Interview with TJ Jarrett, by Anna B. Sutton

Date of Interview: November 4th, 2014

Why not be blunt, we’re all poets here: How did you end up a poet?

I still don’t know. Maybe I just loved words. Maybe I fixate too easily on certain patterns or something, but I remember reciting things when I was little. Not whole things, but passages that interested me, and in particular the ones that felt good to say in the mouth, e.g. ‘pure milk’ which feels like you fill your mouth with the word ‘pure’ and then it all runs out again with the word ‘milk’. Or the word ‘verdant’ or ‘orgulloso’ (which just sounds like pride feels would make, in Spanish or not.) I feel certain words with my body; I can’t help it.

Add to that mix that my mother teaches English and my father is a Methodist minister, I suppose it was preordained that I would be writing. More than just impulse to write things down, I think I’m just too damned stubborn to leave anything well enough alone. I have to investigate; I compulsively think about things large and small.

How do you choose your subject matter?

I’m fairly certain that the subject matter chose me.

How did the process of writing Zion differ from that of Ain’t No Grave?

Ain’t No Grave was spent proving to myself that I could write a book. I went through standard literary excesses and crises of faith and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Zion was a rush of a book that ran through me. I never set out to write it, but I was writing poems and they came together as a book fairly quickly.

Who were/are your influences, both direct or indirect?

Louise Gluck, Larry Levis, Gwendolyn Brooks, Marie Howe. Not certain what it means to be influenced, but when I read their work, they make me want to write.

Whose work interests you right now? What excites you about contemporary poetry? What frustrates you?

Tarfia Faizullah is my freaking hero. Roger Reeves, Katy Didden, Emilia Phillips and Rebecca Hazelton are cranking out amazing work right now. Phillip B Williams. There are so many writers out there I respect. Some people complain that there are so many writers, but I think this is one of the best times to be writing as there are so many styles, so much great work, such a huge community. I still can’t believe that 20 thousand people show up to AWP.

How has working in the tech world influenced your writing/writing life?

In the sense that I’m a better editor and team player because I’m in IT, then yes. I am a better project manager because of it. As for the words themselves, I only love technology because I can turn the words off, which is healthy. You can’t be a writer ALL the time. That invites insanity.

How has working for a literary magazine influenced your writing/writing life?

I certainly have a little less time to write. But I think the work is important. It’s very easy to stay out of the conversation that is going on outside your personal writing. Working with TQ forces me to stay engaged in the discussions that go on in the larger literary world.

What are two of the most valuable bits of advice you’ve received?

Run your own race. Don’t bother to begin to compare yourself to any other person’s journey.

If a poem isn’t working, throw it out. There is no need to be a word hoarder. If it’s not working, maybe you’re not ready, not the words.


TJ Jarrett is a writer and software developer in Nashville, Tennessee. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Third Coast, VQR, West Branch and others. Her debut collection Ain’t No Grave (finalist for the 2013 Balcones Prize and the 2014 Debulitzer Prize) is published with New Issues Press (2013). Her second collection Zion (winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition 2013) will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in the fall of 2014.