Jane Huffman Kills Bonsai Trees and Parasites

Comments (1) Interviews

Jane Huffman is a Michigan-based poet and playwright with work featured or forthcoming in Thought Catalog, Galavant Magazine, A Bad Penny Review, RHINO Poetry, and others. Her piece “Vegetable” is published in The Shrug 3 and you can see it performed live here

1. What did you have for breakfast and why?

I had an entire avocado and a bowl of captain crunch, because I am a sensible but spontaneous little lady.

2. Your twitter name is DJ Salinger. If that were actually your handle as a DJ, what kind of music would you play? Please provide links to songs, videos, etc. for illustrative purposes.

3. It seems that you are a poet, and yet you still somehow managed to trick us into publishing your work. How do you make a poem that’s weird enough for theNewerYork? Please answer with instructions – we have a lot of submitters who need the advice. 

Actually, most of the writing I do in experimental or visual forms is inspired by some of my favorite contemporary poets. In fact, my piece that appeared in theNewerYork was a response to something I read in Evie Shockley’s book “The New Black.” This might be a controversial thing to say, but I would classify even my strangest and most aesthetic pieces as poetry. Since the dawn of the written word, writers have had a desire to blur the lines between textual and visual art, and every year new books of poetry emerge with works that take the forms of grocery lists, postcards, exploding suns, etc. Even though theNewerYork was built around a strictly “no-poetry” philosophy, I believe that the journal works within this tradition. These days, it seems like the lines between poetry and prose get blurrier every day, and that certain strands of experimental work are finding places within mainstream publishing. A stop sign can be a poem if you offer it enough nuance, and a sonnet can be sexy if you messy it up, you know?

My advice for aspiring experimental writers is simply to keep experimenting. Keep combining peculiar things and finding those delicious discordant notes. Don’t be afraid to trash work that you’re attached to. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep submitting. Cyber bully your editors until they crack.

4. Do you like being called a poet? Is that even accurate? If you could make up a title for yourself, what would it be? What would the badge look like if this were an important office that comes with a badge? 

I do consider myself a poet. I embrace that title – “poet” – although I try to embody it in a way that goes beyond the dusty old image of Shakespeare and Frost scratching at their leather-bound notebooks with arthritic hands. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some WS and RF, but I believe that poets have a place, and a future, in modern writing and literature and that poetry is constantly re-defining itself.

My official title might be “babe against bullshit.” I read that somewhere once, probably on the internet – it sounds like an etsy thing – so I can’t claim authorship. But I love it, and if I had a badge with that embroidered on it (in pink, obviously), I would pin it on my jacket every day.

5. What does it mean to be experimental? Please answer experimentally.


6. This may be the most entertaining thing on Thought Catalog. Did you miss Gerard when he was gone, or have you somehow kept him? Will you draw us an adorable picture of your (presumably) now-deceased intestinal parasite? You don’t have a real picture, do you? If so, would we even want to see it?

I do miss Gerard! Though he might be dead, he lives on in my heart. And in this stuffed animal a family friend bought for me when I was in the hospital.

Jane's little monster

7. Your piece in Book 3 is (at least partially) about buying a bonsai tree. Do you keep plants? What are your best and worst experiences with plants? If you have plants at home, would you show them to us?

My piece, “Vegetable,” is actually based on a very true story. I gave bonsai gardening a shot and realized that my thumb wasn’t nearly green enough. However, I have a certain connection with gardening. My dad is a nature photographer and a pretty avid outdoorsmen, and since I was little, my  family’s home has been filled with plants and flowers and photographs of plants and flowers. I remember spending my summers watching him work in our tiny backyard garden, weaving vines through the gaps in a chain link fence, and grilling slices of freshly picked sun-speckled tomatoes. Once he harvested earthworms to make fertilizer, named it “Bob’s Black Gold” and sold it to retailers for a couple of years. (But that’s not nearly as romantic.)

Anyway, I emotionally destroyed an expensive bonsai tree in under a week, and that was singularly the best and the worst experience I’ve had with plants in my recent memory. (I say it’s the best because it worked so effectively as a writing prompt – writers take note: killing things that were once alive gets the juices pumping.)

However, I can share an anecdote about topsoil. (I just decided that’s gong to be the title of my first novel.) So, I’m directing a play called “Mud” in a black box theatre at my college, and the other day I was helping my scenic designer set up for a technical rehearsal. Our set design includes this big pile of dirt that the actors get to roll around in and kick all over the stage (directing is very serious stuff, folks), and so we got a bunch of those bags of topsoil from the hardware store. We were dumping them on the stage when we noticed something small and shiny buried in the dirt. It was a human skull! Just kidding. It was one of those old antique porcelain spark plugs! Just as crazy, eh?! We Googled it and it’s worth about twenty bucks. I’m going to make a brooch out of it.

8. Do plants have feelings? 

They do. They also have hands and psychological problems.

9. Do you have any rituals surrounding your writing? Times of day that work best, lit candles, sacrifices? 

I like to write in public, noisy spaces, where there is stimulus everywhere. Sometimes I also really crave total quiet and solitude. Inspiration always hits me at odd times. I don’t have a ton of rituals, because I often write my best work when I don’t expect to.

10. What is one thing you did as a child that you wish you still did today, and why did you stop doing it?

I was HUGE into collecting rocks. I lost interest in it after a couple of years, when I reached that fork in the road (that many a young rock collector reaches) where I had to decide to quit or really commit. I think my competitive edge took over and I decided I might be just as good at some other useless hobby that didn’t require me to save my allowance for a 15-pound geode stone. (Obviously, I wasn’t content with the tiny one that came in the starter kit.) So I gave up on that one, stashed my box of rocks in my closet, and never looked back. I wasn’t born to be an all-star rock collector. I’ve reconciled with that fact.

I think I might find my way back to it someday, in some capacity. I love writing about the natural world. Maybe someday I’ll write a whole collection about rocks. Or maybe I’ll stress-buy a rock polisher on Amazon. The world is my oyster.

11. Do you ever feel objectified by the internet? Please answer with selfies. 

the top of Jane's head

12. If you are going to be arrested in your lifetime, what will be the crime? 

Glitter-bombing a politician.

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  • theneweryork

    I want to do that!