Jules Nyquist | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. What got you started into poetry? What age?

Jules Nyquist:  I started writing poetry in Junior High. I remember my first English teacher, Mrs. Baber from Maplewood Junior High in Minnesota, which is a suburb of St. Paul  (everyone seems to have that first teacher they remember) who encouraged me to write poetry. I wrote a poem called “Psycho” that I still remember to this day, and it was a bit surreal and about death.  She wrote comments and paid attention to my writing, which boosted my self-esteem.  The first poem I had published was around 1975, in a small booklet called “Power,” a spiritual Christian based magazine that our church had on display with some free copies.  I took one home and submitted, it was a mix of essays and poetry, and wound up getting two poems in two separate print issues.  My mom was proud of me after that and since I always had my nose in a book, she started to realize I was interested in writing.  I would have been about 13 at the time. I remember they sent me a check, something like $20 which was a huge amount of money then.  I went shopping for clothes and picked out some sort of shirt I liked.  Even now, I’ve never got paid much more than that for a single poem.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

JN:  I love getting up early, about 6:30 and having tea with my cat Bags on my lap. I’ll have a toasted muffin or bagel and some fruit.  If I go out to eat, it’s definitely eggs.

KPG. How much influence does your university degree(s) has on your writing of poetry and how?

JN:  My MFA in Writing and Literature is from Bennington College, Vermont.  It helped me network and expand my knowledge of other writers. When I lived in the Twin Cities, there was (and still is) a strong literary community and I was familiar with a lot of the local Minnesota poets. I also worked for the Loft Literary Center as an education associate, which means I handled class registrations, met the teachers and hosted events. So I wanted to do my graduate work out of state.  I met a lot of poets I had never heard of, both in the Vermont area and elsewhere. Some of them had never heard of my favorite Minnesota poets.  Bennington’s philosophy was ‘read one hundred books, write one.’  We had book annotations of poetry along with writing our own poems.  My professors were influential in my work and I worked with Liam Rector (now deceased), Ed Ochester, April Bernard and E. Ethelbert Miller, all of whom had different styles and insights which helped me with my craft, as well as the world of poetry.  We did some workshopping, but Bennington was more about how you bring your work out in the word, becoming a woman of letters.  Liam always showed this clip from Glenngarry GlennRoss,  the section on “Always Be Closing” with Alec Baldwin.   He would just play it, without any explanation, once a year for new students and we’d see it a couple of times in the two year program. It’s about creating your own opportunities, whether it be in writing or in life.  That philosophy has served me well, since an MFA will not guarantee you a job, and Bennington’s program was not about how to teach, it was about how to live the life of a writer, whether or not your career is in the field of writing or teaching.   A school is there to provide you with and expand your writing connections.  Also, I got my BA 20 years after I graduated from high school, from Metro State University in St. Paul, MN in Creative Writing, so I was working days and going to school at night and weekends for about seven years. I guess I’ve had that ‘arms length’ resume of a writer, with a lot of different career paths and zig-zagging back and forth, but writing has been there for me throughout it all.

KPG. Is there any other endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

JN: I think being curious about everything helps one write about anything.  I love movies, old bookstores, travel, music, great restaurants, learning about other cultures.

KPG. Tell us about one of your favorite poetry experiences.

JN:  My favorite gig was co-hosting Write on Radio, based in Minneapolis on KFAI. I did that, volunteering, for about eight years. I found out about it through the Loft Literary Center, where I was working at the time, when one of the staff members did the show. I asked if I could come along one day over a lunch break and I met friends that have changed my life. I also learned how to engineer and edit.  We interviewed two writers a week, including  poets, fiction writers, non-fiction, memoir, and we were responsible for finding authors to fill our one hour show air time.  We had two or three main co-hosts and a lot of other volunteers so I would have two or three interviews a month.  Authors sent us their books and we actually read them. You’d be amazed how many times we heard that interviewers never read their books, they just read the press releases. A great fringe benefit of the show was keeping the books and being exposed to writers, not just locally, but from all over the country, and internationally.

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

JN: I don’t have any relatives that were in the American Civil War, that I know of.  A psychic told me that I had an injury in a past life from the Civil War. She didn’t say what side I was on, so I don’t know if I was wearing blue or gray.  My husband John Roche and I went to the Pecos National Monument and Glorietta Pass this past summer and we hiked the ruins.  Take I-25 to Pecos, exit 299 on to Highway 50 to Pecos village and south two miles on State Road 63.

