Jessica Moore is an author and literary translator with a special interest in the shadowy corridors between languages. Her first book, Everything, now (Brick Books 2012), is a love letter to the dead and a conversation with her translation of Turkana Boy (Talonbooks 2012) by Jean-François Beauchemin, for which she won a PEN America Translation award. Mend the Living, her translation of the novel by Maylis de Kerangal, was nominated for the 2016 International Man Booker and won the UK's Wellcome Book Prize in 2017. Jessica’s most recent book—The Whole Singing Ocean (Nightwood 2020)—is a true story blending long poem, investigation, sailor slang and ecological grief, and was longlisted for the League of Canadian Poets’ Raymond Souster Award. She lives in Toronto.
Preferred styles include long poems and stories in poetic fragments. Influences include Ellen Bass, Anne Carson, Vicente Aleixandre.
I remember falling completely for Ellen Bass's long poem, "Our Stunning Harvest", when I was 17, in a class called Women and Literature taught by a fierce feminist professor who had us begin each class with a 20 minute free-write, to music. I was discovering and claiming myself as a person and a poet those intense years --marked by such depth of feeling! -- beginning to know the tremendous joy of language. I have a memory of reading "Our Stunning Harvest" aloud to the other women in the class, and feeling the building power of the poem, the potential in layering, the impact that has partly to do with precision of an image, returned to multiple times, and partly to do with the expanse of the long poem.
I also remember having to memorize Victor Hugo's "Les Djinns" while on exchange in French Switzerland in grade ten. It, too, is a poem that builds - even visually, it begins with short lines of just a few syllables and swells to the loudest part of the poem, the clamour and rush of the swarm of djinns passing, before growing slender and quiet again towards the end. Many subtleties of the meaning escaped me at the time, but the sounds, the music and the swell all grew familiar and rich through memorization.
I started writing poems when I was five years old, but maybe didn't start thinking of myself as a poet until my first published poem, when I was eight, which appeared in the Toronto Sun and was an ode to the creek behind my grandparents' house. Around this same time, I distinctly remember crafting another poem about recurrent flying dreams. Specifically, I was aware of NOT choosing classically 'poetic' words when describing the wind in these dreams. I had to stand my ground when my mother suggested the word "caressing" (as related to the wind) and assert my line, 'wind cooling my face', instead. This seems small, but there was a consciousness there already of voice.
And though I can't help sliding towards lyricism, I am still drawn to plainspoken lines, and feel these resonate deepest.
There's something so incredible, so precisely between pleasure and pain, that happens when a line is just right -- it can go straight to the core. I am thinking of Alice Oswald, 'the heart's thick accent', or 'it's midnight and my life is laid beneath my children like gold leaf'. I am thinking, too, of Erin Robinsong's poem "Late Prayer", of Dilruba Ahmed's "Phase One", John Steffler's "The Grey Islands", and of all of Anne Carson. I think poetry interrupts us in ways that can feel affirming, startling, heartbreaking, and electric.
I suppose this means I think the job of the poet is to wake us up!
So hard to choose just one. But I would be drawn to the excerpt "From Whereas", by Layli Long Soldier, a gorgeous and wise book that feels necessary, especially as a settler wanting to unlearn so much of my 'settler education' (to borrow the words of another wonderful poet, Laurie Graham). I like the plainspeak and the emotion of this poem. And I love the shift when the poet's daughter, who has skinned her knees, is carried in bleeding--out of some mysterious instinct she's laughing, too, and the mother says, 'Stop, my girl, If you're hurting, cry.' This line undoes something in me as the reader, and unleashes the daughter's held-back tears.
And then, too, I love the further turn when Long Soldier is reading a government document and notices her own reaction to the ludicrousness of the line 'the arrival of Europeans in North America opened a new chapter for the history of Native Peoples'. That same instinct to laugh takes over, and she recognizes, after the fact, that this is akin to what her daughter felt when she came in bleeding.