Ask a Poet: Jonterri Gadson

This fall, we’re hosting a High School Regional Mini-Festival at the Paul Robeson Center in Newark. Through readings and performances, Q&As and discussions, a group of poets will engage with hundreds of Newark high school students over the course of one school day in October.

For the next several weeks, we will be featuring short Q&As with some of the participating poets on the Dodge Blog each Friday. This week, we’re talking to Jonterri Gadson.

Jonterri Gadson’s debut poetry collection, Blues Triumphant, was published in 2016. She is also the author of two chapbooks. She co-directed Writing from the Margins at Bloomfield College, a literary studies institute with workshops that centered the writing and voices of marginalized writers. Her poetry has appeared in Callaloo, Los Angeles Review, The Collagist, and other journals. She writes for an all-female comedic panel show and her comedy writing earned her selection to the 2016 NBC Late Night Writer’s Workshop.  She currently serves as Assistant Professor of Creative Writing/English at Bloomfield College in New Jersey.

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GadsonWhat is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?

It bothers me when people assume that poetry has to be some code to crack and that it only matters if it makes sense to the person who wrote it. If it only needs to make sense to the poet, then the poet might as well leave it in their secret diary that no one else will ever read.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

It was the strangest thing when I was online dating a few years ago that all of my first dates bought at least one copy of my chapbook from me to try to impress me. They often bought more than one so they could give it to their moms because everyone likes a man who treats his mom right, right? So I discovered that dating new people is a great way to sell books.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

I challenge myself to write whatever it is that I am most afraid to say, so I’m definitely afraid to share it. But I have to get over the being afraid to say it part first. I worry about sharing later.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Don’t let students get away with writing poems about nothing, as if poems don’t
really matter. Teach students how to be vulnerable by demonstrating your own vulnerability. That’s one way writing poems can change anyone’s life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading/studying a lot of television scripts so I can become a TV writer. My life and experience as a poet has directly led me to even greater possibilities as a writer. Poetry is the foundation for everything I write.

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