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Featured Poet: Jen Schneider

Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. Recent works include A Collection of Recollections, Invisible Ink, On Habits & Habitats, and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups.

RRR contributor, Pat Kelly, sat down with three of her poems and cooked up a few questions for the author.

PK: Obligatory first question: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you come from? Where are you now?

JS: Ah, a deceptively complex question!...

I never know how to answer the question of where I’ve come from (for any of us, really). Honestly, I’m just grateful to be here.

For now, I live in Pennsylvania and work in Philadelphia. I do most of my writing up and down the East Coast.

PK: Poetry can often feel like an anachronistic mode of art in the 21st century, and I find that it takes an interestingly stubborn mind to take that journey. What experiences led you down this path? What started the fire, so to speak?

I can relate well to your sentiments and I often marvel at my good fortune to have discovered the joys of poetry in such times. I stumbled across poetry by chance (along one of many wayward paths) when I signed up for a workshop on a whim.


artificial sweeteners :: of dusk, dawn, & (day)break

i’d wake early

minutes before dawn

to watch him leave for work

burrowed eyebrows

framed lined spools

of rough terrain

& pigment-stained pain

perimeters etched of

faint maps

& wayward paths

to/of undeclared destinations

artificial sweeteners everywhere

his torso covered of faded pink stripes

– patterns of vertical

formation woven into button-downs

starched & stretched across shoulders

of horizontal tendencies

all limbs heavy

weighted of cranberry red thermos jugs

black coffee, cream & sugar

& army green coolers

insulated & insular

all contents piping hot

artificial sweeteners dally

i’d drag pint-sized limbs


of canned creamed corn

& fruit cocktail in heavy syrup

to watch.consume.contemplate.him

artificial sweeteners linger

he manned a fish store

turned butcher shop

sold goldfish (two for a dollar) out back

& swedish fish (five for a quarter) out front

anything for a buck

placed cardboard signs

advertising fresh fish & meat

on the sidewalk

& twisty bags of fresh carcass

in the alley

artificial sweeteners dawdle

i always wondered

what sort of man

could kill a fish, chop a cow,

then squeeze the neck of a lobster

all while whistling it’s a wonderful world

& kissing his offspring

atop freshly washed curls

with breath that bore the scent of death

artificial sweeteners layer

& see his own child writher

under the cut of harsh words

served daily – beet red

part of a well-balanced diet

& carry on

& whistle chirpy tunes

in air heavy of invisible elephants

attic & corduroy trunks

hiding secrets of harsh hands

& cutting words

on bottoms both naked and bucked

sure, we’d whack moles

at the summer fair

while munching one dollar-a-spin

cotton candy – always pink

& slurping jugs of hawaiian punch,

always red -- by the gallon

only those moles had no heart

artificial sweeteners everywhere

each morning,

he’d bend at the waist,

tilt his head to the left,

then squeeze his oversized frame

into an undersized beetle

the car & his cheeks – cherry red

artificial sweeteners here & there

he’d check, then tie all laces

off-brand leather loafers

with short (& stout) rawhide knots

then tap & check

the shoes’ soles

an oval logo signed & seared

i’d squirm, then worm,

to try to read his moving lips

through the small slit

of plastic blinds

in my second-floor bedroom’s

front window

i’d fail daily

even so, i’d continue

to wake early

moments before dawn

to watch him leave for work

early bird catches

the worm, he’d say


ascending the stairs

each night

his left hand, calloused and careless,

would blow a kiss

i’d attempt to catch,

yet always miss

artificial sweeteners float

as i watched,

i’d pray – for him

& wonder if he saw his soul

in the red rubber sole

of the frayed & faded off-brand leather loafers

& wish to know

what sort of person

can watch a man

whack a kid, kill a fish, chop a cow,

then squeeze the neck of a lobster

all while whistling it’s a wonderful world

& await his kiss

atop freshly washed curls

with breath that bore the sweet scent of death


PK: The most visible poetry today (meaning within social media) all trends toward short/non-sequitur/fractured emo lyrics from fifteen years ago/etc. whereas your poetry blooms in the long-form, cryptic phrasing. Each of the poems I’ve read have distinctly different styles. What is your process for crafting?

