Be Brave – Interview w/ J.M. Farkas

“Be weird do nothing, but flourish”

J.M. Farkas

I am beyond excited about this post! I love poetry but I don’t talk about it or even post about poetry as much as I want but that needs to change! So, I am starting with this post. When I got asked to review this collection and interview the author I was in shock yet happy! Be Brave is a feminist twist on the classic book, Beowulf, but it is not just poems base on the classic story but it’s blackout poetry… just a copy of Beowulf and many permanent markers. Keep reading to learn more about this book and what blackout poetry is.

This is a pretty long interview but I couldn’t cut anything out because everything said was just gold! I will have the questions in bold so you can just pick and choose the questions you want to hear the answer of.

Interview w/ J.M. Farkas

  • For the people who do not know what Erasure Poetry is, can you give a brief explanation? I believe that it is also call Blackout poetry as well.

Instead of explaining or defining erasure poetry, I like readers to experience it, or happen upon it. The surprise factor is a lot of fun, particularly if you are new to this form of visual poetry. That’s why I added this picture to the bottom of my email signature:

But to answer your question with actual words, essentially, erasure poetry is when you cross out, delete, or erase words from one text to create an entirely new one. Since I’m a super-nerd and compulsive-sharer, here are two of the best and most beautiful articles on erasure by two of my favorite writers—one by Jeannie Vanasco and another by Mary Ruefle.
Blackout poetry is a form of erasure in which the poet uses a Sharpie or permanent marker to completely black out the surrounding words that don’t make it into the final poem. Lately, I have been having fun on Instagram adding new techniques to traditional blackout by using crazy erasing-materials like glitter, stars, and even, sprinkles!

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  • I am sure many people who will be reading this interview won’t know the inspiration behind this collection. Could you give a little summary about the book and why you wrote it?

This book started out as one thing and then seemed to transform into a second book. At first, I wrote this book for myself and to myself. I was working through my own heartbreak and needed to find a way to create a new story. But then it became something bigger, in light of losing my grandmother, who was like a second mother to me. With her picture on the cover, and an introduction and dedication that shared so much of who my grandmother is and how she influenced me, I felt like this book was a way to deal with a much bigger loss and heartbreak. It was a way to make my grandmother proud and honor her memory.

  • You used Beowulf for Be Brave and I love how you came to use this book. As you said in the introduction you were in a used bookstore feeling heartbroken while sliding your hands down the spines of books before coming across a torn copy of Beowulf. You called it a kind of Book-Fate. Do you think you would have wrote this book if you hadn’t come across this copy of Beowulf?

I definitely would have never written this book if it weren’t for that moment of stumbling upon that old copy of Beowulf at the exact right time. The question I had in my head was: what is the thing I need to hear right now? So, I used Beowulf as an excuse to find those words. And the first words that I found were: be brave. I also really love the larger idea inherent in erasure–that whatever you need is already there. Even in the most unlikely places.

  • While this story is for erasing heartbreak do you think it is something more than that? Not just a way to help you or your readers to cope with having their heart broken?

I hope so. I think one of the best things about reading is both how universal and specific it can be. So while I’ve definitely heard from people who have related to the heartbreak-part of the book, I’ve also heard from other readers who resonated with the idea of being brave in other capacities or needed to let go of whoever or whatever has been holding them back.

  • I am sure the process for writing erasure poetry is different from other forms of poetry. Could you walk us through how you would start working on a piece?

The process is really fun because it’s pretty mysterious. People are surprised to hear that I don’t read the words I’m erasing while I erase it. Although I read Beowulf in the past when I taught it to 9th graders, this time I picked it up with a completely new purpose. My first step is collecting words. In a way, it’s an extension of the way I already read because I’m an obsessive highlighter and under-liner and have been known to re-write phrases I love into the margins of books. So basically, I start with a pencil and look for words that I love. Once I feel like I’ve hooked into a something substantial, I move over to the computer and type out the words as an “Erasure Skeleton.”
The actual blacking out comes later. Be Brave is a handmade book, so I had to find several copies of this text online from used bookstores. I had to tear the pages from their spines because the black ink would bleed onto the backs of pages. I had hundreds of torn pages scattered on the floor. It was pretty dramatic.

  • I am guessing that some people do not think that this is real poetry. What makes this a form of poetry and not just you with a pen marking up a book?

Well this question can only open up more questions, which I think is great. What is poetry? How do you define it? Who gets to define it? This is a juicy discussion these days, especially with the popularity of poetry of Instagram. I do think of erasure or blackout poetry as its own thing. A kind of sub-genre of poetry. In a way, I don’t consider my book to be poetry with a capital P, although I do think it’s quite poetic! There is a part of me that delights in the fact that erasure is not easily categorized. I like being undefinable.

  • I have to talk about the cover of this book because it is just beautiful! I adore that you used your grandmother’s photo for it. Do you think she would have loved your book?

Thank you so much. You can’t imagine how much it means to me that my grandmother, Eva, is Be Brave’s cover girl. There is no one who would have loved this book more than my grandmother, “Ma.” She was my greatest cheerleader and champion, and kvelling over her grandchildren was her favorite pastime. She would have been over the moon to know that her photo was on the cover of my first book. I hope Ma somehow knows.

  • As a fan of poetry and a writer myself I wonder if you have any tips for people who are striving to be an author as well?

The most important thing is: reading. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. The other thing it takes is: grit. I am someone who has given up on writing many times, but I always seem to come back to it. It’s not easy for me, and it shouldn’t be easy. I think it’s also important to find a community of writers or a few friends you can talk to about writerly stuff and how hard and amazing writing can be.
Lastly, it’s important, not just to have reader/writer friends, but to support other writers. I’m a big-believer in being a Good Literary Citizen. I’m also a former high school English teacher and love to help new writers. So if there’s anyone out there who needs some advice or is just starting out, feel free to DM me or hop on over to my website and say hi:

  • Lastly, why did you decide to publish Be Brave? I can tell it is a very personal piece of work. Did you just want to help others or is there another reason?

I definitely didn’t plan on publishing this piece until long after I finished it. Ultimately, losing my grandmother was the catalyst for pushing myself to put myself out there. In a completely new context, and as a writer, I wanted and needed to: be brave.
I’m definitely a very private person, so in many ways, it’s shocking that I put such a personal book out there. Sometimes it’s easier to know that strangers are reading this book, than people I actually know. But I think the idea of connecting with a reader or helping anyone going through a hard time is so meaningful and is absolutely something that motivates me to be courageous to benefit someone else. Also, my hope is that bravery is contagious.

I hope you enjoy the interview and if you have anymore questions about the book or poetry then please leave them in the comments. I had so much fun doing this interview and learning more about black-out poetry.

Don’t forget to check out the book on Goodreads and Amazon!

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