Jacob Minasian on Something as Simple as a Magazine Cover

Jacob Minasian on Something as Simple as a Magazine Cover

An interview with Jacob Minasian, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Jacob Minasian received his B.A. in English: Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California, where he is now a second year MFA candidate in poetry. Coming from a background of mostly prose writing, with only infrequent excursions into writing poems, Jacob switched his focus to poetry after taking a workshop his junior year at Saint Mary’s. Quite simply, he fell in love with the poetic form. He was immediately drawn to the way a poem can encapsulate so much of the human experience in such a finite amount of space. To Jacob, poetry is the mitochondria of language — its most compact, most generative form. He sees poems as organic, the meaning behind the words changing with the reader. He believes that, in this way, poems can grow and evolve with us. Jacob is a 2012-13 Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize winner, placing 3rd overall. He currently lives in Walnut Creek, California.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I either say writer or poet or student, though all those things are one and the same.

Many people ask what kind of poet I am, or what kind of poetry I write. My reply to this is any type of poet or poetry the poem calls for. The poem is the central unit to the collaboration. Sometimes I feel like the poem is dictating itself as much as I am writing it. If the poem wants to be post-modern, or romantic, or be written in meter, then that’s the way I write it. The poems will inevitably have the flavoring of the poet’s voice and style, but each calls out for different aesthetics and techniques that are unique to the individual poem. It’s an important exercise to experiment with language and form, and especially being where I am, in graduate school, now is definitely a perfect time to experiment with poetry.

What’s your biggest struggle — work or otherwise?

My biggest struggle is in finding two great ways of saying something, and having to choose one.

Also, with the words “and” and “of”. I cut and reinsert these words perpetually into my lines.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

I would tell them to ignore the would-be detractors. To be unafraid to pursue writing in any facet, if it’s something they are passionate about. Because writing breathes within you. It makes every moment of every day riveting, because you never know where that next inspiration will come from, or when it will strike. You could be standing in line at the grocery store, and you’re not bored because something as simple as a magazine cover could stir the start of a new poem in your mind. That’s an exciting way to live. And you should never let someone take that away from you with negativity or pessimism. Your words are more powerful.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I consider myself successful in the sense that I have found a great passion in my life, and am in the midst of pursuing that passion. To do something with your life that you find meaningful, and that can also affect others in a positive way, is a success in the very act of its pursuit.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

There is a video of W.S. Merwin reading his poem, “Yesterday”, and to me it’s a perfect reading of one of my favorite poems. It’s a sad poem, but whenever I’m feeling burnt out or overwhelmed during the editing process, this video restores my hunger for what poetry can achieve.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

My parents.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Kayaking, camping, hiking, white water rafting. Seeing things no human could build.

What is your fondest memory?

Seeing a Lakers game with my father when I was just a child. I was too young to remember anything except the moment before the game, when he took my brother and me down to the court-level seats, and I saw how tall the players were.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I’d like to see the educational system improved, better compensation for our teachers and more affordable college educations for our students. There’s no way a textbook should cost over a hundred dollars.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Is art necessary to live? To breathe and eat and drink? No. Is it necessary to stay mentally content? Absolutely. Art is creative communication. It communicates, intentionally or otherwise, human sentiment and emotion, using links in the patterns by which thoughts jump.

What are you working on right now?

I just finished a project in which I experiment with poetic narrative through series, sound, and rhythm. Basically, I like to think of it as a beat serial poem. I am now in the revision process.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

Teaching. I’d like to teach in a college classroom, to pass my knowledge and passion for writing on to a new generation of writers. One of my largest goals in life, a job I will never stop striving to fulfill, is to provide inspiration and encouragement to other writers.

In his poem “People Like Us”, Robert Bly wrote:

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe.

This is the sentiment I want to pass on to my students. I want all my students to feel like they’ve wandered into something great and mysterious and worthy of pursuit.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Cost of housing.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Dinner with friends, good conversation, maybe a visit to an art exhibit or theatre.

Or a trip to the nearest redbox location.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I could do much more with 50 words than 50 dollars. It’s not even close. With 50 dollars I could buy plenty of books at my local independent bookstore. With fifty words I could build a poem. And poems are priceless.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Books. Libraries. Summer air. Rivers, trees… and clichés, apparently.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

Can it be an experience I’m going through right now? Attending graduate school for my MFA has been an amazing life experience, and it would be great to have all those expenses paid for. Otherwise, I’d love to travel the world and see all the historically significant literary landmarks on my bucket list.

Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.