Jessica Gregg has been the editor of Baltimore Style for two years. In July, Finishing Line Press will publish her first book of poetry, “News from this Lonesome City,” which has a definite local theme.
You went to journalism school. How did you end up writing poetry?
In the fall of 2017, I took a class on prose poetry through Johns Hopkins University’s Odyssey program. I had been the editor of Baltimore Style for about six months at that time and was spending so much of my day editing and managing. For fun, I decided to take a writing class. Geeky, I know. But it was actually fun and I met a great group of writers. After the class was over, I entered a contest for women poets from Finishing Line Press. I didn’t win, but the editor contacted me and said the press wanted to publish my poems anyway. For a Style article, I had just interviewed Erica Dawson, a poet from Howard County who now oversees the MFA program at University of Tampa, and she told me I should definitely go for it. So, I did.
How did Baltimore make its way into your writing?
My family has lived in Baltimore for a long time. I grew up nearby and moved back to the area a little more than a decade ago. But I spent my childhood hearing my parents’ and my grandparents’ stories about life here. One of my grandfathers, for example, built battleships at Bethlehem Steel during World War II. That’s in a poem. So many snippets from stories I’ve heard have made their way into these verses. And I should add that I had some say in the cover photo for my book, so I asked David Stuck, our photographer here at Mid-Atlantic Media (Style’s parent company) to shoot the rowhouse photo that you see. Between the cover and the Hopkins’ connection, there is a lot of Baltimore in this little book. I am proud of that.
What are your other inspirations?
Definitely the news. Many writers will tell you that these days and that politics has inspired a lot of art. For me, it’s more like the inspiration comes from weird or unusual news. For example, I was driving to work one day and I heard a story on NPR about a Mexican gangster who was undergoing plastic surgery to change his identity, when a rival burst into the operating room and killed him. Now, that, of course, could be a novella or a made-for-TV movie. But why can’t it also be a poem? I made it a poem.
What’s next for you?
I am still writing poems. Recently I was named as one of three writers-in-residence for the Highlandtown Arts District in collaboration with Yellow Arrow Publishing. I have a three-month term that falls over the summer, so I will be out and about writing there and participating in readings. I am really looking forward to it.
Readers can pre-order the book here.