By Eleanor Burke
Special to the Weekly
“I do see this book as political, in a lot of ways,” says Gabriel Jesiolowski, about their debut poetry collection. “As Burning Leaves,” out April 15 by Red Hen Press. Spatially gorgeous, indigo-hued, wind-swept, and simultaneously haunting and beautiful, “As Burning Leaves” is filled with longing, grief and wonder.
“But first, we’ll have to wade through the root systems of abandoned houses, cold drives/drinking alone — we will lie with lovers who are sudden strangers, the moon that loses tide/& supposing you are lucky … there is the salt air too, maybe a spool of five hundred starlings that move in & out of the light, if lucky, someone may brush your arm & say/under their breath — I wish I could go home.=,” from “Up To & Including Her Limits.”
Searching for home, lovers come and gone, the wandering and grief that accompany loss weave throughout poems that traverse fields in Ohio, dark forests in Maine, to the rocky shores of Lopez Island, a landscape which in recent years claimed Jesiolowski.
Burke: These poems are so intimate; did you have any hesitation about sharing them with the world?
Jesiolowski: I think all writing is a vulnerability study, in a way. I write to figure out what I actually believe. This is an intimate book, with intimate portraits. But I guess I don’t hesitate at all. It feels a way to communicate, create connection, and a way to heal and offer healing. What I really wanted for this book is openness and willingness, even if in that truth, it’s not always pretty, or easy; I’m committed to that exploration as an artist and a writer.
Burke: You identify as a queer poet and an activist; how does this book serve that community, or for others still struggling to find their place in the world?
Jesiolowski: This book is about resistance, resistance to gender. I definitely see the personal as the political. I don’t identify with the binary but as non-conforming. Gender is part of the journey of the book; my own grappling with living in a body in a way that is congruent with the world. I’m always grappling with this question, and I don’t think I’ll ever have it figured out, and I’m ok with that.
Burke: I know you first as a painter and visual artist, did that impact the layout of the book?
Jesiolowski: I assembled the book visually. I printed off the poems and laid them out on the floor. I kept moving them around, like squares in a quilt, until I got what I wanted. So the arrangement was spatial and intuitive, not linear. I was fierce when editing, if I was too attached to something, or I didn’t think the poem was accessible enough I’d take it out.
Burke: Talk to me about creative muse, and what’s next for your work?
Jesiolowski: Failure is a huge part of my work, a ton of failure! The failure to conform! I love the quiet on Lopez for creating, but I want to collaborate more with other artists. I’m spending time in LA and there are so many amazing artists there. I met with a designer whose work is rooted in civic engagement. All the poems I’m writing now are blocks of text. I appreciate Lopez’s affinity for barter and trade, and that one can survive and thrive here on very little; I’m curious if alternative economics can be translated to an urban environment like LA. I’d like to create a design studio that’s a collaborative multidisciplinary effort.
Gabriel Jesiolowski reads at the Lopez Island Library on April 23 at 7 p.m.
Explore more at www.gabrieljesiolowski.com.