“such a feminine book”: A Conversation with Jade Lascelles with a Portfolio of Poetry – curated by Megan Levad

Jade Lascelles is a writer, musician, and artist based in Colorado. She is the author of the full-length collection The Invevitable (Gesture Press, 2021). Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, various literary journals, and the anthologies Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism (OR Books, 2018), Dwell: Poems About Home (South Broadway Press, 2022), and Precipice: Writing at the Edge (Precipice Collective, 2018). She has been featured in the Ed Bowes film Gold Hill, the Bologna In Lettere festival’s International Poetry Review, the visual art exhibits and accompanying books Shame Radiant and Disgust: Unhealthy Practices, and the Natalia Gaia short film A Spark Catches, which won second prize at the 2022 Maldito Festival de Videopoesia. Jade holds an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and plays drums in a few different musical projects.

I have long been a fan of Jade Lascelles and her writing, music, printmaking, and through-a-glass-darkly joie de vivre, so I was delighted when she asked me to blurb her new book, Violence Beside, out now from Essay Press. I was even more delighted when she agreed to converse with me about writing it.

Megan Levad: Many of us feel pressure not to write explicitly about the feminine experience. Particularly fear, violence, abuse, our bodies (unless we’re writing about sexy sex, or size). It feels transgressive, and I shudder writing that, but it still seems true. What inspired you to shove all that shit aside and write Violence Beside?

Jade Lascelles: I won’t lie, I felt that same pressure squeezing in on me as I wrote. I frequently questioned whether this is writing that should (in other words, is okay to) happen. I still feel it, in fact, even with the book out in the world—that internalized misogyny foaming up, discounting such a feminine book. Discounting my own experience as less than. Because that’s what we’ve been taught over and over again. It makes me think of the vitriol the word confessional took on in so many writing workshops I was a part of over the years. There was a shame hammered onto the idea of explicitly writing the personal, particularly the feminine personal. Like it wasn’t real writing worthy of interest or praise.

I suppose it wasn’t a conscious choice to subvert any of that with this book. I was overwhelmed and drowning in a lot of grief, panic, fear, and, as a writer, my first instinct was to turn to language as a lifeline out. I wrote these poems as a way through, an act of my own survival, really. And what came out was more direct and personal than anything I’ve ever written. As I said, even now I feel a shyness rise within me about that. But I will say that during the various readings I’ve been doing to promote the book, I’ve had so many people come up to me in tears afterwards. They’ve shared such moving reactions about how familiar and true the writing makes them feel. It has been an incredible reminder that pain exists even if it’s not outrightly talked about. That we need to be explicit about the things that continue to cause harm, both in art and in direct conversation. We need to reject the shame heaped onto us by the systems, structures, and people who only want to keep us hurt.

ML: You worked in the printmaking studio at Naropa for a long time, editing Bombay Gin, among many, many other tasks. Where do you see the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and Beat legacies in current poetry? Or did it have more influence on music?

JL: I think the Kerouac School will always be a place of immense influence in poetry, music, dance, all realms of expression really, because it is at its heart a place of contemplation and curiosity. Like any institution, it goes through its phases of what’s in and exciting at the time, and so sometimes the lineage of Naropa itself gets lost in that. But what I think is so special, what carries on, is that writers and thinkers there are encouraged to dig into their work and their questions. It’s a space that is incredibly supportive of just seeing what happens, which is rare in our output-obsessed world. Even if current poetry doesn’t seem directly tied to what happened at Naropa, the fact that there is a place that “keeps the world safe for poetry” (as Anne Waldman says) is inextricable. I’m excited to see where current and future poetry heads, and I think whatever trajectory it takes will be built upon the fact that experimental spaces (the Kerouac School included) have existed with that “let’s see” mindset.

ML: On a related note, you are also a musician, with voracious and omnivorous tastes. The forms in Violence Beside, however, tend toward the visual, rather than aural. How do you approach scoring your poems for the eye?