JS: Haha, this is yet another reason why I avoid social media. :) I’m kidding but I do try to avoid writing to satisfy any predetermined path or expectation. I’ve found that I most enjoy the creation process and the often unexpected paths that accompany the process for crafting. I know I have a tendency to go on for longer than current trends prefer, but I don’t write with any expectations of publication or visibility. For me, I’m drawn most to the joy and the peace that accompany the process. It’s both a luxury and a lifeline (oddly compatible at times). It’s okay if that means less visibility. I prefer it that way.

PK: I’ve read these three poems a few times, and what is interesting to me is that they all feel connected without feeling bound by the same forms. The connective tissue instead seems to be the way you play with words; writing them, then dissecting them through both definition and aesthetic lettering (insulated/insular, to legs & legalities, castaway/cast aside, testament & testimony). Do you think about your poetry as connected to a larger whole when you create? Do the ideas drive the style or the other way around?

JS: ...I’m not sure there’s any one answer. My writing tends to take shape in a variety of ways, with form more a function of happenstance then circumstance. I do love to play with (and on) words and when I fall into a rhythm (flow, I suppose though I’ve never really taken to that phrasing).

I find that ideas drive style drive ideas. It’s a wildly unpredictable process.

I never truly know where I’m going until I get there. I typically start with an idea I want to understand more deeply and the words are my tools to do so.


on beliefs i’ve seen :: and sights i believe

questions roll off tongues in quick clips and curious connotations. ulcers sensitive to sweet & sour seasons (& seasonings) proliferate. have you heard. have you seen. dude. doll. come on. you’ve got to see this. now. let’s go. you in. heads nod. eyes roll. teeth click. i’ve seen enough.

i’ve seen men cry in showers

and women swipe jabs

while yellow ducks – eyes painted (& faded) of cherry red –

watch (and wade) in silence

i’ve seen mice seep under mowers

and movers pilfer panties

while arms that hustle

(then twist) and legs that don’t

thumb magazines

stored in penthouse shoeboxes

i’ve seen lava cakes with no centers

and picturesque deserts with no life

as centerpiece desserts

declare victory

over dancing feet

and scuffed parquet floors

i’ve seen oceans that give life

– to legs and legalities

and lives that give themselves to oceans

legalities & loyalties

both castaways

and cast aside

i’ve seen odd birds

of rainbow hued feathers

lead packs of gray wolves

and piles of garbage can wool

transformed into blankets stuffed

of odd bird feathers

i’ve seen pipes used as play tunes

and pathways to tombs

with tombs both testaments

and testimony

i’ve seen bald men in baseball caps

and swimsuits on geese

strips & straps of speedo & spandex

all in a form

of fly



i’ve seen paper kites tear wings and women with pin stick legs

pump iron

while sewage pumps leak stool

i’ve seen enough

ask me not what

i’ve seen

but what I believe

or what i know

i’ve seen ten-year-olds paint lips

of indigo hues

and ninety-year-olds pay lip service

while scoffing at charity dues

i’ve seen dollar bills

placed in safes that cost five to lock

and diamonds on display

as sweat sprays

i’ve seen enough. ask me not

what i’ve seen.smelled.consumed.subsumed

but what I believe

i believe

pigeons maintain purview

while paintings measure desire

i believe

t-shirts state truths

of sports, stupidity, & circumstance

that lips,

even when painted of cherub pink,


i believe

aspirations often bear weights

of desperation

and desperation manifests

in rooms with mirrors

i believe what i see

and i’ve seen __it__

in undersized lycra

& oversized hoodies

in rubber wheels

& iron weights

i sit. legs crossed. butterfly style. in a land of no flight. & conspicuous, cavernous fight. on a thin, rubberized plastic mat. & inhale sweat-stained air. don’t look away. down. up. bend. pits everywhere. plots thicken.

i’ve seen enough.


