For one of the smallest adults I know, Jessica Knight has some might. And by god can she write. That will be the end of my poetry; I’ll let this fascinating creature come out with the lyrical genius. She does so, serenading me with stories over shiraz and complementary popcorn at Melbourne’s Shebeen. “I just innately think that my day-to-day life and thought processes are inherently fascinating enough to keep track of,” she cheekily confides. Jess sees so much intrigue in the outwardly mundane; ironic considering she can barely see two feet ahead, and part-blindness is only one of her ailments.
*Oh such a hopeless
You look like shit.
There’s not one dress
in the world that can fix this.
Jess was born with scoliosis, and is sick of talking about it. “Although,” she permits “it all inspires my writing – nothing gets creativity flowing like feeling really, really ugly.” The woman sat across from me is anything but ugly, but obviously went through a hell of a lot growing up with this condition. “Being ill long-term forces an introverted type of thought process,” she tells me, before gleefully gushing over one of her favourite authors.
“Proust was like that – he was sick all the time. He would wear a fur coat to dinner because he was always cold or feverish. And he wrote that eight-volume novel you know, genius! Why? Because he was fucking sick all the time!”
I love how authors have celebrity status in Jess’s eyes, and her attitude toward illness is truly remarkable. “I’m quite grateful that my adolescence was so sad and stressful,” she tells me. “I’m glad that when other girls in my class were getting boyfriends and their period I was in the Royal Children’s Hospital, being poked and prodded.” She says this without a hint of resentment or ‘woe is me,’ explaining that it gave her endless hours to read and a heightened sense of self.
“When you’re locked in a situation that you don’t have any power over you are forced to look inside yourself in a way that I don’t think you would if you had been a healthy child, and not been forced to sit still.”
Thoughts a-brewin’, Jess started writing at a very young age. “When I was a little Mormon girl in primary, we were always told that we should keep a journal.” Hang on… Mormon? I was shocked to learn of Jess’s religious background. Yes, she was raised Mormon, on a dairy farm an hour north of Bendigo, with her brother and three sisters. It all sounds so provincial, so isolated, and so not like the city-dweller I know. She agrees, sharing with me the pains of her childhood. “I’d go to church dances and everyone would just avoid me,” she remembers.
“It was horrible being isolated by people who were supposed to be fucking Christian. And the music. Dear God Mel, the music! And there was no wine! No wine!”
Her fast-emptying glass, wonderfully liberal use of the f-word and deliciously graphic writing imply that she is no longer practising. “It was a slow and sordid loss of faith,” she tells me. Although having love and respect for her still very Mormon parents, Jess can’t agree with their beliefs. “What’s that religion with all those well-intended rules that don’t work out in real life?” she says, quoting Homer Simpson. “Christianity! That’s right!”
Being raised under such ‘well-intended’ rules meant she was a little late to the party when it came to sex. Having made up for lost time (much to the benefit of her readers), she now conjures many a saucy image in her writing.
As he moved inside of me
My mind sped up in spite.
Trying hard to keep it cool.
Bodies both naked, and it’s all going swell.
“I’m glad that I’ve been around,” she says candidly. “I mean, how could I possibly write or learn anything in this world if I had to turn my back on so many things?” She’s been around in more way than one, escaping the farm to study creative writing straight out of high school. And soon after, quitting. “I had this dream of being in a class with other writers who were as dynamic and brilliant as me,” she says, only half-jokingly. “Disappointingly, nobody came close. It was a yawn-fest.”
She instead completed a psychology degree. Followed by a teaching degree, which made very apparent her lack of patience with children. “I don’t know if you know this Mel,” she says of five-year olds, “but some of them can’t read!’ You have to teach them how to read!” So that was out. She then went overseas to work as a nanny for a nice lesbian couple in Manchester, enjoying a ‘literary hard on’ in this cultural part of the world.
Back in her chosen home of Melbourne, Jess is working on a novel and penning a poem a day. Although relatively new to the genre, poetry has been percolating inside her for some time. “I think the best thing for a poet is going for something you want more than anything, and not getting it,” she says. “There’s poetry in that.” And company – Jess is a proud member of a poetry book club. “I usually just sit around and drink chardonnay thinking, I want to have sex with all your brains!” she tells me, no doubt modestly. “They’re so amazing.”
The club is a by-product of a Melbourne Writers Festival gathering where she read from her favourite book of Charles Bukowski poems, Love is a Dog from Hell. “I recited one of his poems because I thought it would be funny,” she says. “He’s all about his penis and fucking women and I’m this little girl in glasses.” Jess tells me one of the men in the group was so shocked by the poem’s final line that he dropped his wine glass. “It was the perfect, perfect moment to encapsulate the entire poem,” she delightedly recalls. “Right as I finished, smash!”
At the feminist end of the spectrum, Jess’s poetry is also confrontational – at times making me physically recoil. She has a knack for writing about pain, beautifully. “I’ve got misery to draw from,” she tells me. “It keeps me going,” she laughs “through happy times!” There is so much of Jess in what she writes.
If I had a baby.
It would be bought to my door step.
By velvet black ravens.
Guided by a scoop of creamy moon.
A galaxy of stars
laughing in its wake.
This one really got me, and I couldn’t help but feel it might be sprung from her being born infertile. How much of it is you? I ask, pryingly. “Do you really want to know that?” she says. “The feeling of being cheated and trying to find your way in this world – I think is a battle that all women face.” Touché, my friend. Our battle for equality rages on. So what’s the plan going forward? “To write!” she says simply.
“I don’t see myself doing anything else that would make me as happy, as stressed, as heartbroken, as struggling, as head fucked, as alive, as doing that – as making people feel what I have felt at my worst, and my best.”
Jess leaves me with her driving motivation – not always getting what you want. “Everyone can relate to that,” she says. She’s right, but with her talent, she may soon need to start finding inspiration elsewhere.
*Daily Poetry from Jess Knight