Q: Walk me through the typical creative process for one of your poems.
A: You asked for my typical creative process, and that varies a lot, but there are some things that are consistent. When I’m getting started, it’s not enough for me to have an idea I’m excited about; my real starting point comes when I write a first line. The meter and rhyme in a poem have to be clear from the very beginning, so that first line has to establish not only a captivating hook but also a tone that will match it and a rhythm that will propel it.
Once I’ve got that first line, I’ll play around a bit. I have some experience with improv, and this feels similar. I freestyle for a while, basically just toying with possible directions until I’ve convinced myself that there’s enough depth in this idea for me to spend time with it. I’m still not ready to commit to writing the full poem at this point, though. The last thing I need is an ending — a punchline, twist, or conclusion that makes it feel like this story was worth telling in the first place. When I’ve got my beginning and know what I’m working towards, then I start seriously writing.
Q: You’re a 4th grade teacher. How do you think working with kids impacts your art?
A: I don’t think I’d be writing the poetry I’m writing if I wasn’t working with children, for a couple reasons. It’s motivation: I love the students I work with and think they’re hilarious, and I want them to have great, hilarious things to read. It’s a source of ideas: much of the poetry I write comes in direct response to needs I see in my own classroom, whether it’s engaging introductions to new topics or fun texts that give kids an opportunity to apply new skills to interacting with. It’s inspiration: I am surrounded by amazing authors, and I’m also surrounded by children who are just beginning to discover how meaningful great text can be.
Q: At what point in your life did you consider a poet?
A: I’ve always thought of myself as a writer — I love writing and I do lots of it, both in the form of creative writing and writing for the various jobs or volunteer and advocacy work I’ve done. But it took me longer to think of myself as a poet. I decided a few years ago that, if I really wanted to think of myself as a writer, I needed to write much more. I bought a couple notebooks and started making myself write every day. I didn’t try to become a poet, I just looked back at my notebooks years later and realized that most of what had come out of me was poetry. At the time, it had just seemed like a fun motivating exercise, but I decided to try treating it like a more meaningful part of my life. That’s when I started a blog, which I created entirely for the purpose of putting accountability on myself to write more.
Q: What does National Poetry Month mean to you? Do you do anything special in celebration?
A: As a 4th grade teacher, it is a sad truth that National Poetry Month coincides with standardized testing month. That means that I can’t really start my poetry units until May. I make up for this by passive-aggressively writing poems complaining about testing. I write these while I am Actively Monitoring the tests. Please don’t report me. Last year I wrote a couple, but this year I’m trying to write at least one new one for every day of testing. We have 9 days of testing spread over the entire month of April this year. So my blog has lots of snarky testing poetry. (You can check those out here. They’re great.)
Q: If you could have one story from your life turned into a work of art, which would it be?
A: Gosh, there are so many stories that I’d love to have in some kind of permanent art form. If I had to pick one that’s speaking to me right now, it would be something simple that serves as a pretty good metaphor for this point in the school year: a long, rainy, slippery hike, and the hilariously perfect break in the clouds that arrived just when we reached the top of the mountain.
What a blast having poet and writer Jesse Gottschalk on for an interview was. Don’t forget to check out his blog and to let us know what you thought in the comments below!