Bend poet Jenna Goldsmith has had an interesting last six months.
“Like many people, I found it discombobulating to be remote — in every sense of the word,” she said
So have the other writers she knows and follows. Goldsmith, a senior instructor at Oregon State University-Cascades, where she teaches in the low-residency creative writing MFA program, keeps a lot of tabs on the literary world via social media. What she’s noticed with other writers, she said, “is that it kind of runs the gamut. Some writer friends of mine have found this time out of the world really useful for the writing process. Others have kind of admitted that no writing has happened for them in a couple of months, and they’re only now starting to get back on the horse of whatever project they were working on in February or March.”
Discombobulated or not, as far as putting words on the page goes, Goldsmith is in the former camp.
“I have been relatively productive at this time,” she said. “I have started two new manuscripts during the pandemic.”
Along with those in-progress projects, she also learned that an earlier manuscript for a poetry chapbook, written prior to the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, had been accepted for publication. “Suppose the room just got brighter” is set for a February release from Finishing Line Press, a small publisher in Georgetown, Kentucky. Presales for the chapbook, her second, will begin in mid-October.
This month, Goldsmith will participate in two virtual readings, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Sept. 14 and will stream on the Nervous Ghost Live Youtube channel, part of Nervous Ghost Press’ “The Far Far Away but Closer than Ever Virtual Tour.”
Though the readings celebrate an anthology from Nervous Ghost Press titled “Writing for Life,” in which Goldsmith has two poems, they’ll also give her pending book a little exposure.
“The readers have been encouraged to read from other projects they have going on, so I’m going to read a poem from the book that’s coming out in February, and then I’ll read a poem that I wrote during the pandemic, from a different manuscript,” she said. “So a little bit of everything.”
Goldsmith has managed to be productive throughout the pandemic, but it wasn’t necessarily easy in the beginning.
“Unfortunately, when things kind of started to shut down, I was on a trip. I was in San Antonio,” she said. The Texas city declared a health emergency, and upon arrival back in Bend, she came down, like so many Central Oregonians, with an ailment that sounds a lot like COVID.
“At that time it was very difficult to get a test, so I never had a test,” she said. “But I was really, really sick.”
Throw in the need to switch to online teaching during the spring term, and things were challenging. “I had to start my classes having been sick for two weeks, but surprisingly it went well,” she said. “I kind of went back to basics with the class. I relied upon the most foundational, pedagogical things I had learned, even as a grad student. … The classes were simple, but they went relatively smoothly, knock on wood. So that’s what I’m going to do again” in the fall term.
The pandemic has changed her writing somewhat as well, she said.
The poems in “Suppose the room just got brighter” “are pretty self-contained, and lyric. The work I’ve been working on since the pandemic is research-based. Who knows what the implication is there?” Goldsmith said. “One of the things that has come out of the pandemic for me at least is that I feel like my brain isn’t as stimulated as it normally would be. … I don’t know if, because of the pandemic, I wanted to dive into research to in some ways distract myself or in other ways just to kind of stimulate myself.”
One of the projects she’s working on is an oral history of the community swimming pool in her childhood hometown of Belvedere, Illinois. She worked there for seven years as a young woman.
“It’s a substantial amount of time. I worked my way up from just kind of being a cashier to being a pool manager,” she said. “And I worry that the pool is not going to make it through the pandemic. They did close this summer, and so … part of this is a reflection on my experience, but another part is reflection and analysis of what the pool in any community means, right? It’s a fraught space, and it’s a space in which certain kinds of relationships take place with strangers, friends and family that are different from other spaces in a small town.”
There’s a lot of research out there about the historic roles of community pools in small communities — particularly of note is the way racism and segregation played out at such pools, she said.
“That’s certainly going to inform my story, in the way I put this manuscript together, because it must, right?” Goldsmith said. “I think the pandemic even brings about a new way of thinking about pools because those are places of social infrastructure. Will we have those spaces in the same way when the pandemic is over? Will those places be the same? Will they be different? Will they make it? … Those are the new questions I’m asking.”
Not only does she get to explore the interesting history and rich social phenomena of community pools working on the project; it’s also nourishing to Goldsmith.
“I am a Midwesterner sort of through and through, and so I’m always kind of thinking about projects that can sustain me while I’m out here,” she said. “I definitely dabble in a certain level of homesickness, constantly. And so a project like that allows me to kind of embed myself in the community even being so far away.”