Living Writers: Philias with Jessica Piazza in Interrobang
Event Review by Jacquelyn Phillips
Wednesday, April 9th
San Diego State University
Upon entering the building, my boyfriend and I struggled to find two seats together. The room was filled with students and literature fans alike, each ready to celebrate poetry month with guest reader, Jessica Piazza. This was not the first time I’d attended a poetry reading, but my boyfriend was a newbie to the experience. This was my test—he isn’t a big poetry fan, and if he enjoyed it, then poetry month is a success. I was pleasantly surprised to find him smiling and laughing, completely attentive, and leaning forward with delight. Despite the darkness of the poems, Piazza’s explanations between the poems were heartwarming and uplifting. My boyfriend was lucky. Jessica Piazza has a way with exuding talent, expressing her true colors with little to no reserve. She’s friendly, intelligent, personable, beautiful, and hilarious; there wasn’t a dull moment during the fifty-minute reading.
Jessica Piazza’s latest collection of poetry, Interrobang, goes against your “typical” poetry. With a twist of beautiful language and serious medical conditions, Piazza has created a collection well deserved of the 2012 A Room of Her Own Foundation To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize. Everyone knows what a “phobia” is—fear is one of the emotions most prominent in the human experience.
Whether an individual feels nauseous when looking down off of a tall building, or whether the smallest of spiders sends chills up your spine, phobias can become a part of everyday life. “Philias” on the other hand, are less recognized outside of the psychological world.
Philias express a fondness of an abnormal love—some examples include homophilia, ailurophilia,logophilia, necrophilia, and pedophilia. Piazza could have easily Googled a list of different philias, but instead she focused her studies on regular loves and problems (which everyone presumably experiences or suffers from) and relate those “normal” situations to people who suffer from phobia and philia disorders. This makes the poetry collection relatable and readable in a different light—the reader knows that these strange obsessions actually exist, and aren’t just medical terms made for the doctor’s office. The readers’ peels are removed leaving each individual raw and vulnerable, their own dark anxieties and obsessions brought to the forefront of their minds. She says, “My hope [is] that it makes the disorders seem more universal and perhaps that it gets to the heart of the human condition, which boils down to love and fear, whether normal or abnormal.” I know it made me think about my personal experiences in both good and bad ways!
Piazza’s reading of her poetry was wonderful. As cliché as it is, she really has a way with words. She wasn’t afraid to expose herself to the crowd—to just be who she is instead of trying to put on this overly professional façade that I’ve seen during some poetry readings. I felt as if I was at a party and we were having a conversation (despite the fact that there were a multitude of other people listening to the conversation as well). Her poetry is heartfelt and emotional, yet dark and cynical—sometimes, it made me question the sanity of the human race. To hear a poem about an individual’s extreme love for dolls, so extreme that they have an entire room filled with them, left goose bumps rising up and down my arms. It’s scary to think about the darkness inside each individual.
In one totally accurate phrase, Piazza said, “I like to think of my poetry as chaos in a box.” Chaotic, indeed. The poetry simultaneously stands on its own and requires the entire collection to be understood on a new level. As convoluted as it may seem, when you pick up this poetry collection, you’ll comprehend that statement without question. Jessica Piazza is a poetry genius. She made my boyfriend ponder a form of literature he usually despises and doesn’t understand, and that in itself is an accomplishment.
If you ever get the chance to see Jessica Piazza read, jump on the opportunity immediately. Although her poetry is great to read on the page, there’s something about her voice that makes it come alive. I guess you could say I suffer from bibliophilia—an intense love for books—and Piazza’s reading and writing has helped me to embrace that.
Jessica Piazza is the author of two poetry collections: Interrobang (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). She is a candidate in the Ph.D. program in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where she co-founded Gold Line Press. Currently, she serves as Contributing Editor at The Offending Adam. Among other places, her work has appeared in The National Poetry Review, Agni, Indiana Review, 32 Poems, The Missouri Review, and Mid-American Review. To learn more about Jessica Piazza, please visit: www.jessicapiazza.com.