On Saturday, May 22nd at 7pm, more than 130 zoom participants watched live performances by the 2021 DC Poet Project finalists and voted Jenn Koiter as the series’ winner. Because of the ongoing pandemic Day Eight made the decision to keep the culminating reading a live virtual event, as prior events in the 2021 series.
Jenn Koiter’s poems and essays have appeared in several journals, including Smartish Pace, Bateau, Barrelhouse, and Ruminate. She has taught at colleges and universities, worked for a cultural nonprofit, worked in corporate marketing, and volunteered to help end human trafficking in India and Nepal. She lives in Washington, DC with three gerbils named Sputnik, Cosmo, and Unit.
As winner of the DC Poet Project Koiter will receive a $1,000 book contract and Day Eight will publish her book of poetry. DC Poet Project director Robert Bettmann conducted the following email interview with Jenn Koiter.
Robert Bettmann: Congratulations on your new title as the 2021 DC Poet Project winner! Day Eight is thrilled to be publishing your book. When did you first discover your passion for writing?
JK: My mom still has my first “book”: a story I wrote, illustrated, and awkwardly glued together when I was four, about a how a bird who couldn’t talk found help in a forest. (I guess I was already obsessed with finding my voice.) And I remember sitting in my room with my friends in high school writing poems. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write.
RB: Do you have a particular writing practice, or process?
JK: I’m grateful to have one at all! Up until a year ago I was almost completely blocked and had been for over five years – since I finished grad school. I discovered breathwork, which helped. Writing in the company of others helped. Working with a writing coach helped. It has been such a relief, I can’t tell you—like coming home to myself. I’ve since earned my breathwork certification and am launching a coaching and breath work business to help writers, artists, and anyone, really, dissolve creative blocks or just cultivate a richer creative practice.
RB: You spent some time in South Asia?
JK: I love India so much. My MFA program at Antioch University had a social justice requirement, and since my previous graduate degree was in Hindu mythology, and I was fortunate enough to be on a fellowship, I chose to work with an NGO in Delhi called JVI, a great organization. Their work is focused mostly on human trafficking, forced bonded labor, wrongful imprisonment, and slum empowerment. I also connected with an anti-trafficking organization in Nepal, called New Light Nepal, which I still support. Anyway, I fell in love with India and kept going back, spending about a third of the time there throughout graduate school, even after the project was over. I made amazing friends, plus the vibe just suits me. Doing anything is harder in India, even just getting across town. My secret is that it’s just as hard for me to do things here in the US. In Delhi I have an excuse.
RB: Did you grow up in the DC area?
JK: I’m from Colorado, actually, so I’m a long way from home! I miss the mountains and dry towels and toothbrushes. But I adore DC. It feels limenal to me: not north, not south, in the country but not a state (yet!). There are a lot of folks from all over the country and the world here, so while it’s on the east coast, it’s not of the east coast, not quite. I had visited a handful of times and always found it to be a friendly city as well (provided you aren’t driving). Seriously, though, one of the reasons I’m excited to publish with Day Eight is your commitment to the arts community in DC. I can live anywhere for work. I choose to live here.
RB: Do you have a mission for your writing? Will your book be on a specific topic, or topics?
JK: Whenever I finish a piece and read the final version odds are it’s going to be about identity somehow. As I assemble this manuscript, I’m finding that many poems swirl around gender, spirituality, and loss.
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The 2021 DC Poet Project was supported by grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and made possible through partnerships with Brink Media, DC Public Library, and the Anacostia Coordinating Council, and the participation of featured poets John Johnson, Naomi Ayala, E. Ethelbert Miller, Holly Karapetkova, Kim B Miller, Grace Cavalieri, Lori Tsang, Jane Schapiro, W. Luther Jett, Marlena Chertock, and Malik Thompson. The 2021 Poet Project was directed by Robert Bettmann with series curator Regie Cabico and host Aaron Holmes.