In my early twenties, with a shiny new degree and a recent string of restaurant gigs where people said things like, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean,” I decided that a big-kid office job was my path into true adulthood. Hence, five years in the uber-corporate environs of textbook publishing, where I got very good at spreadsheets and tossing around bloodless, soul-draining phrases like “ROI,” “skills set,” and “seamless integration,” while trying to convince myself that an expense account and a Manhattan address were far more fun than that poetry stuff to which I’d imagined devoting myself. Poetry could be a hobby: what I read on my lunch breaks; what I went, often as I could, to listen to other people read.
Then, I met Nickole–met Nickole and fell for her, hard. On tour in New York for her first book, Sister, when she returned to Louisville we began to correspond; she’d send emails that were less letters than poems, overflowing with lush descriptions and important questions, whose answers demanded I respond in kind. Which meant writing. Which meant remembering how good real writing felt. I found myself crafting and recrafting my replies to her, writing pastiches of poems when I should have been populating databases (Frost’s “After Apple-Picking” becoming my “After Office-Dwelling,” the original poem like training wheels for my creaky early efforts) , and wondering if there might be other choices, better choices for how I could be spending my days.
To investigate, I applied for a master-class taught by Marie Ponsot at New School. To prepare, I camped out on a blanket in Washington Square Park and read everything I could find by Ponsot, marveling at how she was able to capture the sensuality of the everyday, marveling at her joy.
The first day of class, I walked in to find a clutch of very serious writers gathered around a tiny woman in her eighties, a giant yellow pin emblazoned with STILL AGAINST WAR on her lapel. Before even asking us our names, she had us write an exquisite corpse, each of us contributing a verse as our means of introduction, giving us no time to claim writer’s block or inexperience. It was terrifying and utterly thrilling and, by the end of those six weeks, I had made the choice to leave publishing behind and apply for my MFA.
So after the final class, as everyone thanked her profusely and hugged her goodbye, I nervously waited to ask her for a letter of recommendation.
“I have one stipulation,” she said, “you have to come to my apartment and sit with me while I write it.”
And so I found myself sitting on her couch, trying to memorize the titles on her overstuffed bookshelves (each shelf crammed double), trying to memorize every small sound she made as she read through the poems she’d ask me to bring.
I forced myself not to read her letter until I was downstairs, safely on the street. I unlocked my bike and propped myself on the crossbar. The first sentence was five words: “Jessica Jacobs is a poet.” So simple, and yet having someone like Marie see me as such, grant me a title that even now I have trouble taking, meant a long ride down Lexington, shopfronts blurred by my wet eyes, repeating those five words again and again.
Which is why when Nickole and I were looking for a title for our blog, her poems were the source I turned to. “Among Women” was everything we wanted: love and chances taken, a long life and a “rooted garden” and still the desire to roam.
What women wander?
Not many. All. A few.
Most would, now & then,
& no wonder.
Some, and I’m one,
Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother
Bought from every peddler
Less for the ribbons and lace
Than for their scent
Of sleep where you will,
Walk out when you want, choose
Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had
High blood, runner’s ankles,
Could endure, endure.
She loved her rooted garden, her
Grand children, her once
Wild once young man.
As best they can.