PK: What I also love about your poems is that they seem to only flash meanings. I’ll think I know what the poem is about, then the next line will make me question that meaning. In “On Forever Fresh Wounds” for instance, I felt hints of romantic lost love, child loss in the form of death or circumstance, loss of connection in the form of a global pandemic, but the poem seemed to elude any coherent definition. How do you view your reader interpreting your art?

JS: This is intentional as meaning (for me, as well) is contextual and often fleeting. I tend to resist commentaries and perspectives that offer conclusions without the possibility of revisiting to consolidate, revise, and/or edit initial impressions. What meaning might exist in one moment in time (a reading, an experience, etc.) might be absent or present in a varied form at another. I try to maintain that type of balanced uncertainty (both retrospective and prospective) in my writing. As for how a reader interprets my work, that is absolutely up to them and I do not expect to have any idea as to what those interpretations might hold. I also don’t believe I have any right to influence those interpretations.

The joy of interpretation is, I think, entirely distinct from the joy of creating.

on forever fresh wounds & heartfelt truths with no (& infinite) boundaries

it takes a sliver of a single moment to consume/capture a heart & fall into the deep end of a chamber with no (& infinite) boundaries, but it takes an eternity to get out of any one of them. realities soaked of chamber & chains. ut takes an eternity to exit the pulse of the chamber & the beat of the moment turned minute turned memory that blankets & beguiles. bosses & bullies. begs & bemoans. & eternity becomes just as much a part of you as you are of the heart.

even beasts of sizes large & small linger. main characters in marvel movies. stand-ins on improv stages. in wisps of curled hairs that peer & point from under a backwards baseball cap. of unexpected shoulder brushes (with or without pads) on the No. 5 bus. on uptown walks & double-digit streets. of downtown dives (of jazz and juice bars) & alphabet cities (& multi-lingual corners). in darkly lit basements of pool tables and scratched ping pong paddles. on moonlit beaches home to sting rays & jelly fish. always a fish out of water. soaked of the breath of the pulsing chamber.

grains of increasingly small (always smaller) sand stick and stack. of moments turned minutes turned memories. of morning coffee. two creams. no sugar. of afternoon tea. mint, earl gray, strawberry blossom. in tiny creases of brain matter. matter so deep sand secures hiding spots of timeless power. & perpetual motion. in pinky toe cracks. under nails of cranberry lacquer. behind ear lobe flaps. under gold hoop backings. of an unexpected sneeze. Ah choo.

again. Ah choo.

catch it. can’t catch it. the chambers know no bounds.

particles disperse then converse. blankets of moments turned minutes turned memories. a common cold with uncommon curiosities. down divergent paths with convergent beats.

viruses proliferate and propagate. to increasingly larger (always larger) spaces. of dispersed moments turned minutes turned memories. fire engine red lacquered nails scratch at/of/on ailments of known origin. finger beds rub creams & elixirs. all closets cleaned. of minutes turned moments turned memories. all corners swept. until a long-lost cotton sock (striped of rainbow greens/purples/oranges/yellows & purchased on a whim on a trip with no time frame) falls from the load of freshly dried laundry & lands in the same square of the same cotton quilt over the same iron bed frame in which the heart was first consumed & captured.

the same place it (moment turned minute turned memory) started. & so it starts again. the sock intact. all threads secure. a fiber so strong it twists, then turns, then locks strands of gold, silver, and lavender around tired chambers.

opposite attract but don’t always mix. cotton can wrap (sometimes protect) iron. iron can flatten (sometimes smooth) cotton. once claimed, nails/threads/fibers of cranberry, mauve, taupe, and teal mark territories forever conceded. to days of darkness. to evenings of bare sheets. where/when bodies ache in muscle fibers previously unknown. & hearts remain consumed & constrained by conceptions of a time & reconceptions of a life that diverge and converge.

