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Five Questions With Westport Poet Laureate, Jessica McEntee

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

This past June, Westport's inaugural Poet Laureate and friend of Westport Writers, Diane Lowman, officially passed the torch to our very own, Jessica McEntee. We recently sat down with Jessie to hear about her first six months in this honory role and what her plans are for the future:

1.) What was your earliest experience with reading or writing poetry?

Poetry wasn't something I considered "my terrain." Instead, I always assumed from a young age that I'd be a novelist. There was a family legend that I still haven't clarified about a famous poet who was related to us - I believe it was Alfred Noyes - but I interpreted that more as me belonging to a literary family.

2.) Which poet or poems to you turn to for inspiration?

It depends on the mood or emotion I'm trying to emulate. Elizabeth Bishop has been a favorite of mine since college. Her work is intellectual with a flinty voice. Read "Insomnia" if you're unfamiliar with her. Sylvia Plath, Megan O'Rourke, Jenny Xie are all favorites, and I admire Charles Rafferty - he was my longtime teacher here at WWW, and I so hope he returns. I'd describe his poems as sad and funny and perfectly-observed, but I don't think that nearly does them justice. He's brilliant. I love Billy Collins, who's coming to the Westport Library on Dec. 9. I'll have the honor of introducing him. His work has such an effortless feel, with a bittersweet or melancholy undercurrent that keeps them from becoming too saccharine.

3.) Do you approach writing prose and poetry differently?

Absolutely! I know if I'm trying to write a poem or something longer almost always. I used to turn to poetry almost as a palette cleanser in between longer projects, but lately I've been focusing on it almost exclusively. It's gratifying to put a piece to bed after a few weeks.

4.) What are your goals as the new Westport Town Laureate?

So far, I've done an Open Mic at MoCA, appeared at Pequot Library on a poetry panel, led an ekphrastic class at the Westport Library, and participated in several town events such as the Veterans Day service. I'm kind of throwing a lot of options out there to see what draws the most people. My goal is fairly straightforward: to promote literary culture and to put a face to poetry, raising its visibility. I do marketing and social media for Pequot Library in Southport, and I carry this goal over to my job there as well.

5.) Where and when can we hear you read next?

As I mentioned, I'll introduce Billy Collins on 12/9 - buy your tickets now! I'm teaching art history classes at the Westport Senior Center starting in January and running through March (and possibly beyond), and I plan to sprinkle in some poetry with those, too.

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