Poet Jen Payne

In celebration of National Poetry Month, members of the Guilford Poets Guild were invited to share their thoughts about poetry and the life of a poet. Here’s what poet Jen Payne had to say:

How did you come to being a poet?
My Dad was a salesman and traveled a lot when I was little. We used to write letters to each other — I’d tuck mine in his suitcase, he’d mail his from the road. That’s how I started writing.

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
Unfortunately, yes. I have an old journal full of the sad, sappy things. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, right?

What else do you write besides poetry? Do you have other creative pursuits?
I write essays about creativity, spirituality, wellness, and nature for my blog, Random Acts of Writing. And I’ve been working on some short-form memoir pieces, one of which — Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story, is coming out as a book sometime later this spring.

What has been the defining moment in your life as a poet/writer?
I think the first defining moment was when I was 15 — a hand-written note from an editor at Seventeen Magazine thanking me for my submission. They didn’t print the article, but the editor said I showed much talent. I wore that feather in my cap for a long time!

The most recent moment would be getting to read the poems from my book Evidence of Flossing at a Guilford Poets Guild Second Thursday reading a few years ago. Wow!

How long have you been a member of the Guilford Poets Guild and what’s that like?
I was invited to be part of the Guild by Gwen Gunn and Margaret Iacobellis in 2015. We meet twice a month to share and kindly critique our work, and it’s a pretty cool experience. I mean, you’re reading your poems in a circle of award-winning, published poets including a couple of poets laureate, and they read your work and comment liberally. You’re free to take their advice, or not, but either way — I think you’re a better poet for the experience.

What inspires your writing today?
Everything and anything, really, if I let it in. Most days, though, a walk in the woods or on the beach is good for some bit of a poem.

Describe your poem-writing process.

Random muse chatter.
A couple of words buzz around. A first line.
Oh. Hmmm. Better write that down!
Scribble. Jot. Scribble. Jot.
Write. Write. Nope. Write.
Write. Write. Nope. Write.
Write. Write. Nope. Write.
Read to self.
Scribble. Jot. Write. Nope.
Scribble. Jot. Write. Nope.
Read to self.
Read to self.
Yes. Yes. YES!

Something like that. Unless you ignore those first few words. Usually then you get nothing and go on about your day without a poem.

Where do you like to write? With what?
I work from home, and I kinda live on the computer in my office. That’s where I write mostly. Except when I travel. Then I just bring a spiral notebook and some pens. Favorites are old-school blue Bic pens and Gold Fiber spiral-bound Project Planners.

Who are you favorite poets and authors?
Poets: Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson. The first poet I ever read was Rod McKuen who still holds a special place in my heart. Shel Silverstein. Authors: Ransom Riggs, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, May Sarton, Natasha Pulley, Sarah Perry, Roland Merullo. I’ll stop now…

What book are you currently reading? (poetry or not)
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan, Devotions by Mary Oliver, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Poem in Your Pocket Day is celebrated during National Poetry Month in April. What’s your favorite poem to carry about or share with others?
I memorized Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” in 10th grade and never forgot it. It’s my 38-year-old party trick. I don’t even need a pocket. What fun!

By Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe

Any last words?
Just write. Sit down, open the door and let it in. Then just write.

Jen Payne is inspired by those life moments that move us most — love and loss, joy and disappointment, milestones and turning points. Under the imprint Three Chairs Publishing, Jen has published four books: LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, Evidence of Flossing: What We Leave Behind, FLOSSING, the poetry chapbook Waiting Out the Storm, and Water Under the Bridge: A Sort-of Love Story. Her writing has been published in numerous publications including the international anthology Coffee Poems: Reflections on Life with Coffee, the Guilford Poets Guild 20th Anniversary Anthology, and in The Perch, a publication by the Yale Program for Recovery & Community Health. Jen is the owner is Words by Jen, a graphic design and creative services company founded in 1993, based in Branford, Connecticut. She is a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, the Connecticut Poetry Society, Guilford Arts Center, and the Guilford Poets Guild. You can find more of her work at www.randomactsofwriting.net or purchase copies of her books online (click here).

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