Interview With Jenn Nunes

Enter, View, STRIP
by Jenn Marie Nunes

STRIP is a new book of poetry out by Jenn Nunes, it’s available for free download at PANK.

I’ve read STRIP, maybe three times. The first time straight through, then I’ve read over it in a non-linear fashion like two times worth.

This book is great. It has many permutations of sex: sexy sex, gritty sex, dirty sex, clean sex, unsexy sex, regrettable sex, laudable sex, landscape. It has fantastical creatures: Dragons, Unicorns! It has Las Vegas and Houston in it. Jenn’s thoughts on cities is awesome, always.

It’s also just a tight collection of some badass poetry. I would classify it as generative poetry rather than consumptive poetry. The quick playful language, the turns, the narrowing and widening scope of vision give me that itch to write as much as read it--one of those books that the desire to finish it is as much due to entertainment as a need to explore these ideas on your own. A writer’s writer? Maybe. A writer writers should read? Definitely.

Here’s an excerpt and then the interview:

From page 31:
When I was younger I went through a period
of terror at the thought of getting into a car.
I used to imagine what was really happening
to our bodies
leaned back legs splay hands pushed
away from our chests hurtling along the road
at 90 mph. I would picture
our soft bodies zipping along
positioned carelessly like dolls fallen
out of favor. Our hair perfectly motionless
our faces dull as mother’s casual dinner plates
toes curved to the pedal like Barbie’s high-heeled feet. The world
its wooden trees concrete divisions small
furry animals with teeth. There’s a lot to be said
for cars their metal & plastic casings
power steering & the names we give them
how they help us forget both that we could die
& that currently we’re still alive.
Enter, View, STRIP

Q1) What is the most important and least important aspect of this book? or what could and what couldn't be removed from this book?
Ask me this question again in 5 yrs and I'll have an answer. And again in 10 yrs, 15...it'll probably be a new and exciting answer each time.
Q2) Where did the titles go? Did they go away for a conceptual, theoretical, emotional, or some other reason?
There never were any titles, so in that sense they never went anywhere. They never were anywhere. But if you mean where did they go, as in when they didn't come in the first place, I suppose it has to do with all of those things. I started writing this as just an exercise in not writing like I usually do, and so it was less controlled and pointed in its conception. It came like one long piece, the same voice speaking, the same ideas in and out throughout. Of course, I've edited it around since then, but I still don't see it as individual poems. When I first sent it to PANK, I just sent a selection from it, and Roxane Gay told me she didn't think it was working that way...I guess she was right.

And it does have to do with the ideas I'm working with in the book. The sense of something never ending or being never-ending - like a Moebius strip. The highway, our particularly human types of progress, the way relationships can stretch on, when they should really have become something different, because of the circumstances surrounding them. I suppose the book both felt like one long thing to me as I wrote it, and then I wanted it to feel like one long thing as the ideas in it clarified themselves.
Q3) Some poems give the sense of being written by a dragon (pg. 27 The other thing is what’s the thing) some unicorns (pg. 23 Someday there is no difference). Does that change in spirit reflect the time-frame of the writing or an intent of the author?
It may partially reflect the time-frame of the writing - I had written a number of the pages in here well before the road trip frame occurred to me as a way to organize the different things I wanted to say. So some of the road trip writing may well feel more different. But it's also intentional in the sense that both the author and the speaker feel conflicted about the things going on in here, and they are both aware of that.
Q4) Many poems discuss directly or indirectly identity/gender. Do you feel the use of these shamanic or zodiac-ish spirit animals is a better way of representing the anima/animus gender duality?
Better than simply speaking in human terms? And what do you mean "better"? Maybe so, just in that it's another way to talk about or think about or describe such a duality, which creates a broader space to explore identity/gender, which is what those things need. But to be honest, I wasn't quite thinking about the dragons and unicorns in that way. I'm going to start now.
Q5) How important is the narrative of a road trip to this book?
Like I said, it's the thing that sort of let the book come together for me - the structure or map, if you will, that the stuff I'd been writing needed to become a book and not just some stuff I'd been writing. So in that way, I'd say it's pretty important. I had also been wanting to express how I felt when I was on the road, how every city looks the same from the highway. You know. It's in there. So that's important too.
Q6) At the end of one poem (pg 21 & Vegas where I take a picture) you jump at the end to an "informal" interpretation of what you just said about Vegas. It's really funny as a moment of blunt redefinition. Were you thinking of the James Wright poem with the hammock and was that trope an intentional way of relooking at a city in the same way one might relook at a body or the past?
I wasn't thinking about that poem specifically, but of course I am engaging with that sort of poetic trope. Nothing is static really, because no one person - no one person's perspective - is static. So we're always relooking at things - even if we don't mean too - and maybe it's helpful or interesting or fun to be reminded of it. It was an intentional move - although it came about because I wasn't sure how to end that line and I decided to see what the definition of "rich" was exactly, to see if the dictionary had any useful language for me, and there was that and it seemed to me to be the perfect way to re-imagine everything I was talking about at that point.
Q7) What do you think is the best and worst line in this?
Yikes. Ok, I'll try:

Best: Fuck you Nature
I've got a Master's degree.

Worst: they're just an elbow in the ribs
just the buddy system

The first one isn't even my line really, I stole it from a friend, which is probably why I can like it so easily. The second, I don't know. That whole TV section nags me.
Q8) What writer living today makes you jealous? makes you fall in love? makes you think "I'm way better than that"?
The first two are easy...and I'd say they go together so here are a few of the writers (in no particular order) that I am jealously in love with: Ariana Reines, Richard Siken, Larissa Szporluk, Joshua Beckman, Joe Wenderoth and Laura Mullen.

Since I'm kind of a negative person, and I'm trying really hard to be less judge-y and to be more positive, rather than answering that last one I'm now going to expand that first list to include more up-and-coming that is super new on the scene maybe don't even have a book yet poets that make me jealous and I'm all a little in love with: Mel Coyle, Jennifer Tamayo, DeWitt Brinson, Kristin Sanders, Susan Kirby-Smith, Jordan Soyka and Christopher Shipman.
Q9) What is the trans importance of this piece to you? (trans in the broad way I see it in your poetry, as transitions between identities, maturity, lovers, poetics, lines, narratives)
That feels like a huge question and I'm not sure how to answer it. In terms of transitions, I was thinking about how life is nothing but transitions - the way the road never ends while you're on it. I used to think that one day I would arrive somewhere and things would be peaceful because I would have arrived, but actually one never arrives. Somehow you have to be peaceful anyway - if peaceful is something that appeals to you. On a really basic level, we more or less only exist in the moment, but the moment is always passing. We are always in transition.

And if we exist in many layers of moments at once...

Also thinking about Fitzgerald's quote: "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." I think this may not be the test of first rate intelligence but a matter of survival. A lot of the rules or laws or mores or whathaveyou that we've (and by "we" I mostly mean American's, but also somewhat humanity in general) spent hundreds of years trying to adhere to (such as what it means to be female or male or mature or a poem) are or have been sort of falling away. We're in one of those periods where, culturally, everything is up for grabs.

Q10) Can you recommend a sex toy?
The feeldoe. Absolutely. And I would just like to note that when I googled it to check my spelling, one of the first stores that popped up is called "deepmemories." There is certainly some surprise and charm involved in finding things via the internet.


words = the taint of the world.

poets are so fucking afraid of words. how many times have we talked about our inability to get it right? to write it right. how often do we talk about this in relation to translation? (as if we owe something to someone as writers.(eh, do we?)and, in that very fear of "getting it right," we turn on words/language. we attack them. we twist and manipulate them. we send them through shredders of meaning and sound. or perhaps this is because we love words. because it is a tender thing to stroke words, or beat words, or play with words. it's about attention. recently I heard an interview with Vanessa Place were she talks about words like " like "a wealth of stability." and my immediate feeling is jealous since I am not sure I believe in words. (I'm thinking of how this relates to Jordan's quote from Solomon about the intersection between meaning and sound. I agree about meaning. Overrated, perhaps, but I'm always to touched/tricked by it.)

i think something of what jordan is talking about in his recent posts have to do with authenticity in/and autobiography. I read the poem about trauma and i wonder if the reason he fucks with it, distorts it by sending into a machine is because of a distrust in words. like, i can't get it right. or, i don't want to get it right. or what if I can get it right? will the moment re-materialize, somehow?

the moment needs to be fucked with.

words traumatize reality.

i'm okay saying that.

but often there's also the tendency to not want to write about something that has happened to me because I don't want it fucked with. i'm thinking of all of those studies on how the telling and retelling of a story changes the story itself, and changes the way it is stored in the brain and remembered. like the telling of something, the uttering changes our perception of it. words, literally, a violence on the reality of something. and it doubles on itself. once it's put into words-- the violence is unstoppable. yes, reality should probably read "reality" but, for now...

so- this makes me stay quiet about certain things. but then more fear about that too. silence another kind of violence.


