Jessica Mehta is the author of three collections of poetry and one novel. Mehta is also the founder of MehtaFor: Writing and Editing, and she serves as a poetry reviewer for Contemporary Literary Review India and Foreword Reviews.
S85: What are you working on currently?
JM: My fourth collection of poetry, Secret-telling Bones, releases in September 2017. I’m gearing up for three summer residencies — one with Hosking Houses Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK, one in Paris, France, and one in Santa Fe, NM — to put the finishing touches on the upcoming book, as well as complete the manuscript for my fifth collection. I’m also continuing to grow my business, MehtaFor, and taking advanced yoga teacher training courses to complement my karma yoga movement, Get it Ohm!
S85: How does a poem start for you, with an idea, an image, catharsis, how does it begin?
JM: Often it begins with a single line. If I can write that line down, I can usually go back to it and let the poem unfold from that line. Oftentimes, this happens in the middle of the night. When I was training for marathons, it would always come to me during long runs (probably because I ran with no technology and had no means of getting words down).
S85: What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
JM: I’m much more articulate when I write, although the “voice” is the same as my genuine speaking voice — of course with a lot less “likes” and “uhms.” A recent poem I wrote, “How to Talk to the Dying,” includes the lines, “I looked up ‘What to say / to the dying’ because words / get stuck in my hands.” That’s the most accurate description.
S85: What are you reading? If you were to convince readers to open one book, which would it be?
JM: At the moment it’s The Vegetarian by Han Kang, but I’m not far enough into it to have an opinion. I lived in Seoul for a year, which is what made me pick it up in the first place. Of course, I absolutely adore books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (I have two first editions) and almost everything by Toni Morrison, but some recent books I love include Tampa by Alissa Nutting, Towelhead by Alicia Erian, and In the Skin of a Jihadist by Anna Erelle.
S85: What is the worst advice you’ve heard established writers give aspiring writers?
JM: “Write every day.”
I’ve gone weeks and months without writing creative pieces before, and when I try to force myself the outcome is terrible. Granted, I write in some capacity five days per week because writing is how I make a living. There’s a difference between keeping in practice and forcing yourself to write “just because.” Don’t turn something you love into something you dread daily.
S85: Recently, I was chatting with a friend about many troubling aspects of our current society. After a particularly long rant my friend asked, “What are you doing about it?”
My response, “I would argue that writing about it is doing something about it.”
What would you argue writing is doing, or can do to improve a given social, or political climate?
JM: Writing is absolutely a powerful tool or weapon, depending on who’s yielding it and how. There’s a reason the phrase, “Did you get it in writing?” is so common. The written word can hold much more weight than the verbal, providing a permanence and platform for reflective expression. However, personally, I always tell my clients I’ll write just about anything except about finance or politics. As a Native American writer, I’m often faced with others (Native and not) expecting me to be responsible for representing the pan-Indian experience. I choose not to use my writing to focus on improving social/political climates, though there are certainly writers out there doing a fantastic job of it.
About the Author
Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Jey Tehya) is a Cherokee poet and novelist. She’s the author of four collections of poetry including Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo as well as the novel The Wrong Kind of Indian. Jessica is the owner of a multi-award winning writing services business, MehtaFor, and is the founder of the Get it Ohm! karmic yoga movement. Visit Jessica’s author site at www.jessicatynermehta.com.
About the Interviewer
Mel Sherrer is a performance poet and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She is the Managing Poetry Editor for South 85 Journal.