Allison Joseph is the author of many poetry collections, editor, professor of English and director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Southern Illinois University; Lexicon is a refreshingly genuine demonstration of passion in poetic form.
Author of the award-winning, Confessions of a Barefaced Woman, Allison Joseph, is back with her newest book, Lexicon. Lexicon explores her appreciation of language and how it affects us, for better and for worse. We were lucky enough to chat with her about creating Lexicon, her journey through poetry, what advice she would give a new writer and more.
“Because I have such a strong relationship to language, those poems are ones where I allow myself to play a lot, even if the poem’s subject matter is fairly serious.”
– Allison Joseph, Author of Lexion
little infinite: When did you know poetry would be the writing outlet for you? Introduce readers to your journey in poetry and how you got to where you are currently.
Allison Joseph: I knew when I was a young teen that writing was going to be very important to me. English was always my preferred subject (ironically, I attended the Bronx High School of Science!). I loved words from even younger–I was the kind of kid who read the dictionary for fun!
little infinite: In Lexicon you speak to one’s relationship with language, for better or for worse. This is a concept our little infinite audience can relate to. Which part of Lexicon did you find the most challenging to write?
Allison Joseph: Lexicon wasn’t challenging to write, actually. Because I have such a strong relationship to language, those poems are ones where I allow myself to play a lot, even if the poem’s subject matter is fairly serious.
little infinite: Lexicon is an intriguing name for a poetry collection. What inspired the title of this book? What was the ‘aha’ moment when you named this collection like?
Allison Joseph: I think Lexicon came to me when I realized that this book was a swath of language. I wanted a word that implied range, rather than an ultra-specific title that would make a reader think the book was solely about one thing.
little infinite: Lexicon is your 9th full-length poetry collection, successor to award-winning Confessions of a Barefaced Woman. How did this collection speak to you differently?
Allison Joseph: Confessions is a more personal book–it speaks more to my own personal flaws and foibles. Lexicon is a book where I’m speaking directly to other poets and writers–as if I’m saying “Language, what a blast!” Of course, I do think the book’s appeal goes beyond other writers–we all use language, we all think about language. But it is a very ars poetica kind of book.
little infinite: Since your debut full-length poetry collection in 1992, how has your writing process evolved? Dish on the most surprising aspect of putting together a book.
Allison Joseph: Each book is so different. Sometimes a book comes together over years. Sometimes a book is a result of concentrated work during a period of febrile poetic intensity. I have unpublished whole collections that I wrote that may never see the light of day but I wrote them because I needed to write them.
little infinite: Congratulations on your success and awards like the Ruth Lilly Fellowship and Independent Press Award. If you could give a new writer one piece of advice, what would it be? Why does this piece of advice personally stand out to you?
Allison Joseph: Awards are nice, but the true reward is the work itself. The growth you see from book to book and from poem to poem–that’s the true reward.
little infinite: Okay, for fun, what are you currently reading?
Allison Joseph: This isn’t fun at all, but the book that has made a huge difference for me lately is a book called Grief Is a Journey: Finding Your Path Through Loss by Dr. Kenneth J. Doka. My beloved husband, poet and editor Jon C. Tribble, died in October 2019. Between losing the man I’d loved for over 30 years and the isolation of the pandemic, 2020 was horrible for me. I found this book and it helped so much. I recommend it to anyone who has suffered loss.
little infinite: Poetry for Life™ is little infinite’s mantra. We’re all about making it easier to carry poetry through different phases of your life. Poetry for Life™ can hold sentiment in various aspects depending on the person, which is why we love it. What does “Poetry for Life” mean to you?
Allison Joseph: Poetry for Life means poetry will always sustain life, reflect life, embrace life. Poetry, itself, is bigger than any one single life, but is a life force in and of itself.
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