Jeanann Verlee: Punk rock poet

Text by Keenan Ketzner

Photo by Marshall Goff

Jeanann Verlee can recall what she wrote as a child.

“I remember two, in part—one sad poem about how romantic love is less sturdy/long-lasting than friendship (I say sad because how should a 7-year-old come to that conclusion?), and another about keeping a song in one’s heart, based on a sticker with a duck playing a trumpet. I don’t recall the words, but that little duckie is forever with me.”

Born in NYC, young Jeanann showed signs of poetry prodigism. According to her website, her first poem was written in pencil on the inside of a collection of Grimms’ Fairy Tales at the age of 7. By 11 she had won a contest for a short story, and became the youngest recipient of a Parade Magazine’s Young American Ambassadors prize with a cleverly written essay.

Yes, with metaphors like mouth-punches, it seemed there was something special about Jeanann even at a very young age. She aspired to be like her idol S. E. Hinton, and hoped to publish a novel by the age of 16. But as with many of us, the youthful urge to rebel and experience new aspects of life ended up taking precedent over career aspirations. She’d go to punk rock shows, grow her records collection, write-in to elect Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys for president, and in her own words was “blindsided by the insurmountable distraction of tattooed boys, dying her mohawk pink, and navigating the life-altering onset of bipolar disorder.”

After dealing with the wild times of teenage years, Jeanann tried to recenter and went to college, pursuing education in theater performance and creative writing. There her interest in poetry started to flourish into the full blown passion that she has today. Her knowledge in characters from performance started seeping into her interest of portraying nuanced inner dialogs in the realm of poetry.

“Many of my poems are renderings of lived experiences, nuanced to honed details. I consider poems as micro fiction, and vice-versa. Blurring that line feels fancy,” she noted.

In addition to trying to portray real world events, Jeanann attempts to convey them in otherworldly means, often utilizing her favorite literary device of metaphors to a strong degree. In a way it’s everyday language, but sometimes scattered to pieces and so recontextualized to the point of magic. Some poems coming off like lyrics to a song, and others like a laundry list of wild metaphors and astray imagery. Jeanan said this comes from deciding to write from a space of excitement and joy in the act of making the literal anything happen.

Thankfully her style has worked out as she’s written two poetry collections, has represented New York City 10 times at the National Poetry Slam, Individual World Poetry Slam, and Women of the World Poetry Slam, and has twice earned the title of Urbana iWPS Champion. She’s also acted as a writing coach and poetry magazine editor.

Her book Said the Manic to the Muse came out last year and still feels brand new and dreamy. Jeanann is also in the process of submitting her third manuscript  and hoping that it finds a way into this world. She continues to keep on booking shows and teaching workshops for the foreseeable future, but you can catch her at the annual Skagit River Poetry Festival in La Conner May 19-22.

PERFORMANCE: See poet Jeanann Verlee at the Skagit River Poetry Festival from May 19-22 in La Conner. For more information, follow the Festival’s Facebook page or visit www.skagitriverpoetry.org. 

Published in the May 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine