Jill Talbot is the author of two poems, “A Towel’s Life” and “Ontology of Dreams,” in The Puritan’s Summer 2016 issue, poetry edited by Sonnet L’Abbé. For The Town Crier’s ongoing Author Notes series, here she talks about her writing process.
Sometimes I have to step out and look at a flower, David Foster Wallace said in reference to satire. He believed that irony was important on a cultural and intellectual level but corrosive to the soul.
Something I’ve been wondering lately is whether it really is easier to make people cry than laugh. I’ve often had fantasies about telling audiences to stop laughing. Not that my writing doesn’t intend to be funny—it does. I’m just wondering where the line of sincerity is.
After my first poetry reading, people told me I moved them. After my second reading, people told me I was brilliant.
I suppose irreverent writing that causes laughter about psych wards, drug addiction, prostitution, and suicide is honest because my approach to these matters has generally been irreverent. I honestly believed hospitalization was a joke. Thus, to bring the audience into my world where detox is just another cartoon is probably hugely healing and changes the audience deeply. However, I’m thinking that it’s time that I join their side where the lines of the cartoons fade into the background and my life becomes real.
I often wonder what David Foster Wallace would’ve thought about Banksy. Everyone I know seems to love him. All I could think of was the DFW commentary on our increasingly snarky and cynical culture. To point out our own ugliness by making the world uglier seems to be mistaken for virtue or integrity. To me it is braver and harder to make the world more beautiful. After all, if you’re buying a Banksy, chances are you already believe the premise.
But perhaps beauty is the wrong word. Perhaps I mean real.
My earlier poems more often made people cry. But I learned that it was much harder to publish that way than by being clever. I certainly don’t generalize this. This is merely true for my writing. I’m getting to the point where I’ve had about all the cynical cartoons that I can take. The real irony is that I’m the one offering up the cartoons I want to yell at people for buying. I really want to yell at myself—look at a fucking flower!
I’ve often had fantasies about telling audiences to stop laughing.
Maybe it’s my life that’s made being clever easier than being emotionally raw. I don’t mean that I’m particularly clever but that I have a particularly hard time being raw, both because my threshold for pain is so high and yet I have so much pain. Irony is largely a coping mechanism. It’s possible for one’s whole life to become a cartoon, and when you start to imagine that your towel has consciousness, that doesn’t exactly lead to a hugely balanced mental state.
Perhaps clever is also the wrong word.
Even though I’m much more respected for the cartoons mixed with reality (in writing, in real life people just think I’m mad), I’m hoping to get to a place where the real is mixed in with the real, even if it doesn’t sell, which it won’t, at least not—or rarely—in the form of poetry. Short stories make it easier to fade the cartoons in and out with the mud and the flowers.
Perhaps what’s hardest is doing what your gut needs, even knowing it won’t sell.
I think that “A Towel’s Life” delicately balanced this line. The POV of a towel is cartoon-like, but the fighting is, I think, honest, and a part of me yearns to go deeper.
People think flowers are easy. They have no idea. And even if they are easy, we certainly need more of them.
Jill Talbot attended Simon Fraser University for psychology before pursing her passion for writing. Jill has appeared in Geist, Rattle, and subTerrain and was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit Pop Award in 2015 and the Malahat Far Horizons Award in 2016. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.