Jen Lambert is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and burntdistrict magazine. She received an MFA from the University of Nebraska, and her work has appeared in journals such as Pank, The Los Angeles Review, Sugar House Review, and Redactions, among others. Three of her sonnets from a longer series, titled Visitations, are included in the Summer 2016 Premium Edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by July 11 for special savings and discounts.
Can you tell us about this series of poems? How did you find this project?
This project started after stumbling across some documentaries about gender violence in developing countries. I really struggled to process the power structure and cultural beliefs that could cause those levels of fear and injustice. I couldn't get those women out of my head, their silence and shame. I had to get them out and give them voice.
What do you appreciate about working in forms such as sonnets?
I started working in form in graduate school and immediately fell in love. I had often resisted formal writing because it felt stiff and confined, repetitive, and outdated, but when I saw how contemporary poets were teasing and manipulating the structure and making it fresh, I was curious. I was surprised to find myself enjoying the work. It was the opposite of confining for me; it was actually freeing.
I love a poem that surprises me, especially when, on third or fourth reading, a ghost of a villanelle refrain or the syllable count of a sonnet appears. It’s a layer of craft I find incredibly beautiful.
Why did you decide to use second person point of view in this series?
I'm interested in how second person engages the reader, how it draws us inside the experience. In this particular series, where my character is working as a prostitute and the sonnets are in the voices of the men who visit her, I wanted the reader to feel this extreme lack of power, this lack of voice, this lack of ownership of story and body. With second person, the way these men are speaking to my character is the way they are speaking to my readers.
What themes do you return to again and again in your work?
I tend to gravitate toward politics and power, especially in relation to culture and gender, and I like to work in persona. I’m fascinated by people and why they behave the way they do, and I tend to want to humanize the political and the ideological, whittle it down into something I recognize and love.
If you were to give Carve readers a writing prompt based on this series, what would it be?
Pick something happening politically, something that outrages you or terrifies you (that shouldn’t be too hard in our current political landscape) and make it into something you love. Manipulate it, humanize it. I deeply love my character in this collection and terrible things happen to her, but I have the power to help her get out of her situation. I can write her way, and my way, out of despair.