Jennifer Elise Foerster, who is of German, Dutch, and Muscogee descent, and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, is the author of three books of poetry, most recently, The Maybe-Bird (2022). She earned her PhD in English and Literary Arts from the University of Denver, is the recipient of a NEA Creative Writing Fellowship and a Lannan Foundation Writing Residency Fellowship, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford. Foerster, who is Zócalo’s guest poetry curator for July, dropped by the green room to chat about her favorite plants, New Mexico’s green chilis, and losing herself in Jean Valentine poetry.
What poem or which poet do you find yourself returning to?
I find myself returning to Paul Celan most frequently—not a particular poem, just his body of work.
How has the pandemic affected how you think about or write poetry?
The thinking about and the act of writing is, in itself, a constant question for me, and that didn't change with the pandemic. I continue to think about the mysteries of poetry, which includes the mystery of how can this be helpful in a world that is so full of strife—all of the issues that we've had for so long that just continue, that have been heightened in the last few years, that are not new. I did notice that people were taking more of an interest in poetry. I think it's because we're so desperately looking for a path, a way, an answer, a solution. Poetry helps us see on an intuitive level what we need to do.
What did you have for breakfast today?
I had what I made last night: curry red lentils. I thought it would be good with a scrambled egg. It was nice and spicy.
What's hanging on your living room walls?
Several paintings. One is a reprint of one of the best painters: T.C. Cannon. A friend got it for me. She picked it up at a flea market, and the person who was selling it to her sold it for $50. They didn't seem to realize this was the T.C. Cannon print, which is pretty valuable, I think, even if it is just a copy.
What’s your favorite ice cream topping?
I haven't put any toppings on my ice cream in many years. But when I was a kid, my absolute favorite thing in the world was marshmallow. Any kind of syrupy marshmallow fluff on top of an ice cream was like a dream come true.
Do you have a favorite plant?
I love them all, so I don't want to be too harsh. I have a lot of pothos because they grow so easily in the shade, and I don't get a whole lot of sun in my house. I like that you can easily propagate them, so I have lots of little baby pothos all over the house just waiting to grow. I also really like ZZ plants, but I’m happy with any plant that wants to grow in my house.
If you didn't live in San Francisco, where would you live?
Where I lived before: Sante Fe, New Mexico. It's always dear to my heart. I used to say I wouldn't live there again because I lived there for so long, but I still love it. I love the environment, the landscape. I just feel very at home there. Although if I had the ability, I would live in a tropical environment because I discovered that sun and heat make me really happy.
If someone was to visit Santa Fe, what's something you recommend for them to check out?
They should go see the Institute of American Indian Arts’ museum downtown. Then arrange for a tour at the Institute of American Indian Arts campus because part of the museum collections is housed on the campus. I would say that's the first most important thing and then just eat green chili wherever you can. Northern New Mexico’s green chilies are just delicious. It’s amazing. I can never get it out here in California. It's not the same.
What does it take to get you on the dance floor?
Not much. Just music. I love to dance, so if I’m in a place where people are dancing and there's music, there's no reason I wouldn't be on the dance floor.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
Jean Valentine poems. I'm going to teach a class on her. Reading her this morning and then remembering how important it is to sit in silence and to listen and just let the poetry be there. I haven’t been writing much at all lately, and I'm just remembering the value of sitting in silence and listening. That, in itself, is a way to act in the world, because otherwise I get up in the morning and the world seems so difficult to manage sometimes most days.
The second thing is when I was regrouting my tile kitchen counters, I did such a miserable job that I had to undo all the grout that I put in, which took several days of work. But it inspired me to sign up for a pottery class. I remember doing pottery when I lived in New Mexico. I enjoyed that kind of thing, so I signed up for a class for August.