Northern Michigan University alumna Jess Parker is in the process of writing a children's book, a departure from her previously published award-winning collection of poems titled Star Things. She said she is excited to be able to continue her writing and branch out to other genres.
“The children's book is still new to me, and I just finished the first draft so it will change by the time it's released,” Parker said. “The premise of the book is about finding perspective through circumstances that may not be our top choice. So, if you've got a rainy day, for example, the book is about embracing that and finding the joy in it.”
Parker said she started writing poems as a young child and pursued it more formally as an undergraduate at Northern. She had transferred to NMU for her sophomore year from the University of Michigan, seeking smaller class sizes and more accessibility to professors. Parker was a Spanish major, but added English to the mix based on courses she took and guidance from a faculty mentor.
“I was most interested in teaching Spanish initially," Parker said. "That changed because of my experience in introductory English literature classes. I ended up pursuing a double major, which I had not originally planned. After that, I took some creative writing classes in fiction and poetry. I started writing my first book as an undergraduate student. Some of the poems in Star Things are from my time at NMU. I particularly remember writing ‘Onion Son' in Marquette when there was an unseasonably warm March one year.”
Parker won the Vande Zande fiction prize in 2010 as a senior at NMU. Her poem, Saturn Rising, led to a Kay Saunders Emerging Poet Award (second place) from the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and was among the 2021 Art+Literature Lab Favorites. Parker won the 2020 Dynamo Verlag Book Prize for Star Things.
Her work has also appeared in Bramble, Poetry Hall, Millwork and Wallop Zine. Parker did end up teaching Spanish as an assistantship while pursuing a master's in Spanish literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She also holds an MBA from Concordia University. Parker lives in Madison with her husband, son and French Bulldog. She is a sales strategy manager at American Family Insurance.
Here is Parker's poem, Saturn Rising:
We had much to drink and more
to climb. There was a moonrock
and radish uphill; sliced and wide
open was the sky.
We wanted to see the satellite,
a teetering overgrown saucer
twitching as if on its way to your tongue
for a taste— a new datum, to be loved
as intricately as Saturn's rings are particular
up close, and held as tightly as they are
together from afar. That night was our
telescope. We scraped our knees inching
toward the lens, wiping the clouds clean
to witness tomorrow poke holes
through sky, flicking light on a still-blue
pond. Or are they pebbles on the bottom
Their reflection, a Morse code city,
paging constellations with their
Originally published in Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Museletter, Nov. 7, 2019
For more information, visit Parker's website.