An Interview with Janelle Rainer

Recently, PunksWritePoemsPress was introduced to the poetry of Janelle Rainer. Even better than that, we had a manuscript from her sitting in our inbox…and it was good! Just the right mix of beautiful and ugly. And while we wait to drop “Two Cups of Tomatoes” on a largely unsuspecting poetry community, we thought it would be a good time to introduce you to poet, painter and teacher…Janelle Rainer.


PWP: Hi Janelle. Thanks for taking some time to talk to us.

JR: Thank you for the opportunity.

PWP: Why don’t we start with you giving us some quick background about yourself?

JR: I once took an online quiz that said I used 90% of the right side of my brain (the side dominated by creation and imagination and chaos), and only 10% of the left side of my brain (the side for logic and practicality), so this explains everything you need to know.

PWP: Fantastic! This should be a fun interview. Let’s dive right in. When you were growing up, what was your dream job?

JR: I wanted to be a children’s book author and illustrator. Recently, I found a book I cobbled together as a seven-year-old. It was about a trippy space expedition, and the main character was named Janelle (very original). Janelle ends up getting murdered by a deranged alien in the end. I’m not sure what that says about my seven-year-old mind, but the pencil illustrations were top notch.


PWP: Any chance we can see an example of these top notch illustrations?

JR: Ha oh my… I wish we could!! I found the book a year ago and don’t know where it ended up, unfortunately.

PWP: Well that’s disappointing.

In what ways are you the same as your childhood self?

JR: I’m still short, still a little morbid, and still obsessed with anything Christmas themed. I insisted on putting up the Christmas tree on November 1st when I was a kid (despite the agony and eye-rolling of my family members), and that’s been a tradition that’s followed me into adulthood.

PWP: That is early! Growing up, we had to enforce a strict “no Christmas until the night before Thanksgiving” rule for my Mom; otherwise she would start playing Carols while we were still eating our Halloween candy.

Did you have a particular teacher who inspired your interest in poetry?

JR: At Whitworth, I had a creative writing teacher named Laurie Lamon who helped me recognize poetry as a worthy life pursuit. My dad told me I needed to do something productive with my life, like be a fighter pilot (no clue where he got this idea, but it’s a conversation that stuck with me). So I originally intended to get a B.A. in childhood education, but Laurie’s creative writing classes were impossible to resist. And I’m so thankful for the encouragement and guidance she gave me. She’s the reason I continued on to pursue my MFA in Poetry at Pacific University.

PWP: Why do you write? And what about poetry drew you to it?

JR: I write because I have to; it’s how I talk to the world. Sometimes the hardest part of writing is…writing when you don’t feel like it. Writing when you’ve had five hours of sleep and your eyes are gritty and heavy-lidded. Writing when you have so many other responsibilities, the kinds of responsibilities that actually pay the bills. But if I don’t write something every day, I’m left feeling hungry.

PWP: How would you describe your poetry style?

JR: My poetic world is a place where people fret over bills, where jobs are grueling and scarce, where alcohol and violence are looming, where relationships are on the verge of collapse. And while the struggles of everyday life can be devastating, we find hope through small acts of kindness, unexpected beauty.

There’s a lot of listening involved. I go places, mundane places—the grocery store, the park, the tavern—and I listen to people. Eavesdrop would be a better word. Writing is my way of understanding, my way of serving others. I’m most concerned with the stuff we live with everyday, what we trample on. I try not to turn away—that’s the most important part. Listening, facing what’s hard, instead of turning away.

PWP: Tell us a little about “Two Cups of Tomatoes”.

JR: In “Two Cups of Tomatoes,” I play the role of observer. The characters in my poems are sometimes celebratory, sometimes tragic, but always human: the drunk yelling to himself in a dark parking lot, the 63-year-old bachelor learning how to cook a pizza, young lovers in a dirty kitchen, the mortician in a dive bar. Some poems are more autobiographical, dealing with what it means to be a 25-year-old woman.

Overall, I want this collection to show how we’re all connected. I’m disturbed by the alienation of modern living: the feeling of being separate from every other person, even as we share bus seats, office space, sidewalks, apartment buildings, stories. We shop for groceries at the same kinds of stores, drive the same kinds of cars, and complain about the same TV shows, yet there is little interaction or interest. Through my poetry, I hope to illuminate the places of intersection between seemingly separate lives by focusing on shared experiences, like teaching a young child how to ride a bike. I want readers to think, “I’m human, and the character in this poem is human, and I can relate to what he or she is going through.” Empathy. That’s the goal.

PWP: How would you describe the approach you take to painting?

JR: My paintings are messy, fluid, unrefined. Sometimes they’re dark and haunting, other times they’re surreal and almost circus-like with color. Each painting is its own dream, and dreams can be good or bad. 

PWP: Excellent! Let’s switch gears. If you could have one superpower, what would it be and how would you use it?

JR: There’s a Marvel character called Taskmaster who has the ability to absorb knowledge instantaneously. Basically, he can learn anything through observation. Instant master of yoga, tightrope, handstands, Japanese, and piano? Yes, please! 

PWP: Interesting…
Are you ready? Take a deep breath…it’s time for the LIGHTNING ROUND!!!

Iced coffee or Milkshake?

JR: Iced coffee

PWP: Hoodie or Sweater?

JR: Hoodie

PWP: Argyle or Polkadots?

JR: Polkadots

PWP: A night out or a night in?

JR: Night in

PWP: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi?

JR: A New Hope

PWP: Pancakes or Waffles?

JR: Pancakes

PWP: You scored a 3.5 out of 6. Not bad. (Scoring note: in regards to the Star Wars question, Empire is the correct answer, with partial credit for Hope and no points for Jedi.)

Now comes the part where you get to shamelessly plug your online presence. Where can people find Janelle?

JR: I have an author page on Facebook. And a website that focuses on my art. And, of course, I would love to have people come check out my Instagram.

PWP: I think that will do it. Thanks again for making some time for us.

JR: Wonderful! Thank you.

Look for Janelle’s poetry collection “Two Cups of Tomatoes” coming later this year!


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