Interview – Jessica Piazza

As I’m sure readers are aware, I’ve been following the platform challenge at Writer’s Digest. One of the tasks was to interview an expert. Many of the platform building tasks are already part of my routine. I’m on Facebook and twitter. I even participate in live twitter chats. And because of this, I knew of a few published poets I could email about interviewing, but it meant I actually had to come up with questions. Ugh…

Enter Jessica Piazza, I’ve been following her Poetry has Value project all year. Ms. Piazza has decided she wants her poetry to pay off. She’s tired of the starving poet syndrome. At the start of the year, she began submitting poems to paying markets only. She has kept a blog on her poetry has value experience here. Ms. Piazza has also interviewed several poetry editors from different journals, sharing their expertise with her readers. I thought since the year was winding down, I could see how she felt about her poetry has value journey. She was kind enough to answer my questions. Thanks, Jess!

1. When did you start writing?
I won a poetry contest in fourth grade with a poem about the Holocaust.  That probably doesn’t count.  Like so many high school kids, I wrote bad poetry in my teen years, too. I think I actually started getting serious about it through creative writing classes in college. I went to Boston University and had some amazing poetry professors that were passionate about poetry, and it made me realize it could be a real pursuit and not just an angsty source of expression.  I ended up working in the intern office of the U.S. Poet Laureate at the time, Robert Pinsky, who taught at BU.  It was amazing.

2. Why did you begin the poetry has value campaign?
I was actually inspired by a friend, another poet named Dena Rash Guzman. She had been talking to me and some other friends about trying to send poetry to more paying journals in 2015 because she, like so many writers, had to be serious about budgeting and was tired of seeing her hard work published without getting compensated for it.  It really started a fire for me. I’d not really thought about how much work I’d given away to magazines, and in fact how much money I’d spent on submission fees, submitting in general, all that. It didn’t feel fair, really. And it felt radical to propose an experiment in which I’d only send to paying markets for a whole year. I was curious and I was a little exhausted and I wanted to see what would happen if I insisted that others value my work monetarily.

3. What are your writing goals?
My writing goal is writing! Ass in chair. Write like a motherfucker (thanks, Cheryl Strayed!) Just do it. Get it out. Create. Make art. I’ll do that forever and my first and foremost goal is living that life.  My publishing and career goals, of course, are a bit more complex. I have a new collection coming out with Red Hen Press (Obliterations, co-written with Heather Aimee O’Neill) in April, and I’d love to start serious work on my next solo collection. I teach at the university level and would love to continue doing so, particularly in creative writing. I want to write, publish in a lot of magazines, advocate for other writers and teach. A full writing life: that’s the goal.

4. What kind of feedback have you gotten throughout the campaign?
It’s mostly been positive, which makes me very grateful. A lot of people have said they feel empowered by the idea that someone should value their art both monetarily AND spiritually.  The negative feedback I’ve had hasn’t been too bad, and all of it has been understandable. The truth is, journals struggle as much as writers, and are mostly run by volunteers. So many of them barely stay afloat that some people think it’s unreasonable for them to pay writers. The question, then, of whether they should stay in business is a real one. If they are businesses and not non-profits, what does that mean? What should the best practices be? Those are questions I get from some people who question the campaign, and they’re good ones. The very worst feedback comes from those who imply that I care less about my writing or art in general (or that I’m taking away some spiritual worth) by hoping for payment. The classic sellout insult. I don’t worry too much about it, though.  When Eric Fischl starts giving away his paintings for free because he doesn’t want to be called a sellout, then I’ll worry.  The very best feedback I get is from other poets who write to tell me they’ve submitted to a paying journal who accepted their piece and they’re getting paid for their poetry, sometimes for the first time. To hear that they’d never have submitted to a paying market without the Poetry Has Value project is amazing.

5. Do you believe the poetry has value campaign has helped with your author platform?
I honestly don’t know.  I hope so, of course, but that isn’t the reason I did it. Advocacy for poetry and poets is important to me because I already am a part of this field, not because I want to be a greater part of it.  If people seek out my work because I’m an advocate, I’m very grateful to them.  But I haven’t seen that happen too much yet. Of course, it’s possible I’m not privy to how many people find my work through the PHV project. If advocating for ALL poets helps bring people to my specific poetry, I certainly won’t complain.

6. Would you consider the campaign a success?
That’s an interesting question. Maybe I’m not sure what I would consider success yet, in terms of the campaign. I wanted this pledge and project to spark conversations about poetry, money and worth…and I think it has. I’d definitely like to see more of that: more transparency and more debate.  To that end, I’ll keep going.  But, again, people have written me saying they were inspired to value their work, or they got paid for poetry, or they feel like they’re empowered. And that’s a pretty good definition of success in my book.

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2 thoughts on “Interview – Jessica Piazza

    • Yes, I can relate. I’ve given poems away for just a contributor’s copy. In total I’ve spent more money than I’ve made. I have gotten a few bucks here and there but monetary compensation has not been foremost on my mind when I submit poems.

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