Ahead of the release of nightsong, their latest collection of poems, Ever Jones spoke with editorial intern Aumaine Rose Gruich. Here, they discussed the poem as prayer and elegy, liberating nature and the body from the constraints of formal language, and working social justice and eco-poetics into the wider project of connection and fluidity.
Aumaine Rose Gruich: The book emerges from a formal time constraint. What was your composing process like in those seven months, and did you know at the time that you were writing a book?
Ever Jones: nightsong was designed as a book of surrender. Formally, I knew that I had to do away with conventions such as titles, punctuation and the left margin. The grip of assimilating into the basic conventions of the English language needed to be liberated so I could find enough space for the poems. nightsong began in a specific moment of tension: The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando was among a series of mass shootings quickly becoming the norm, Donald Trump was inciting racist and xenophobic attitudes for political strength, and I was looking directly into the face of my gender identity. I wanted to write a book that thought about marginalization, the body, and connection. As a trans masculine non-binary person who woke up to my gender identity later in life, I survived two decades with no connection to my body. I just sort of ghosted myself. And what’s worse, is that I used my privilege as a white person to do it. It is easy to hide when you are white and cis-ish gendered. nightsong was an opportunity to write a poem each day that collected the ghosts of America’s socially constructed and silently agreed upon oppressions. The stillness of the dark hours made the poems, particularly in the first half of the book, almost like prayers seeking their way into the world.
ARG: Can you speak to the book’s relationship between the body (or bodies), animals, and nature?
EJ: Bodies and nature bear no natural separation, so nightsong springs from that connection. When I need to understand defensiveness, I study plants. When I want to develop my thinking on cruelty vs. survival, I watch a crow decimate a smaller bird’s nest. When I want to understand the fluidity of gender, I lean into a tree. nightsong wanders the territory between natural being and truthless social construction. It does not deny either, but uses nature, animality in particular, to illuminate the nature of inequality and its violent consequences. My body in its basic human nature does not attract violence. But my body under the gaze of social constructions does, through erasure, denial, oppression, and sometimes assault.
ARG: How is nightsong in conversation with, similar to, or dissimilar from the conventions of elegy?
EJ: The elegy is hard to pin down, but at its core is a public and private reckoning with loss. With nightsong, I really wanted to flirt with Susan Griffin’s quote about wildness being “a quality close to death.” There’s an aliveness inherent in wildness, so I wanted the dead to be alive first. I wanted my breasts, which I had at the time, to feel alive to me before I had reconstructive chest surgery. I wanted to feel the burst of life on my tongue even as the blackberry was withering. I wanted the trans people lost during the writing of nightsong to be surrounded with what is alive. This book is elegiac in the sense that it beholds losses; there is no looking away.
ARG: What about the poems’ forms?
EJ: nightsong’s intensity mounted at the time of the 2016 election when Donald Trump was elected president. That was a turning point in this collection, in which the poems’ forms began to pull on their suits so to speak. I felt a bit shocked out of the book’s natural form and expression and could only respond by allowing the poems to take on their heat and stanzas. The aspect of the poem feeling like prayer evolved into a more pressing political lyric.
ARG: Can you speak about the book’s interest in language as it intersects with other themes (the self, the body, nature)?
EJ: Poems in nightsong resist identification, and that is what propels them. The book rests heavily on imagination and new ways of thinking and ecstatic connections. And that resistance to identification intersects with the book’s other themes of self, body, and nature. Those themes want to rest in a wilderness of spirit and aliveness. Words can be stones when misused.
ARG: Can you speak about how the thematic thread of addressing whiteness in both subtle and explicit ways is an essential part of nightsong’s larger project?
EJ: One aspect of social constructions is that they do not live in a vacuum, and neither do poems. nightsong’s project can be said in two words: connection and liberation. These cannot exist without each other unless the desired outcome is escapism. So what does it mean to surge the intersection between trans, privileged as white, and connected to nature? nightsong is a challenge to the nature writer, but is intended as an invitation to reconnect social justice and eco-poetics. We simply cannot continue to tell recycled stories and moral clichés that are based upon colonial principles of privilege—that one person is more valuable than another. Examining whiteness is a way of working into colonialism through the lens of identity. For a white person, you have to work into it, not out of it. Working in is the deconstruction project of nightsong.
ARG: What were difficulties, blessings, or surprises of tackling both love and death in one project?
EJ: To be honest, nightsong feels like a blessing I co-authored with the darkness of night. There is such an intelligence around us. I was blessed to find time to listen for it. I felt like the night’s voice was a vibrational hum just above the activity of daily life. During the writing of this book I lived on a quiet island off the shore of Seattle on an organic farm. The sounds were wild: always life and the temporary sound before its ending. nightsong instilled in me that we can’t feel death without feeling love first. But that love—to really reach out to it—is unbearably beautiful. You cannot hold it.
ARG: How do you hope the book’s one, unified section with nearly all titles taken from the poems’ first lines affects readers in light of the larger project of nightsong?
EJ: I hope nightsong facilitates a feeling of fluidity and connection for readers. Each line required a feeling of vastness to be discovered, and I hope that same space exists for the reader.
Ever Jones (they/them) is a queer/trans writer, artist, & instructor based in Seattle. They are the author of three poetry collections, nightsong (Sundress Publications), Wilderness Lessons (FutureCycle Press), & Primitive Elegy (alicebluebooks). They were a finalist for terrain.org’s 2013 poetry contest and the grand prize winner of the Eco-Arts Awards in 2014. Ever is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Tacoma & teaches at Richard Hugo House. Their most recent publications include work in POETRY Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, About Place Journal, & other places. Please visit everjones.com to view some art.
Aumaine Rose Gruich is an MFA candidate at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Assistant Managing Editor of Ninth Letter. She has received support from the Chautauqua Writer’s Workshop and the Illinois Department of Dance’s Choreographic Platform. Gruich’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines such as Pleiades, Court Green, Phoebe, and Bluestem.