My only goal was to ape Frank O’Hara when I started writing. Maybe toss in a little Kenneth Koch. There was inertia to the New York School; I thought their breeziness could speak through me the way the skyscrapers, subways, and galleries spoke through them.

Then I got depressed during the end of college, and my writing fell apart. My attempts to echo O’Hara sounded hollow and out of sync, a bad ventriloquist act. Instead, I gravitated to the Language poets. I was angry at poetry, and I liked watching them eviscerate it. They’d crack open the dummy’s head—see? hollow—and go on with the performance anyway. I had a hard time with that second part.

This brings me back to the Laura Solomon quote I referenced in my last post: "sounds don't need words to have meaning but words need sounds / I mean I love meaning but I hate words I like sounds.” When I started reading the Language poets, I hated words too. And meaning. But both obsessed me. Some part of me felt I needed to pry meaning from words. I don’t know why. There was some freedom in that thought.

I’d jumble words on my computer for hours, hoping they’d dissolve, the way something blurs as you stare at it. But words always make sense when you line them up, even if the logic is disjointed. I’d blink, and meaning snapped into sharp focus.


Last week, DeWitt Brinson and I were discussing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. DeWitt was talking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which the person is exposed to whatever causes their anxiety (“the dreaded event” according to the DSM IV) for prolonged periods. This, he said, “teach[es] the brain that the anxiety will subside on its own rather than needing to resort to a ‘ritual’.”

What rituals, what crutches, were DeWitt and I relying on to write? And how could we deprive ourselves of them? I mentioned a poem I’d just read from Ben Lerner’s Angle of Yaw:

"A person is phobic, that is, mentally imbalanced, when his fears fail to cancel out his other fears. The healthy, too, are terrified of heights, but equally terrified of depths, as terrified of dark as light, open spaces as closed. The phobic are overbold, not overly apprehensive, and must be conditioned to fear the opposite of what they fear. The difficulty of such a treatment lies in finding the counterbalancing terror. What is the opposite of a marketplace? A prime number? Blood? A spider?"

My fears, primarily, are sentimentality and inspiration. I see both as a trap. Sentimentality is a symptom of being buried too far in your own hole, an inability to weigh your own problems against those of the world. I fear inspiration (I call it "The Lightbulb Voice") because I don’t want to believe in it; if it’s real, how can you avoid dependence? Moreover, it implies some force exists outside us. A force that can shut us out.

I use theft in my writing to neutralize those fears, to defy inspiration and collage over sentimentality. It reassures me; I knock on the dummy’s head—see? hollow.


My GoogleVoice experiment made me really anxious. So I had to try it again.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with the experiment, but it seems to channel some of what DeWitt and I talked about. In writing about past traumas, I'm confronting my fears of sentimentality, melodrama etc. The two poems I wrote are the most overtly autobiographical thing I’ve written in years. I hate them. But the fact that it churns my stomach means something. I think.

I wrote a new poem about a past trauma and, once again, locked myself in the bathroom. I turned on the faucet. I called my GoogleSelf and waited for it to go to voicemail. Then I read the script. I hung up. Dialed again. Read it a second time, with more confidence. And again. The third time, I read it fast. All in one breath.

I waited. When I checked GoogleVoice, ten minutes later, there were three different “translations” of my poems:

[I should note, again, that GoogleVoice transcripts are in shades of grey, the darkness representing Google's confidence in its transcription.]

"I remember chrome the room for the changed on the sideline next were. I didn't know what else to do. I can't remember which side of her later on when she cried to show up. I never saw anyone crowd like that. If you can shake it was an empty nester a crunch rattled it was were some she didn't cry. It was nothing I can't remember which I arrive late and I can't remember if her eyes were closed or staring. The Walter, bright yellow, Gaudy. There were on the cracks. Color would like to talk to the shade. I think now broken or the night. Maybe even but will turn black for us."

"I remember crawled in the room for days shaped I'd like next door. I didn't know what else to do. I can't remember which, Sat or lay down. G graduation. I never saw anyone crying like that in shake. There's an empty nester a crime she rattled it was worse when she didn't cry. It's not that I can't remember which side of arrive late and I can't remember for either closed or stand the walls are bright yellow body but they were on the cracks a call. I would like to run through the shave. I think you know. Rodenberg tonight me if you can go in black for us."

