Jordan Taylor is a current senior at the University of Alabama, majoring in psychology and minoring in neuroscience and creative writing. She was a member of the Alabama Student Association for Poetry’s slam competition team that competed at the National Poetry Slam in Chicago during the summer of 2017. This past spring, she received the Department of English’s Michael D. Goodson Memorial Prize in Poetry and Slam Poetry. Her poetry explores the “gray areas of love,” loss, and her childhood in rural Appalachia.
Tell us about your poem, “It Takes a Few Seasons,” and how you felt when it won the Michael Dalton Goodson Memorial Prize in Poetry.
I was honestly shocked when I won. Originally, I hadn’t even planned to attend the results announcement because I assumed I wasn’t a contender. While sitting on the floor of UPerk, I heard them announce a classmate of mine as one of the honorable mentions for poetry. Well that’s it, I thought. Her poetry was incredible, so I was completely clocked out. I can only imagine the look on my face when they announced me as the winner.
I had actually written “It Takes a Few Seasons” as part of a larger memoir project entitled “I Never Learned to Plant a Garden” the prior semester. The collection explores my childhood in rural Appalachia as a young, queer person. The poem is my recounting of the first time I came across queerness. I was ten years old and sitting in the car with my mom, when a song on the radio featured a woman singing about how she loved another woman. My mom abruptly changed the radio station. It was a pivotal moment, and the poem helped me to explore how that incident shaped my identity.
You’re not only a poet, you’re also a psychology major with an interest in neuroscience. Do your studies in psychology influence your creative writing or vice versa?
Along with poetry, neuroscience was one of the first real loves of my life. Many people are surprised to learn that the two have never really crossed in my work. During my early days in slam poetry, I would often use neuroscientific concepts to talk about what it was like being disabled, but I’ve since moved away from that theme. My work with psychology and neuroscience usually stays in my academic papers, but recently I’ve been writing creative nonfiction essays that explore disability and the medical institution. The dichotomy between my poetry, essays, and academic writing is rewarding. I’m not married to one genre.
What else can you tell us about your approach to writing poetry?
My approach to writing poetry is hectic. I always know where I want my poems to go, but I hardly ever know where they will begin. Thus, I almost exclusively start my poems in the middle. Sometimes I’ll write pages of prologue until I reach the beginning. The way my poems sound is also important. Because I began in slam poetry, the way the words, pace, and line breaks interact are integral to my construction and composition. As a result, I’ll write many of my poems aloud. I’ll turn on my phone’s voice recorder, and talk for up to half an hour. I listen to my recording and note the lines and words that I liked.
You’re currently working on a collection of sonnets. What can you tell readers about that project?
Currently, I am obsessed with the love poem. The collection is entitled “Love Poems From My Mother’s Windowsill,” and it explores what I refer to as “the gray space of love.” Oftentimes, when we love a person, we believe that the relationship will help us achieve contentment, go on forever, or come to a dramatic end. But what happens when the love we feel is none of those things? How do we cope when someone willingly disappears from our lives after months of talking every day? How do we create closure? How do we learn to move on?
Thematically and structurally, I continue to use nature imagery that is a staple of my work. I also invert the traditional sonnet rhyme scheme. I’ve always loved jazz poetry. However, in this work, I use bluegrass rhythms to inspire the accents and unstressed syllables. Ultimately, it’s about exploring the shadow of lost love and all that’s left behind when a relationship ends.
You grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Does that landscape inspire your writing and voice? Has moving to Alabama changed your sense of place in your work?
Having been raised on nine acres of land at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I couldn’t have avoided the outdoors had I tried. From a young age, I found myself enamored with the morning glories that bloomed as I left for school each day. Each autumn, the trees that lined my driveway blazed orange. I spent four years of high school on my roof stargazing every night. There was no light pollution. Whenever I go home, I feel as though I’m looking at poetry in motion. Moving to Alabama didn’t dim that voice but added to it. I now found myself writing about red clay, the southern sun, and magnolias. I do most of my writing outside, so Marrs Spring, Manderson Landing, and the River Walk have provided inspiration for many of my recent poems.
What future goals do you have in terms of writing? Have you tried other genres?
My current goal is to finish my collection of sonnets. Once that’s completed, I’ll return to my memoir, “I Never Learned to Plant a Garden.” I am also working in academic genres. I recently presented an essay, at the University of Connecticut, about navigating romantic relationships as a disabled, young adult. I am currently shopping it around for publication. Duke Medical Ethics Journal is going to publish an academic paper that I wrote with a colleague about physician health variable disclosure in informed consent. I’m also working on a longer essay exploring the obstacles that disabled doctors face. My life at this point is being overrun by writing, but I couldn’t be happier.
What writers and teachers have been your biggest inspiration?
Ada Limon is my biggest inspiration as a poet. Her poem “Someplace Like Montana” is everything that I aspire towards as a writer. Her poetry takes my breath away and is some of the only poetry I’ve read that truly brings the word “beautiful” to mind. I have been blessed with many teachers who have encouraged my pursuit of writing. The UA Creative Writing Program has been incredible. I will forever be grateful to Dr. John Estes for reaching out and asking if I would be interested in the minor. I’m also indebted to Professor Brock Guthrie and Professor Jenifer Park for making me see myself as a good poet. Both of their classes gave birth to the projects I hold so dear. Finally, I have to thank Dr. Heidi Staples for constantly challenging me to question what it means to love.