Jessica Barksdale: On How Every Poem Is a Learning Experience

Author and poet Jessica Barksdale discusses how she decided which poems would be included in her latest collection, Grim Honey, and why drafting each poem was a learning experience.
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Jessica Barksdale Inclán is the author of 15 novels, including the award-winning The Burning Hour as well as Her Daughter's Eyes, The Matter of Grace, and When You Believe. Her debut poetry collection, When We Almost Drowned, was published in March 2019. A Pushcart Prize, Million Writers Award, and Best-of-the-Net nominee, Barksdale Inclán was an English professor at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, for 31 years, and continues to teach novel writing for UCLA Extension and the MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University. She holds an MA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and an MFA from the Rainier Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jessica now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Jessica Barksdale Inclán

In this post, Barksdale discusses how she decided which poems would be included in her latest collection, Grim Honey, why drafting each poem was a learning experience, and more!

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Name: Jessica Barksdale Inclán
Title: Grim Honey
Publisher: Sheila-Na-Gig/Ingram
Release date: April 1, 2021
Length: 47 poems
Previous titles by the author: The author of 15 novels and two poetry collections, Jessica Barksdale’s latest novel, The Play’s the Thing, will be published May 18th.

Grim Honey by Jessica Barksdale Inclán

Grim Honey by Jessica Barksdale

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How long did it take you to write this book?

During lockdown, I participated in several writing round robins—poets/writers are paired up for a week and commit to sending each other work each day—and a couple of poetry retreats through Two Sylvias Press. Many of these poems came out of the early part of the pandemic, and these great writing experiences provided accountability, inspiration, and salvation.

Some of these poems were written after my first collection went into production, and I was very happy to have a nice home for them in Grim Honey.

How did you go about getting it published?

I was lucky enough to have the poet Maggie Smith edit my first collection, When We Almost Drowned, and I used her hints and tips to put together this collection. Once I felt it was in good form, I began to submit it to contests, a common way for poetry books to get published. My editor at Sheila-Na-Gig was really helpful, too, with thoughts and suggestions, and we worked well together to come up with the finished book.

How many of your poems were previously published?

18 of these poems were previously published, and another couple were prize-winners in poetry contests.

(Poetry FAQs: Having what it takes to be a poet)

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

I will say immediately that this was the swiftest, most collaborative, most supportive publishing experience I have ever had. Haley Haugen invited me in and allowed me to make choices. She never made me wait and wonder. She was present and willing. All of that is totally surprising!

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

Every poem is a learning experience, and then putting these packets of learning close to each other is always kind of mind-boggling. I can see my current themes and obsessions pretty clearly. Also, the notion of grim honey—the dark and the sweet—really sort of expressed what has been going on in the world this past year. What kind of horrifying amazement has this past year been? It’s so, so dark, and yet, yes, so sweet in many surprising ways.

(Finding Success as a Poet)

Did you revise any of your poems between acceptance and publication?

Yes. I had one error, in fact (I won’t say what or in what poem), and I also took two poems out that ultimately made me uncomfortable. I like the poems, but words can be weapons, and really, why? We don’t need anything else out there hurting anyone, even if that was not the intent.

Who or what are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Alicia Hoffman’s new collection Animal. Full disclosure, I blurbed the manuscript, but it was amazing to hold it in hard copy, turning each and every page.

Jessica Barksdale: On How Every Poem Is a Learning Experience

If you could share one piece of advice with other poets, what would it be?

Write every day. I mentioned the round robins and the poetry retreats. Both provided me with that simple task. Write every day. Revise later.

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