Spotlight on Staff: Dr Jennifer Soong

jennifer soong

Which book has had the biggest impact on you?

Most recently, Leslie Scalapino’s Defoe and Ingeborg Bachmann’s collected poems and Malina. Over the years, J.H. Prynne’s The White Stones, T.S. Eliot’s essays, Gertrude Stein’s lectures, Marx’s Das Kapital, Thomas Hardy’s 1912-1913 elegies, Virginia Woolf’s Waves, James Baldwin’s essays, Robert Creeley’s early work, Denise Riley, Tan Lin, Lyn Hejinian. Also: Hannah Arendt.

Describe your ideal day.

Reading poems out loud with and to my friends, successfully writing poems, being outside, having a beautiful meal. The weather must be nice.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?

Somewhere peaceful, where the light and the seasons change, ideally by water and wind. Oxford comes pretty close to that.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A visual artist. I was a very good painter —better than I am today.

Who had the greatest influence on you during your childhood?

Positive or negative? Generally speaking, family and some early teachers: Joan Pearlman, Evelyn Kastl, Vicki Grant, Peter Delman.

Who were your childhood heroes?

I’m not sure I had any.

What teacher had the greatest impact on you?

The ones who have directly shaped my thinking about poetry are Susan Stewart, Keston Sutherland, Josh Kotin, and Peter Sacks.

Do you have pets?

Two cats.

Were you popular as a teenager?

This is a strange question.

What is your favourite music?

I always return to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder performed by Jessye Norman, Mahler’s fifth symphony, Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin de Temps, Arthur Russell, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Fiona Apple, Julia Holter, Alice Coltrane, Blood Orange, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Paul Simon. I work out to Todd Terje and also go through phases where I binge listen Travis Scott or A$AP Rocky.

If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?

Wordsworth is said to have recited his poems powerfully, so mainly I’d want to hear his voice. I’d put Sappho and Pound in there too. Maybe Freud and Picasso?

What do you like most about your job? What do you like least?

Being around likeminded people with similar values is invaluable. Being around interesting people is the icing on the cake. I hope I haven’t offended anyone by saying I least enjoy doing administrative work that involves a computer screen.

Why are we here?

Where else could we be?

If you weren’t a member of the English Faculty, what would you be? I’m a poet, so if I weren’t English faculty, I’d still be that.

Jennifer Soong is a Departmental Lecturer, specializing in poetry and poetics, and modern and contemporary Anglophone literature. She is currently writing a critical book on poetry and forgetting and is the author of several poetry collections and chapbooks, including most recently Contempt (SPAM, 2021).