Jessica Greenbaum is a poet, essayist, and teacher, as well as the author of two books: Inventing Difficulty (2000) which won the Gerald Cable Prize, and The Two Yvonnes (2012) which was chosen by Paul Muldoon for Princeton’s Series of Contemporary Poets.
Of Greenbaum's second book, Publisher's Weekly noted, “her great intelligence, skill with abstraction, humor, and talent for endings.” Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Lisa Russ Spaar said of The Two Yvonnes that Greenbaum, “takes more risks in her treatment of difficulty, ambivalence, and ambiguity than she does in her first book, roughing up the matrix of text, making room for other voices, allowing for greater subjective and nominal vexation and slippage.”
While getting her MFA in Houston, Greenbaum spent time as a researcher and reporter. Asked about her stint in journalism in an interview for the Katonah Poetry Series, she said, “Overall, I felt I was learning how the dots were connected in the world – and behind the world’s facade.” Greenbaum’s poems often connect the dots in surprising ways. In ‘Green Permanent’, the speaker’s friend goes searching for tools in his deceased father’s workroom. The poem yields lush descriptions:
in which he drilled holes for the array of drill bits themselves,
their swirled metal tops imitating a skyline of onion domes and
tapered gothic towers.
We are also privy to the way something as small as spoiled tubes of green paint can elucidate the power a single body can have, both in life, and in it’s negative:
of paint, now just mud without his attention, you said, holding both
the power of what we do, and the sadness that it has to end.
Spaar also said of The Two Yvonnes that, “Greenbaum daringly floats her subjects over one another, and with this stylistic risk conveys a vision of the self that is at once coherent and essentially implicated in everything it is not.” This “floating” creates a density in Greenbaum’s often compact poems, through which she finds epiphany amidst the everyday. A difficult phone call, memories of an estranged friend – all are occasions for finding something to buoy us against “the daily / herald of our powerlessness” (from ‘For You Today’):
to see the top of the bare January trees spotlit to silvery red,
massive but made from the thinnest
twigs at the ends of the branches at the ends of the limbs
they were waving and shining in a light
like no other and left only to them.
– from ‘I Had Just Hung Up From Talking to You’
Greenbaum is the poetry editor for upstreet and lives in Brooklyn. In 2014 she received a master’s degree in social work, and in 2015 she received a fellowship from the NEA.
The Two Yvonnes, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2012
Inventing Difficulty, Silverfish Review Press, Eugene, Oregon, 2000
‘Where Shall I Begin? Inspiration and Instruction In Poetry’s First Lines’, alongside audio, by Jessica Greenbaum, PoetryFoundation.org
‘Whole Earth Poem Catalog: Is there any blank space left for a new poem, old subjects?’ by Jessica Greenbaum, PoetryFoundation.org
Poetry magazine podcast, May 2013, PoetryFoundation.org
Audio of ‘The Storm-struck Tree’ at PoetryFoundation.org
‘Second Acts: A Second Look at Second Books of Poetry by Tom Andrews and Jessica Greenbaum’ by Lisa Russ Spaar, Los Angeles Review of Books
Interview with Greenbaum by Andy Kuhn, Katonah Poetry Series