piece—and it may not be everyone’s taste. I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to write a universally appreciated poetry. I’m not trying to supplant what valid self-expression is in poetry. In many ways, this piece is part of a thought experiment that removes an identity of the speaker, so as to let the language and its actors speak for themselves. While “[Ugly ground             you are seen]” invites a “transcendent” vantage point, the hinge relies on the negotiation that Ugly Ground and Swell Moss make amongst each other in spite of this higher view. It’s that nitty-gritty discourse I most value.

Why do you make art, and why write poetry in particular?

In my view, art is the realm of the possible. That sounds overly romantic, though I don’t mean it to sound quite so pat. The possible should not confine itself to what’s better, to what’s ideal, to what the world should look like; rather, the possible is to entertain not just the best of us, but the worst of us as well. All too often, poetry holds up language as a bridge between those who—for whatever reason—cannot “communicate effectively.” It’s that skepticism that drives me to write poetry. I’m much more interested in the breakdown of language, of pushing it to its point of no return. This view may sound pessimistic, and, to be fair, to a point it certainly is. However, with the ham-fisted discourse and roughshod rhetoric that floats across the airwaves and soundbites today, poetry can—and should—point to the failures of communicative efforts while hoping for the alternative. That’s the “possible” that I see in art and poetry: not simply to chastise failure, not simply to praise small successes, but to reckon with its shortcomings while encouraging those of us who respond to expression to do so cynically, thoughtfully, and purposefully, at least to shake things up a bit.

What do you like about reading or performing your work for an audience?

Though it may not seem like it, at least not necessarily when reading my poetry, I cling to the oral tradition of poems and the aural effect they leave on an active, listening audience. That collision of sound, that catalog of thoughts and images, that buildup of what seems like a takeaway—or at least the communal effort to wrestle with that gestalt, no matter what impression it hints at—all of these elements contribute to a reaction that poetry cultivates in a singular way. I’ve heard poets I love who have given readings that have not attended to these concerns. And it pulls me out of that experience. Likewise, I’ve enjoyed poets more based solely on the strength of their reading, despite their own aesthetics (which may not align with my own), because they put on a show. That showiness to me is not a make-or-break deal. It signals an attentiveness to language as a multifaceted medium that relies not just on sight but on sound. On the presence of being there. Of simply being there. Bearing testimony. Piecing things together. Making do. Or, at least, trying to make sense happen.

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Jacob Schepers is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (Outriders Poetry Project 2014), which was a winner of the 2013 Outriders Competition. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Dream Pop Journal, Verse, [PANK], The Destroyer, and Deluge, among others. He is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame, where is also working towards his MFA.

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