Jenny Sampirisi is a poet and a fiction writer. She is the Managing Editor of BookThug and the co-director of the Toronto New School of Writing, a series of workshops focusing on avant garde writing practices, which she founded with Jay Millar in 2009. She is currently the Associate Director of the Scream Literary Festival and a professor of contemporary literature at Ryerson University. Her first book is/was was published in 2008 with Insomniac Press. She is currently at work on Croak, a collection of poems about frogs, disappearing and deformed, and the girls who love them.
1. What do you want to talk about—which question do you wish interviewers would ask, and what is your answer?
I’d love to be asked more directly about the tensions and vulnerabilities I set up in my work. I play with sound a lot but am actually a very timid sound poet. I write poetry that people take for prose, prose that people take for poetry, I fight against all my urges to tell a complete story with a tidy bow and end up often with a very disturbing piece of work. I’m also a very happy, generally good-natured person, but I can’t stop my writing from becoming deeply dark and emotionally hard on my audience. I think these tensions are actually vulnerabilities in my work that I’m invested in and play out for readers and listeners. That risk is very important to what I’m doing. I’ve always been very comfortable with ideas of the constructed self/constructed voice/constructed text and really, I have a lot of fun with that at the heart of all I do.
2. What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
I got a lot of good advice that I did take and a lot that i’m still not yet ready to take. I was constantly advised to clear the space I’d need for my practice. I tend to take organizational and/or supportive roles on a bit too readily and haven’t yet loosened that grip since I was about 22. It’s good advice and I’ll pass it on, though I’ve still not learned it.
The advice i’d like to have received at some point is that my ideas were worth vocalizing and executing. I have a great mistrust of entering the public sphere with either my work or my ideas, so I spent a lot of time practicing silence. It makes it difficult to speak when the time comes (notably, I’ve heard this experience echoed mostly by women writers time and again).
3. What is wrong with the publishing industry, and what are they getting right?
I’m not sure “right” and “wrong” are the best or only terms for what’s happening in publishing right now. It also depends how we’re applying the terms and to what aspects of the industry; the industry that publishes poetry (the range of things that fall under that broad flag) an