Writing instructor Jenna Goldsmith was named the interim director of the low-residency MFA in creative writing program at Oregon State University-Cascades on Aug. 1, replacing the 6-year-old program’s first director, Emily Carr.
Goldsmith, 32, said she’ll be in contention for the tenure-track job herself if she lands her full-length manuscript, “Still, Again” with a publisher.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a writing student to learn from Goldsmith, at least not this week: At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Downtown Bend Public Library, Goldsmith will lead a discussion on data poetics with the Central Oregon Writers Guild.
“I’m testing something out,” she said. Data poetics “is something I’m obsessed with right now.”
She doesn’t claim to be the inventor of data poetics, which she explains as “poetry that incorporates a lot of epistemological inquiry and data — and still sounds lyric,” she said. “I’m just totally into it. So I have to come up with some kind of argument about it.”
Poet Rosebud Ben-Oni is an example of someone writing this kind of poetry, Goldsmith said.
“She does chemistry poetry,” she said. “So just really cool writing that incorporates the periodic table of elements in really fascinating ways. She’s in the process of editing a special issue of the journal Pleiades that is … a chemistry-themed issue. Not in time for this talk.”
You wouldn’t guess it by Goldsmith’s curriculum vitae, but early in her academic career, she was on a path to journalism. She declared herself a journalism major at Rock Valley College, in Rockford, Illinois, where she worked on the staff of the school paper, The Valley Forge.
“I ended up quickly rising to police reports editor, and that was so amazing. I was the only one on campus that knew when there was a body in the trunk,” she said. “It would be everything from speeding to, literally, somebody would be pulled over and there would be a body in the trunk. It ran the gamut, and I so enjoyed it. I loved it, but I was really shy.”
Switching to English afforded her a little less interaction. She became interested in verse in a required poetry class.
“I was like, so this is poetry. This isn’t the poetry that I learned in high school. This is different,” she said. “I sat in the front row. … I got really into writing poetry and kind of immersed myself in it.”
She went on to earn Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees in English at Illinois State University, followed by a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in early 20th- century American Literature at the University of Kentucky.
Shyness aside, Goldsmith would have done well in a bustling newsroom. She prefers some noise while writing.
“My routine on the weekends is I’ll get up, I’ll walk down to the Jackson’s Corner on the west side, and I’ll sit at the bar and just drink coffee and write until I’m highly caffeinated and can’t sit there anymore. … I’m from Chicago, and I need the people. I need the humming of people,” she said.
If she’s tired, she may just revise in-progress poems. Some days a poem is ready to find its way onto the page.
“This sounds crass, but usually I have a shtick, like something — either a line will come to mind, or I have a concept I feel like I must explore — and then I’ll spend some time with it,” she said. “It’s rare that I’ll sort of start off without a true idea of where I want to go. If I’m in that space, I would probably read instead.”
Yes, she can read amid the breakfast din, too, at her restaurant of choice. “I just love it,” she said.
The noisy work has paid off in poems published in journals such as Utterance and Rabbit Catastrophe Review. In addition to the “Still, Again” manuscript, circulating with possible publishers now, her chapbook “Genesis by the river” was published earlier this year by blush books.
When last featured in GO! Magazine, in early 2018, Goldsmith noted that at Barnes & Noble Bookseller, the poetry section is often relegated to near-the-bathroom real estate.
After the fact, she was inspired to write a poem about it. “Restrooms Apologetics” was published in December in the online journal What Rough Beast.
“It’s all about poems near the bathroom,” she said. “That was a good moment where I was like, ‘I talk about this enough, I should really write a poem about it.’”
Sample line: “The bookstore doing its part to pause even the small dignity of reading and buying poetry because Restrooms door is swinging open and shut and sounds emerge okay that’s humans you think have some respect”
The silver-lining is that the poetry books of social media-savvy poets such as Rupi Kaur — a Canadian poet with 3.7 million followers on Instagram — are finding their way to book store displays near the entrance.
“The poetry section, yep, it’s still back (by) the bathrooms, but you will see the Rupi Kaur book when you first walk in,” Goldsmith said. “So they’re moving the books to the front sort of metaphorically and literally. And if that’s the way that students are reading poetry, then I’m fine with it. It’s not the poetry they’re going to read in my American lit survey, but if it gets them thinking about verse, then I’m for it.”
Goldsmith said there are some exciting changes ahead for the MFA program, including moving the weeklong residency portion, when students in the program convene with faculty in person, to OSU’s Bend campus rather than previous home Caldera Arts Center.” The arts camp facility is 38 miles from Bend.
“(The move) gives us an opportunity to really engage with the community in ways we have not been able to,” Goldsmith said. “We will be letting the community know about how they can really come and take advantage of the fact that we’ll have so many fantastic writers the first week of November in Bend.”
Along with the core faculty, the fall residency will also have three distinguished visiting writers present, though details have yet to be ironed out. “That is a surprise,” Goldsmith said.
She’s set a goal of getting MFA enrollment up to 25 students from its current number, about 18.
“I’m around, so I encourage people if they’re interested in how a degree in creative writing could be compelling for them in their lives,” she said. “I’m open to talking to people.”