Interview: J’Lyn Chapman

J’Lyn Chapman is a writer and Assistant Professor at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Currently, she resides in Longmont, Colorado with her family. Calamari Press published her chapbook, Bear Stories, a series of prose poems, in 2008. In 2016, Calamari Press published Beastlife, a book by Chapman which resists literary conventions and genre categories. It is an amalgamation of poetry and photographic essay, fiction and philosophy. Within its meditative pages, she writes, “I want to write sentences that stretch on toward desperation, as in the fugal voices that become discordant but still lovely, then recollected in harmony.” Chapman’s work examines overlapping wor(l)ds of wilderness, absence, and entropy. J’Lyn believes in boring books, which I think is super radical. Regarding writing she once said, “It’s not procedural. I am not sure what the procedure is though.” Recently, I had the opportunity ask J’Lyn some questions about her writing and what she is into at the moment. I love the chance to dive into the brain space of another reader…

How did Beastlife begin?

Beastlife began with the sections “Bear Stories,” which was published as a chapbook in 2008. I later wrote “The Ministry of Sorrow to Birds” at the urging of my friend Greg Howard, and I realized that there were patterns that I kept returning to, and I wanted to pursue those patterns. At times, the writing seemed to lose momentum for one reason or another, but there was more that needed to develop, which could only develop in the way that it did over time. Sometimes the pieces feel very different from one another, and maybe that’s an issue of not doing the work to connect them, but in my heart, they are related to one another very closely.

Can you talk about your writing process?

In this book, I did a lot of reading and research, some of which I deliberately executed for the work, but much of it was reading that I was doing separately or for school and it made its way in because my creative and lived life were so integrated then. I often feel like I have to do a lot of reading before I can write; I’m trying to let go of that now. I’m trying to trust myself more and to rely on the internal structures I’ve spent so much time building. I still read a lot, but not to write. I’m most excited and satisfied by the final section of Beastlife, which I wrote over the course of one summer. I gave myself the task of writing my day basically, what I saw, experienced, read, heard. I didn’t know that summer would be so horrifying and awesome, but then I think that when we just pay attention, any moment in time can become sublime. That writing came strangely easily. The tone, cadence, all of it just was part of one energy. It was a difficult time, but I was a strong person then, who could live it in a way that I admire in retrospect.

What did you experience as you were writing this book? Did it change you in any way?

Even though I composed the book over a long period of time, in which I was personally changing in extreme ways, I think the common denominator is that I paid very close attention and I was curious about everything. It’s easy to think about the mistakes in writing that I made, but as I said before, when I can let go of those, I see a person who was very sensitive to reality and in that sensitivity experienced something that we might have called sublimity. I know that’s kind of dramatic and old-fashioned, and certainly most days were tedious and banal, but I think when we see the world a certain way, and we are surrounded by people who love and encourage that in us, something sublime happens. I’m mostly writing this in past tense because at this moment in life with a young child and a demanding job and profound sleepiness I feel kind of dull to this way of experiencing the world. I just don’t know how to do it yet under such different circumstances, but I think that once you have a sensation, you become sensitive to it again.

What are you reading right now?

I’m finishing up Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest, which is weird and hilarious. I’m also anticipating the delivery of John Keene’s Counternarratives and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I’m teaching these next semester without having read them. Oye! But they are essential the “poetics of history” class I’m teaching, so I’m really looking forward to this coming week’s reading.

Michigan native, Heather Sweeney recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Selcouth Station Press is publishing her chapbook, Just Let Me Have This in the Spring of this year. Her other work appears in The Hunger, Expat Press, Bad Pony, Moonchild, Bombay Gin, Summer Stock, Shantih, and White Stag. Currently, she lives in San Diego, California with her husband and beloved dog, Dexter, where she writes, does visual art, and teaches yoga.

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