JL: Wow, what a great question! Thinking about the score of my poems, I’m realizing how instinctual and somatic it is. The word score makes me think of musical notation, which is an intentional map that directs in a clear way. And also to score a piece of paper, to guide a fold in a precise way. Both of these images hold a sense of steering. I’m not entirely sure I determine how the words fall on the page in that way (to guide readers). I more approach it as an artist brushing paint across their canvas. What brush strokes manage to tap into the feeling I’m striving for?  There’s still an obvious linearity to my form; I’m not so expansive as Olsen’s open field or as concrete as Mallarme (though, goodness, I’ve sure had my love affairs with both of those at different times of my writing life). But the decisions around line breaks, margins, etc. tend to me more from a place of instinct, of feeling right. Part of this comes from my background in letterpress printing. After enough time in the shop, you develop an intuitive relationship with your materials. You just know when a forme is set tight enough or when the registration is spot on. It’s something that can only be accessed through practice, which is what I really try to allow myself to approach my creative endeavors as. Showing up and learning from and listening to the things you’re trying to work with. I’ll also admit that handsomeness is big for me. Part of that feeling right has to do with things looking lovely to my aesthetic sensibilities, though that is always secondary to serving the emotionality of the poem.  

ML: When we got to see one another last summer for a Meow Wolf and sushi evening, you had such a generous, adult conversation with my 13-year-old niece about music, art, politics, ideas. Who influenced you as a young person growing up in Las Vegas? Who inspires you now when you create?

JL: That conversation was in part so generous because of your niece! As I’m getting older, I’m trying very hard not to be shut off from what younger people are creating and interested in. To keep engaged with what is glimmering in the world around me, even as it moves into territories unfamiliar or not meant for me. I really want to retain my sense of curiosity and conversation, as those are essential nutrients for art that throbs with genuine heart thumps. I hope I’ll keep encountering younger people as kind and willing as your niece.

Growing up in Vegas was both a struggle and a boon to my creativity. It’s a place that feels at complete odds with who I am politically, socially, personally. I always felt off and wrong compared to the image and priorities the city blasted all around me. There are growing literary and art scenes starting to really thrive there, but back when I was a teenager, that was much harder to access. Having to remain in such a space inspired me to seek what from elsewhere I could cling to. Mostly, this came in the form of music. I was luckier than a lot of kids about the music I had access to. I feel like I cut my teeth on understanding poetry (and the fact that I was writing it all along) through the musical acts who would pass through town on their way to or from L.A. Seeing any band I could in tiny, crappy (cheap!) venues in hopes of finding people who made me feel a little less strange by the way they were living and making. Wanting to create something that affected others the way their songs hit me hard in my adolescent sternum. I also had the incredible privilege of attending an arts high school. I went for dance, but I really enmeshed myself with the visual arts kids. I was so enamoured with the way they were translating their experiences in this seen way. It felt outright and conspicuous and so damn cool to me. Viktor van Bramer, Jonathan Purtill, Austin West—all teenage artists that really impressed me back then (and continue to do so in the various mediums they still work with).

As for now? Not much has changed. I’ve still been turning to music and visual art as my primary inspiration points. I have been absolutely obsessed with Nan Goldin over the past year. Francesca Woodman, Ana Mendieta, Cal Lane, Jordanna Kalman. These women whose work is so breathtaking and make me want to do more, do better. For the release of Violence Beside, I held an event at East Window (a great gallery here in Boulder) where I created several installations based on images and themes from the book. I’ve felt really compelled to look at how writing can morph, shift, and exist in other spaces and versions beyond the page. Music, always. The new albums from Lael Neal (Star Eater’s Delight) and Young Fathers (Heavy Heavy) have been on frequent repeat. Both strike me wide open with the frank beauty of their songs. I tend to overcomplicate, overdress my work. Both of these albums say gorgeous things without trying so hard. Not necessarily in an economical way, but with a genuine ease of expression I long for. And playing with my own band. I am so keyed up after every one of our practices because I’m just overrun with ideas. It helps me to remember that it’s all poetry, it’s all music, it’s all performance art, regardless of what it looks like at its outset. To attend to any one creative muscle is to attend to them all. 


Megan Levad is the author of Why We Live in the Dark Ages and What Have I to Say to You. A MacDowell Fellow, her poems have appeared in Tin House, San Francisco Chronicle, Poem-a-Day, Granta, Fence, and the Everyman’s Library anthology Killer Verse. Megan also writes lyrics and libretti; she is currently completing Gilded, a chamber opera about gentrification and anticapitalist artistic practice slated for workshop in 2024.