Jessica Piazza was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, where she began work as the Favorite Poem Project, serving as an undergraduate intern for United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. The project–which invited people of all ages and from all walks of life to write in about their favorite published poems–sparked her ongoing fascination for poetry the potential that it could have on an individual and community level.
After college, Jessica moved back to New York City, where she took workshops at the New School and the 92nd Street Y. At the former, she met the poet Rebecca Lindenberg, and together they founded the Speakeasy Poetry Series in downtown Manhattan, which ran monthly from 2001 – 2007 and routinely featured poetry greats, such as Paul Muldoon, David Lehman, and Marie Ponsot, reading alongside emerging and mid-career poets.
From New York, Jessica moved to Austin, Texas to pursue her M.A. in English (Creative Writing) at the University of Texas at Austin. While there, she worked with R.J. Lambert and James Capozzi to find funding and create a managerial foundation for Bat City Review, and subsequently edited its inaugural issue. In her final year at UT Austin, she won the prestigious Keene Prize for Literature, and continued to write, read and publish poetry. Under the tutelage of Dr. Thomas Cable, she also began studying prosody, which laid the groundwork for her scholarly work on poetic sound and meter.
In 2007, Jessica moved to Los Angeles to enter the Ph.D. program English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, which she will finish this year. Her mentors there have included California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, David St. John, and Susan McCabe, and as she delved further into prose writing, Aimee Bender and Dana Johnson.
In Los Angeles, Jessica continued her commitment to poetry community and advocacy by co-founding Gold Line Press, a chapbook publishing press sponsored by USC. She is also a contributing editor at The Offending Adam and has blogged for The Best American Poetry and Barrelhouse.
After studying prosody for several years, Jessica’s scholarly work has now expanded to sit solidly in the field of Cognitive Poetics. Her dissertation explores the relationship between neuroscience and literature; specifically how the brain processes the visual and sound information of text, and how the reactions to that information inform literary analyses.
Among other places, her work has appeared in The National Poetry Review, Agni, Indiana Review, 32 Poems, The Missouri Review, Mid-American Review, No Tell Motel, 42 Opus, Pebble Lake Review, Rattle, Hobart, Country Dog Review, Coconut, Barefoot Muse, Forklift Ohio, and the anthologies 150 Contemporary Sonnets (University of Evansville Press) and Hot Sonnets (Entasis Press).
She is currently working on a book of essays and lectures on writing with the poet Jill Alexander Essbaum, a series of erasure poems with fiction writer, essayist, and poet Heather O’Neill, a comedic memoir, and a group of short stories in iambic meter. Interrobang is her first collection of poems.
Heather Aimee O’Neill, Jessica Piazza
Publication Date: April 22, 2016
While scholars and cultural critics discuss the inundation of media in the age of the Internet, Obliterations—a book of erasures of New York Times articles—explores how individuals can take the same cultural/political moment and internalize, personalize and interpret it in unique ways.
Every day we are forced to integrate the world’s news into our personal lives; we all have to decide what parts of the flood of news resonate with us and what we need to turn away from, out of necessity or sensitivity. Obliterations is a collection of erasure poems that use The New York Times as their source textssprings from that seemingly immediate process of personalizing news information. By cutting, synthesizing, and arranging existing news items into new poems, the erasure process creates a link between the authors’ poetic sensibilities and the supposedly more “objective” view of the newsmakers. Each author used the same articles but wrote separate erasures without seeing the other’s versions, highlighting the wonderful similarities and differences that arise when two works—or any two people with individual tastes and lenses—share the same stories.
“In the spirit of Michaelangelo who saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set it free, I contend that these poems are not so much the result of something that has been erased (a word which invariably bears the unfortunate baggage of annulment and invalidity), but rather they are the consequence of a craftswoman’s—two craftswomen’s—steady hands, the wisdom of her chisel, and the impeccable eye of the best kind of artist: the one who can see through the medium and into the message. What especially sets these poems apart from other erasures I’ve encountered is their absolute resistance to abstraction. These are as concrete as garden sculptures.”—Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Hausfrau
“A long time ago, JP and Heather were students in my poetry class. They were pretty advanced and super-prolific, and, frankly, they were annoying the hell out of me. So I decided to keep them busy with some impossible extra-credit work. They were young, and I knew they’d do whatever I said. ‘Write a book,’ I told them, ‘without doing any writing. Write it together, but separately. The poems you somehow produce must complement and complicate each other, but no looking at each other’s poems. Heather, you must seek coherence. Jessica, seek strangeness. Do that for a while, then do the opposite. Have fun, but also reveal fundamental things about the ways Americans receive information and remake it in their own image. When one of you composes a poem called “Vanish,” the other must compose “Chicken Ensues.”‘ I told them all of this and figured I’d seen the last of them. Twenty years later, damned if they didn’t bring me this book. A+”—Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas, author of Potscrubber Lullabies
Publication Date: August 1, 2013
Existing at the intersection of darkness and play, the noisy, irreverent, and self-conscious poems in Interrobang take clinical “phobias” and clinical “philias” as their conceit. Each poem makes its own music, the crescendos and decrescendos born of obsessions over anxiety and lust. Encompassing a range of forms (but mostly sonnets), each piece toes the line between traditional meter and contemporary sonic play, while a tell-tale heart beats beneath the floor of the collection, constantly reminding us of our shames, fears, and the clock’s unrelenting ticking. Through individual stories about love, degradation of the self, the redemptive power of genuine humility, and the refuge offered by art and language, Interrobang, winner of the 2011 A Room of Her Own Foundation To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize, illustrates how even the worst-case scenario of these pathologies are, fundamentally, just extensions of the dark truths to which every one of us can relate.
Praise for Interrobang:
“Jessica Piazza’s brilliantly conceived debut collection, Interrobang, is a stunning sequence of (primarily) sonnets that unfolds with both a mature formal acuity and a profound philosophical sophistication. It is an absolute tour de force. These poems emerge as reflections of a kaleidoscopic self as they interrogate those fears and desires that drive and haunt us. Whatever the answers might be to these exclamatory questions, the speaker of these beautiful and troubling poems knows she has only one response available to her–to continue regardless, and to persevere.”—David St. John
“What an ear, here! Jessica Piazza’s poems are such etched, alive word sculptures, crystal prism poems of love and longing and punch.”—Aimee Bender
“Jessica Piazza is an heir of Hopkins, a poet engaging generously in metaphysical struggle. In this unusually deft book, she sets out to offer her voice on the altar of iambic pentameter and shares the fears she encounters there with quirky, firm metrical dexterity and breathtakingly succinct wit. Interrobang is a serious accomplishment.”—Annie Finch