Artist Spotlight: Jacqueline Suskin

February 14, 2019
We are so excited to introduce the next volume of our three-part Artist Spotlight series, with an interview with one of the newest members to our RCC family, Jacqueline Suskin. A remarkable poet and educator, Jacqueline believes that words have healing powers to both our minds and souls.
She is the author of three books: The Collected (Publication Studio, 2010), Go Ahead & Like It (Ten Speed Press, 2014) and The Edge of The Continent Volume One (Rare Bird, 2018). Since 2009, her project, Poem Store, has allowed Jacqueline to produce over 30 thousand spontaneous, improvisational poems for patrons around the world on a portable, manual typewriter. She has written for Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Cheryl Strayed and more, and was honored at the White House as a Turnaround Artist by Michelle Obama. For even more on Poem Store, definitely take a look at the videos below (there are even more on her YouTube channel), as well as her fantastic TED Talk (below).
We are honored to have Jacqueline’s inspiring and thoughtful work in our newest collection, and are so excited that she took the time to answer our questions here. Be inspired! Thank you so much, Jacqueline! To view her full collection for RCC, visit our shop, here.
Have you always known that you were a poet? Is there a first childhood memory of the words awakening?
Before I knew how to write proper letters, I was filling up notebooks with cryptic language. I have those journals still and I’ve translated them to the best of my ability. The first poem to appear was about a fox. I later went on to write an entire journal of love poems dedicated to Vincent (the beast from the 80s TV show Beauty & the Beast). I was in third grade when I created that and that was the moment I knew that I was a poet.
Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
Planet earth is my greatest inspiration. I’m an ecstatic earth worshiper and fully dedicated to this beautiful place we get to call home. All of my work is based on my belief that if humans can heal, if we can transform and become aware of the perfect bounty that is the natural world, then we will actually honor it and care for it properly.
Tell us about your writing process. In terms of writing–is creating work a more fluid, spontaneous process or do find yourself honing the skill of writing–doing it daily at a certain time?
I have a dedicated writing practice, but I’m not rigid. Creation comes in waves for me and sometimes I need to rest. I’ll work on writing a book every day, editing and tweaking every line for months and months, and then when I finish it I take a break. My spontaneous poetry project, Poem Store, requires me to show up constantly, but those poems are very different from the refined, finished products that arrive after months of editing. I like the mixture provided in these different practices, the balance of the craft that I got a degree in and the magic of Poem Store, which relies on my connection to a patron who stands in front of me as I create a poem just for them.
What was the most important piece of advice you have ever been given?
There are no mistakes. I have a few regrets, not buying the ranch I used to live on in Joshua Tree because I didn’t understand money at the time and 60k seemed like A LOT, sending back the very first copy of my first book to the publisher to have the binding re-glued and they accidentally threw it away…I regret these things, but I don’t believe in mistakes. Even the worst things shape and inform the course of one’s life. No need to get hung up on what I should have done or which turn I could have made, everything is just as it should be. How could it not be?
Tell us a bit about your amazing recent event, “The Long Conversation” at the Smithsonian.
The Long Conversation” is a phenomenal experiment from the magical mind of Rachel Goslins who invited me to speak this year. Basically, she brings in people from around the world to discuss why they are optimistic about the future. Scientists, poets, drag-queens, artists, actors, and policy-makers, all of us on stage talking about experiences in our unique fields that inform us on a brighter future. It was so inspiring. I was paired with activist Mily Treviño-Sauceda (click to view a video of Jacqueline interviewing Treviño-Sauceda) and Cheech Marin, two wonderful humans who really care about what they do in this world. I talked about the human condition as I see it through my work with Poem Store. Writing poetry for all demographics, I get to witness our indefinite willingness to transform and our shared desire for depth. This gives me hope that we can turn the whole thing around because even now, even in these truly difficult times, people still turn to an ancient tool like poetry for help.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
I have about four books in the making and an opera brewing as well! I’m really excited for the second volume of my series about California to come out this spring. The Edge of the Continent Vol. 2 – The City is about my time Los Angeles. The first book in the series is about my time living in Humboldt County and the third will be about Joshua Tree. This collection is so close to my heart and a dream come true for me.
Obligatory Red Cap question: favorite drink?
Honestly, my favorite drink is water. There is no beverage that makes me happier than a cool cup of plain, clean water. No bubbles, no ice, no straw, just water. But I’m pretty partial to a tequila soda with lime as well.