Jessica Femiani is the instructor for the Whitney Point workshop series. BPP Intern Michelle Li spoke with her about her writing, her workshops, and her goals.
What drew you to teach for the Binghamton Poetry Project?
I taught middle school and knew I didn’t want to teach K-12 forever, but I grew to love teaching. I definitely want to keep teaching and this move from NYC to Binghamton really helped me realize that.
I love teaching poetry – people don’t realize that they have these stories to tell you, and some people don’t think they can write a poem. I think everyone can write poems if they’re guided. Once you go through that process, you can see the value in your own life experiences.
You mentioned in your bio that you wanted to be a painter. Did you have a teacher who showed you that you could write?
I always took art and painting classes but, in retrospect, I realized it wasn’t the right medium for me. I’m drawn to the images in writing. I didn’t really have a teacher, but going to open mics and listening to the poems made me start to realize that I could write poetry, too.
So you majored in art?
I actually didn’t; I majored in English.
When did you first become interested in writing?
It wasn’t until I was around 30 and started going to open mics – I guess I was a bit of a late bloomer in that sense.
What are you most looking forward to with workshops?
I love the fact that I’m getting to work with older people. I had great relationships with my grandparents, so I’ve always been drawn to older people. Growing up, I was on the quiet side and felt like I could relate to people my grandparents’ age better. I know some people don’t like going to nursing homes and seeing older people because it depresses them, but it doesn’t really depress me.
What goals do you hope to accomplish with the Binghamton Poetry Project?
I taught in Corona, Queens, and never knew that neighborhood before. Once I was there, I grew to love that neighborhood. The students had a lot of interesting stories to tell and they didn’t even realize it. Binghamton is a community similar to Corona, and I feel like there is a lot of untapped potential. There’s also a large immigrant community, and I’d like to somehow incorporate a multicultural curriculum.
Who is your favorite poet?
I don’t have a favorite poet, but I have lots of poets I love. I love Hemingway; I just read A Farewell to Arms this summer and I feel like his attention to time is really great. I think he creates beauty in his work and, even though he’s a novelist, I see his writing as poetic.
I like poems that make you feel something. I try to read poems in the New Yorker and I try to feel something, but I typically don’t.