Women's Lib: Vanessa Jimenez Gabb

Talking class, love, and poetry.

Vanessa Jimenez Gabb is a Brooklyn-born poet. Her debut full-length book, Images for Radical Politics won the Editor's Choice for Rescue Press's 2015 Black Box Poetry Prize and will be published in 2016. Her chapbooks, Weekend Poems (2014) and Midnight Blue (2015), will make you feel things. 

Image via Ian Sautner

Vanessa's poems are dark, moving, full of life, and position you so that you’re always on the verge of something real and big. 

The Kind caught up with Vanessa to talk words, inspiration, and what it means to be a poet. 

The Kind: Poetry feels so special, but it seems incredibly hard to actually write poetry. Why is it so special? How does poetry differ from other mediums?

Vanessa: It does feel quite special. I love what Emily Dickinson said: "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." I think poetry is about trying to write in a language that makes sense to you, to take the words that exist and choreograph them in a new way to reach a truth, and to push for change through this truth. I don't think a poem has to be understood fully in order to be felt fully. I also have very little patience; so I can create a poem more quickly than a short story, let's say. It's also one of the least commercialized artistic products; so there is a certain freedom it allows. It's hard because it's terrifying to be so honest. It's also hard if you try to write in someone else's voice other than your own.

Image via Ian Sautner

The Kind: In your [forthcoming] book, Images for Radical Politics, you talk a lot about class, love, and politics. Can you talk about that?

Vanessa: How I am (and maybe others feel this way, too) in love is affected by how I place myself and understand myself socioeconomically, and vice versa. I have trouble separating the two. One informs the other. Love is very much a product of class in my mind. I am never not thinking of these subjects as I move through my day, and when I get home at night, so when I sit down to write, I don't necessarily want to escape them by writing about something else, I want to deal with them and become angered by them or comforted by them.

Images via Ian Sautner

The Kind: You even wrote an essay about class and publishing. What prompted you to write that? 

Vanessa: The lovely Natalie Eilbert was generous enough to recommend me to the equally lovely Emily Brandt and VIDA Women in Literary Arts. I'd never published a personal essay before so was slightly trepidatious but felt like the timing was right—I had been sending my manuscript out to a bunch of contests all spring and thinking about this idea of winning and "the one" and how they are part of the trappings of capitalism. And just being frustrated with having that awareness yet still contributing to the system because that is the current system I live in.

The Kind: I’ve known you for a long time, and I’ve seen such an amazing climb in your poems. What influences the change and momentum in your poems?

Vanessa: Thank you, babe! For me, perhaps it's less of a climb and more of a coming to consciousness of the self existing in a greater space, that the self is a product of a larger idea. I try to write very personal poems but also poems that comment on what is raging outside my own windows. And shit is raging, so I can't help but be affected by that and want to be affected and locate myself on that continuum.

Image via Ian Sautner

The Kind: You and I have talked a lot about making money, because we never seem to have any as artists. Talk about your work/life balance.

Vanessa: Ugh, yeah. It's so not a balance. Unfortunately. The job that I get paid to do takes up most of my time. The work that I don't get paid to do is relegated to twilight. Love, family, friends are with me all day and night, but not always in physical form.

The Kind: You talk about jobs in your poetry. It seems to be something that we cannot escape, and yet you make it sound magic.

Vanessa: Gosh. That's generous. Uh, I think my job is my life, to a certain extent. It's where I spend the majority of my time, it shapes something in me, every day, for better or for worse. I teach English so what I do, in many ways, directly informs my life work, my writing. There is so much wonder in our own labor, our rituals, what we are able to do with our hands and minds, as well as so much exploitation in the structures that employ these. The tension is interesting to me.

The Kind: Tell me about your influences, favorite poets, and your favorite things. 

Vanessa: I don't necessarily have a favorite poet, but I have many fav poems, too many to name, but "The Day Lady Died" is one I've loved a long time, the way everything pools into that final image. 

Also, my first edition copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, all my homies like you who are doing it, Karl Marx, Brooklyn, Belize, Nars Red Square, Pour La Victoria bootiesm, my cats, Peter and Parker. And, my family. 

Each week "Women's Lib" checks in with amazing ladies and we make them fill out a feminist Mad Lib.