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school english classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

JN:  I’m not sure about a book, but I love the poets in the schools program. When I was in school there were no poets in the schools programs.  I had never met a poet in person, what we read were mostly dead white men and a few dead white women. I gravitated towards Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. So for me to have met a real, live poet at that time would have been incredible. I went to the library a lot, on my bike, and checked out books such as “100 Minnesota Poets.”  I didn’t meet any of them until much later.

KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

JN:  I’m not really into selfies. I do take a lot of pictures of my cats. Or nature photos.

KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

JN:  I like having emails come in to remind me of poetry. I subscribe to Writer’s Almanac (which has it’s ups and downs as far as quality of the poems), Poem A Day, and local blogs such as Duke City Fix, lotsa Larry Goodell, and others. For publishing, Duotrope is good, or Poets and Writers.  A lot of the poetry scene can be ‘underground’ but with social media it has opened up more as to finding out where events are.

KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

JN: All of them. I grew up camping and my dad would load us all in the station wagon for a two week summer vacation where we headed west or south. This would include me, my brother, my mom and the dog and our tent trailer.  That sparked my love of travel.

KPG. Do you have a dream that you work toward achieving. If so, please tell us about it.

JN: I’ve always wanted to be able to support myself strictly by leading writing retreats or having writers come here for writing retreats or workshops.  This is being partly realized when I founded Jules’ Poetry Playhouse shortly after I moved to Albuquerque in 2011.  I started the Poetry Playhouse in 2012 on a whim, when a studio space became available at the Kosmos. I had to make a decision that day to grab it, and I did. I was inspired by Pee Wee Herman’s playhouse and wanted to do something with poetry and play, and so Jules’ Poetry Playhouse was born.  That has tied into my long-term dream so someday maybe I’ll be able to retire from my ‘day job’ and do the Poetry Playhouse full time and expand it.

KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and which book of theirs should we seek?

JN:  My favorite Minnesota poets (which are probably not very well known here) are Ray Gonzales (from El Paso but teaches at U of Minnesota), pretty much anything of his, he has a lot of books,  Jim Moore (my mentor at the Split Rock Poetry summer series).  Freya Manfred is also a friend and poet, the daughter of Frederick Manfred.  My two favorite sestina poets (I teach a class on the sestina and I did my graduate lecture on the sestina) are New York City’s Star Black (also a photographer) and her book “Double Time” where she has double sestinas (now out of print but you can find it on albris.com) and Jim Cummins & David Lehman’s book “Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man” a delightful book of sestinas and comic-strip characters, illustrated. Jim Cummins also has a book “The Whole Truth” which is a murder-mystery story with each chapter as a sestina.  I am drawn to sestinas for their playful quirkiness, almost like a collage or jigsaw puzzle. Right now I’m reading Daisy Fried’s “Women’s Poetry” which is funny and authentic.

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

JN:  The nuclear explosion at Trinity Site and then at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am writing a series of nuclear poems which is titled Atomic Paradise, currently seeking a publisher.  It’s about living in New Mexico, a land of incredible beauty, surrounded by the military industrial complex.

KPG. What reoccurring themes have you noticed in your poetry over the years?  Is there a point of personal experience you revisit often?

JN:  I write whatever comes to me at the moment, and have tried to keep a daily writing practice to some extent.  Poems come from political or current events, personal events, my spiritual connection to nature and experimentation with forms such as surrealism, projective verse, sestinas, villanelles, pantoums and other forms.  I am working on another manuscript about the death of my parents, which happened about two years ago.   I collaborate a lot with poet/artist Denise Weaver Ross where we hold ekphrastic poetry workshops in response to art.   One fun thing that has been happening is publishing poetry anthology books from the workshops, with their own readings.  I love seeing my students or other writers come up with new poems and I’m glad I have had a chance to inspire them in their work.  Being a writer is solitary, but I find it is essential to connect with other writers or poets through books or attending events.  I also married a poet, so of course, we collaborate!  You can find out more about my classes or Jules’ Poetry Playhouse events at www.julesnyquist.com

KPG. What is your favorite decadent treat?

JN: Chocolate, of course.  Also chocolate elixers, European or New Mexican.


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