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UCLA

Poet in a Little Black Dress

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By Andriana Trang '12

Published Feb 8, 2011 8:00 AM


It was her 2009 memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress that became a literary sensation, but Rhoda Janzen M.A. '97, Ph.D. '02 says her first love was poetry.

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On Feb. 17, the best-selling Bruin author returned to Westwood to share the love. For one night at the Hammer Museum — hosted by her longtime mentor and former professor, UCLA Director of Creative Writing Stephen Yenser — Janzen read poems from her first volume, Babel's Stair (2006), plus selections from her forthcoming second collection.

Here, we ask the two-time University of California Poet Laureate about writing, reading and her UCLA experience.

Q: Is the poetry-writing process different for you than memoir-writing?

A: It's easier to write poetry, in terms of time. It doesn't take as long to sit and write a poem. But it's a complete immersion process that involves the trusting of the creative process that I've been trained in.

Q: Do you prefer one style of writing over the other? Or does one come more naturally?

A: Poetry has always been my first love; it was never a question of leaving or coming back to poetry. The pleasure of poetry is that it is more nuanced, and in a way more complex, because I draw on outside knowledge and training.

Q: Your second poetry collection is due out later this year. What can you tell us about it?

A: I can tell you its titled The Next Big Thing, and the poems are more upbeat — about spiritual growth, affirming things and trusting things. A lot different from Babel's Stair, which was a darker collection for me.

Q: First thing that comes to mind: What inspires you?

A: Other writers. Exercise. Nature.

Q: Favorite place in the world?

A: Arizona. Something about the landscape, I can't get out of my mind.

Q: Pen or pencil?

A: Pen.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Coffee.

Q: Chocolate or vanilla?

A: Chocolate.

Q: UCLA or USC?

A: UCLA, of course!

Q: While we're on the subject, tell us about your time at UCLA: What about it was most helpful in laying the groundwork for your career?

A: I think of it very fondly, and see it as a being a type of crucible for me. At UCLA, I was given the opportunity to develop my writing skills, reading skills, collaboration skills — all things that [help] me even now.

Q: Any words of advice?

A: I just want to emphasize that whatever level of training you have or educational path you take, you can always keep going down that path to reinvent yourself and discover new things about yourself.

Hammer Readings: Rhoda Janzen: Poetry. Thursday, Feb. 17, 7 p.m. Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Free admission. Parking: $3 after 6 p.m. For more information, call (310) 443-7000 or visit the Hammer website.

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