"I remember her cold in the room per day shades. Ron had like Next, I didn't know what else to do. I can't remember which side of around later but she cried. Sheesh up. I never saw anyone crye-leike that she didn't shake. There's an empty nester were client you've rattled those words. And you didn't. It was nothing I can't remember which is out of her late and I can't remember for eyes were closed at staring walls are bright yellow gaudy, but they're on the cracks a problem with the light shone through the shape. I think now broken, burnt. Tonight makes even Coulter Black for."

I’m less certain where the GoogleVoice “translations” come in. DeWitt and I wanted to deprive ourselves of ritual. I wasn’t using theft anymore, but it felt like I swapped one ritual for another. A new way to neutralize my anxiety. Except for a few damning words, the translation has effectively mangled my poem out of shape.

But it’s those few words I come back to. And I keep trying the experiment to see which words will remain. Even after disemboweling the overall context and meaning of what I wrote, those words still haunt it defiantly.

Like I stopped talking, but the dummy didn’t.



I was thinking a lot about translation the other day. I couldn’t think of anything new to write, so I ran the same poem through BabelFish over and over until it had traveled the globe.

I also recently signed up for Google Voice because I had a phone interview coming up, and I thought it may be a more stable option than my shitty cell phone.

One of the main features of Google Voice is that it transcribes your voicemails. This reminded me of a line I had read in Laura Solomon’s The Hermit (which I’m hoping to review soon): "sounds don't need words to have meaning but words need sounds / I mean I love meaning but I hate words I like sounds.” Again, this reminded me of translation (homophonic translation), though there was something more accidental about this. I thought, why not take the game "telephone" to its logical, digital conclusion?

So I called my GoogleSelf and left myself a voicemail. I read three poems from DeWitt Brinson, which were part of an ongoing collaboration between us, got the transcriptions, and sent them to DeWitt who, I think, liked them.

I began getting obsessed. I called my GoogleSelf again and again, leaving messages that were other people’s poems, Karl Popper, and, of course, the DSM IV. Here’s the GoogleVoice “translation” of the DSM entry for Obseessive Compulsive Disorder:

(note: GoogleVoice transcribes in shades of grey, the darkness of the text indicating how confident Google is in its own transcription)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,

any other sessions are compulsion

obsession, as defined by at 123 and 4

1. The content persistent thought imposes are images that are experience at sometime during the disturbed as intrusive and inappropriate and I called Mark anxiety or distress.

2. The box imposed under images are possibly excessive worries about real life problems.

3 The person attempts to ignore suppressed such imposes or images hoarded neutralize them, with some other thought, or action.

4. The person recognizes that the up session o'clock imposes are images our product of his or her own mind. Not imposed from without and thought exertion.

compulsion that the fine bought one and two

1 repetitive behaviors. E G handwashing ordering checking or mental. X. E. G. Crane come team. He didn't work so I will let the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to the rules that must be applied. Originally

2 behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing stress or preventing some dreaded event 4 situation. However, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistically with what they are designed to neutralize the prevent or clearly excessive.

Be at some point during the course of the disorder. The person and recognize that the obsessions are awesome dark festival unreasonable. Note this is not as like the children

C. If sessions are compulsion cause marked distress, our time consuming take more than one hour day significantly interfere with the person's normal routine. Occupational or academic functioning or usual social activities or relationships,

D if another access one disorders present the content of the obsessions a compulsion not restricted to a E G preoccupation with moving the presence of eating disorder hair pulling in the presence trip to Jewel mania. Concerned, with experience in the presence of Bobby this more pics disorder, preoccupation with drugs in the presence of the substance abuse this order, preoccupation with having serious illness in the presence of hi book Andrea, preoccupation with that so urgent or fantasy present air Delia, or guilty woman nations in the presence of major depression whatsoever.

E this is service is not due to the direct physiological festival Austin. E G Drug of Abuse for medication or general medical condition.

After 5 P F With 4 insight gift for the most part of the time during the current episode the person does not recognize that the obsessions an important part got that one reasonable.

The novelty wore off, but I felt like there was still more I could wring (*ring*) out of this experience. This morning, I shut myself in the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and left myself a voicemail recounting certain traumas in my life. I was shocked at how hard it was to speak about things I thought I had pretty much dealt with. It left me shaky, like I drank six cups of coffee on an empty stomach.

I sat in front of the computer, waiting for the transcription to finish. When it did, predictably, the translation bore no resemblance to what I had said. It was a relief in a sense. Like my secret was safe. I had told someone, and when they spoke it back, they got it all wrong. But part of me felt angry. I called myself again and again with the same secret. Each time, I got gibberish in return.