Write On! interviews the founding director of Exiled Writers Ink, Jennifer Langer.
Jennifer is the founding director of Exiled Writers Ink, which develops and promotes the creative literary expression of refugees, migrants and exiles, increases their representation in the mainstream literary world, and advocates human rights through literature and literary activism. She is the editor of four anthologies of exiled literature, all published by Five Leaves and the lead editor of Resistance: Voices Of Exiled Writers (Palewell, 2020), which marked EWI’s 20th anniversary. The holder of a doctorate in cultural memory and exiled literature by Iranian Jewish women, and a SOAS Research Associate, Jennifer regularly writes and speaks about migration, exile, memory and identity.
WO: How would you describe your work to someone new to it?
JL: I tackle subjects important to me in poetry, articles and essays, and I believe my poetry is quite emotional, although not polemical. I sometimes draw on, and engage with, philosophical insights about trauma, nostalgia, ‘the other’ and personal interactions. Although I’m not drawn to writing about nature, environments are important to me.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, The Search?
JL: The Search is a poetry collection exploring the poet’s complex identity as the daughter of German Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany for Britain, as the sole survivors of their respective families. Born of the history of loss, she snatches at fragments striving to create a narrative. But crucially, she confronts current tensions arising from the diverse facets of her identity. Engaged in the attempt to resist negative representations projected onto myself, I struggle to define myself and some of the poems speak to each other, almost in a contradiction in attitude representing the complexity of identity. Yet her sensibility of otherness is dialogically engaged with contemporary refugees and the oppressed in her dynamic quest for insight and shared traces.
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
JL: I’m a long-time writer of poetry. This has always been a means of expressing and interrogating my emotions and impressions. The same applies now, but I’m also drawn to writing poetry to understand political contexts, suffering and injustices.
WO: The previous issue of Write On! explored the theme ‘Nature, Inspiring Creativity: Past, Present And Future’. With that in mind, how has nature had a direct impact on your inspiration? Are there any particular pieces of art or creative works based in nature that spark ideas for you whenever you experience them?
JL: Nature is not a strong influence in my poetry, as I’m an urban creature who revels in the excitement of cities. I’m particularly beguiled by Mediterranean port towns such as Genoa. The few poems I’ve written about nature tend to be about the threat of nature, or nature concealing difficult truths, such as Nordic Noir and another, about Australia, Open Ulcers.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
JL: Carry a notebook and keep it at your bedside. Jot down observations, thoughts and ideas that emerge from the deepest recesses of your mind and soul. Read lots of published poetry.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
JL: I’m brimming over with ideas for poems and will focus on poetry writing. Hopefully, I’ll be able to read the poems at poetry events, and will eventually be published once more.
I need to work on the book arising from my doctoral research, which is about the centrality of cultural memory for exiled Iranian Jewish women who are seemingly positioned in a liminal space, in exile from exile.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
JL: The Dong With The Luminous Nose. Perhaps I could comfort him, taking the place of the Jumbly Girl, who sailed away with the Jumblies in a sieve! He inhabits a surrealistic world of the imagination and pushing the boundaries beyond reality is attractive to me in terms of the creative act.
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For me, poetry has always been a means of expressing and interrogating my emotions and impressions... I'm also drawn to writing poetry to understand political contexts, suffering and injustices.