as iron bares cotton & cotton dyes bleed, news streams in the small pockets of air between here & there. then & now. before chambers & boundless boundaries. the heart continues to beat. talking heads interview on/of two truths. abc & nbc. npr & cnn. convergence & divergence. matters of degree. the weatherman always right. postmen prime dual truths, as well. truths of delivery successes and delivery failures. time both a complexity & a contradiction. three letters. three states. address(ee) unknown. return to sender.

chambers that once beat turn quiet. to tunes of new breathes and addresses known. for none of us are permanent residents. not of time or place. & grounds keepers tend ground, not broken hearts. stacks of unopened manilla envelopes laced of discarded twine and limitless time fill side table drawers. drawers of oaks of a hundred years. locks of metal of thousands.

each of us nothing more than an increasingly small particle of moments turned minutes turned memories (ah choo, always fleeting) in a vast space of the unknown. tiny metal locks & even tinier key holes reveal empty spaces where belongings and heartbeats once lingered. empty eyes peer into empty voids of time & space.

blink. blink back tears. blink again.

the room the same as the night before last. blank. blink. still blank. the night before the night before last, as well. only all is not well & not all wells have bases & basins. for love consumes in chambers & depths of unknown dimensions & unknown proportions.

it takes a moment to break a heart, but it takes an eternity to heal one.

i do not know why/how/when hearts beat. nor when they (will) stop. not when/how viruses spread. nor why/when/how a broken snail/beaker heals but a broken heart does not. i no nothing more than the image in the mirror. the one with questions with no answers & answers with no reason. i trace & track tears. of salt and salve. i (re)train time. of ovens and ovaries. i trade days. with care & caution. for there are a million ways to break a heart. into pieces of endless chambers. with crumbs & cravings that linger. stock. stack. sweep. save. each cotton fiber. each reclaimed striped sock. in cracks of skin and casual recollections. i beat/breathe/pulse but never master the art of memory & the maze of the mind. i make way for new ducklings. & socks of newly plucked fibers. of land & sea. none of us sure footed. none of us forever. ready. set. go.

18 (plus) ways (reasons) (recollections) (half-truths) to heal a broken heart

1. Do not pretend restoration is possible.

2. The best stories have endings (not all HEA). Arcs, too (not all symmetrical).

3. All backs ache. All potions (& notions of time/truth/temperature) boil.

4. Hardware breaks just as often as software.

5. Accept new realities. Except all that was once known might be gone.

6. Remember that even fresh fish smells peculiar. Raw wounds, too.

7. Not all wounds are irregular. Not all irregularities are worrisome.

8. Pretend & portend when faced with dual (competing) truths

9. Purchase discount suitcases. Play hands of all suits.

10. Count sneezes. Recount breezes. Ah choo. I see you.

11. Freeze days of freedom. Free strays (memories, too)

12. Vary diets. Consume Beethoven & Beatles. Joplin & Jaguar.

13. Curate miniatures of plastic & glass. Concede that dust settles.

14. Cleanse chambers of fats. Capture chambers of laughs.

15. The average sneeze yields a million/trillion/zillion connections.

16. Connections ripples long after initial conception. Viruses, too.

17. Apply band aids to fresh wounds. Apply translucent glaze (& grins) to old ones.

18. It takes a sliver of a single moment to consume/capture a heart & fall into the deep end of a chamber with no (& infinite) boundaries It takes an eternity to get out of any one of them.


PK: Your work is so lyrical I have to imagine you also do spoken word. If so, do you prefer these poems to be read by the individual or absorbed audibly by an audience?

JS: I love listening to spoken word, but it’s not something I do myself. While I can’t say text is a preference (more a reality), I do enjoy playing with space and form, as much as I do with words. Many of my pieces rely upon the consumption of both text and the lack there of (white space, fill in the blanks, multiple choice, options) and the act of an individual reading the page (words and all) is often needed in order for my pieces to be interpreted to their maximum extent.

PK: Last question is not a question, just a listing of my favorite of your lines:

9. Purchase discount suitcases. Play hands of all suits.

JS: ...It’s been such a joy exploring writing with you!

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