How It’s Made: Jessica Abughattas’s Strip
We’re so happy to have had the chance to look under the hood of Jessica Abughattas’ upcoming award winning debut, Strip (from University of Arkanasas Press in October 2020). “Winner of the 2020 Etel Adnan Poetry Prize, Jessica Abughattas’s Strip is a captivating debut about desire and dispossession and that tireless poetic metaphor—the body. Audacious and clear-eyed, plainspoken and brassy, Abughattas’s poems are songs that break free from confinement as they span the globe from Hollywood to Palestine.” With our How It’s Made series, we endeavor to take away some of that ever-present mystery of how a collection comes to being.
What were the most joyful moments of Strip’s journey to publication?
Some of my favorite memories are of sharing the manuscript-in-progress with my close friends in our writing group in LA. They mirrored my vision back to me, emboldening me to approach revision in radical ways. I’m a believer in finding trusted readers and friends that support one another through the process, which can be lonely and rife with rejection. Everyone wants to publish, but the most rewarding moments are to be moved by poetry, and to experience breakthroughs in your craft alongside colleagues you love and respect. That’s what really matters.
The first time my manuscript was a semi-finalist in a contest (under a different title) was exciting. It was ultimately selected for the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize a few months later.
What did you learn about writing and poetry over the journey of Strip?
Right after the manuscript was accepted, I attended my first Kundiman retreat. I was thinking about how to approach the revisions I wanted to make to the book, and I ended up writing several poems at the retreat that it’s impossible for me to imagine Strip without. Then Myung Mi Kim’s seminar took the top of my head off. Being in that room was one of the great gifts of my life. Her ideas challenged self-limiting beliefs about the writing process, specifically her prompt to consider the materiality of language. What I took from it: if I can approach words as material to be shaped, if I value less their semantic meaning, possibilities open up. I had files of poems that I wouldn’t call poems or show to anyone that were redeemed in Myung Mi Kim’s classroom as material. After that, I felt very free, and I drew upon all of my materials to complete Strip. Words are materials like paint and paper and clay.
And a book is an object that I made. That, I learned from my mentor, Jenny Factor, in the earlier stages of writing this book. For me, it was a healthy and helpful reminder not to merge, in my mind, with my “debut.” I am not my book. A person can’t be reduced to a work of art they made. This reminder is another method of freeing myself to create.
What was the favorite piece of media or art you consumed while writing these poems?
I listened to Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps on repeat. Her lyrics are dark, funny, sexual, and capture being a 20-something in LA. It’s a perfect album and everything I could ask for in a writing soundtrack. I have boundless respect for her as a lyricist.
I also got to see Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld while the exhibition was at LACMA and lost my mind over it, especially the pieces from her Objects of Desire series. The isolated objects and bold colors in her photographs verge on archetypal. They’re seductive, while also calling attention to pop culture. For lack of a better word, they’re punchy as hell.
How has the pandemic altered the debut process of this collection? Anything you are looking forward to when everything returns in-person?
I’m very much looking forward to reading from Strip in person when it’s safe to do so. Skylight Books in Los Feliz was a short walk from the apartment where I lived while writing Strip, and while I’m so excited about the virtual event with Olivia Gatwood and Jeremy Radin (October 20), I’d envisioned having a book launch in their beautiful atrium. Stories Books & Café in Echo Park is another special place, where I would go to work on revision and submissions. I’ve had more poetry readings there than anywhere. If you can, please support these bookstores during the pandemic! I miss performing, and I will be extremely happy when I can read to an in-person audience and feel their energy in the space.
Jessica Abughattas, who received an MFA from Antioch University, is a Kundiman Fellow. Her work has been published in Lit Hub, Redivider, BOAAT, Muzzle, The Journal, and Tinderbox, among other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.
You can pre-order STRIP here.