Creative Writing

Things We Carry: J. Mae Barizo

Things We Carry is a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. These conversations are interested in the tactile elements of writing: what do we hold essential? What tools do we need in order to create? The things we find essential to our writing process reflect our beliefs about craft and process.

This week we were so happy to hear from poet and faculty member J. Mae Barizo, whose book TENDER MACHINES is coming out in May and launching at The New School. Register for the book launch here

Where & when are you writing these days? 

My home office in Harlem. From my office I can see the grand piano I’ve had since I was a child, and high bookshelves filled with books. It’s in a moody pre-war building, the address where F. Scott Fitzgerald first lived in New York and where he started writing “This Side of Paradise.”

I can write at any time of day or night, as long as I’m alone and there’s no one else in sight! 

J. Mae Barizo at Siliver Sun Foundation Residency, Photo May Zhee Lim

Do you have any tools or tokens that are essential to your writing?

Depending on the time of day, either coffee or whiskey! I have an old Zabar’s mug that I drink from. I need candles or a small lamp with soft lighting, and a window through which I can hear the sounds of the trains.

Pen and paper, laptop and wifi, or a combination? 

Blank unlined notebooks and my laptop. Who needs wifi? 

Tender Machines, forthcoming May 2023

Do you have any habits or rituals that help you get grounded before you start writing? 

Is coffee and whiskey an acceptable answer? Just kidding. Even before coffee, I start every day with a long walk through Riverside Park with my dog. I sit down at the piano and play a Bach Prelude and Fugue. These aren’t delaying tactics, they’re actually necessary for my wellbeing. I drink my coffee and usually can’t start writing until my inbox is empty. A Sisyphean task!

You have been given a backpack and are being sent to a desert island for thirty days of uninterrupted writing time. What do you put in the backpack? 

Definitely coffee and whiskey. But no seriously, I need a pocket knife to forage for food, pens to write, and an eye-mask for naps. I’d fill the backpack with books and bags of trail mix. I like to snack. 

Postcards to readers

Are there any words or quotes that you find essential to your writing practice?

I sent postcards to my readers with this question that I think about often. Do you have space in your life for tenderness?

Oh, and also coffee and whiskey. 


J. Mae Barizo is an author and multidisciplinary artist who works at the intersection of poetics, media and performance. She is the author of two books of poetry, The Cumulus Effect (Four Way Books, 2015) and Tender Machines (Tupelo Press, 2023). Her book of hybrid essays on John Cage and the poetics of sound was a finalist for the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize and 2023 Megaphone Prize. She teaches at the New School and lives in New York City.

Things We Carry is an interview series curated by Stuart Pennebaker.

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