The University of Iowa

Interview with Jennifer Kronovet

Jennifer Kronovet will be reading from her new collection of poetry at Prairie Lights Bookstore on November 29th at 7pm. Kronovet will be reading from The Wug Test, which was selected by Eliza Griswold for the National Poetry Series by Ecco Press. In The Wug Test, named for a method by which a linguist discovered how deeply imprinted the cognitive instinct toward acquiring language is in children, Kronovet questions whether words are objects we should escape from or embrace.  Before her reading, we wanted to sit down with her and ask a few quick questions, to prepare readers and listeners for her work.

1. Could you describe a few of the driving forces/themes behind your collection?

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis proposes that the language you speak shapes the way you think. I learned about this theory when studying applied linguistics and found it limiting, wrong, and right, and so I prodded it. Poems in the The Wug Test enact this prodding of Sapir-Whorf and many other linguistic theories and in doing so expand, challenge, and sometimes prove them.

I remember when my language acquisition professor told us that women broke into the academic field of applied linguistics earlier than most. These women had access to amazing data: their children. This fact planted the seed that my future children might become my research subjects. One series of poems in the The Wug Test lyrically records data from the experiment of being entwined with a human without speech and then watching him move into the world of what can be said, changing it as he goes.

2. How is this collection different from your previous work?

I wrote Awayward out of notes I took while living in Beijing. Living in a second language made my native one foreign to me. In The Wug Test I try to find my way back inside my mother tongue by making it big enough to fit more. And I’m using everything I can—data, research, essay, argument, wound, genre, science, and speech.

3. Do you have a specific "set list" of poems that you will read at Prairie Lights? How do you decide what pieces to read for an audience?

I try to make a reading be a walk that we’re taking together through the different landscapes of the book, its varying moods and how it accrues meaning until we get to somewhere new. What I read is mainly based on how much time I have to read and how to make a path in that amount of time. Of course there are also poems I just haven’t figured out how to say in my voice: ones with graphics, dialogues, charts—these are tricky.

4. What is one thing the audience should know about your work before they come?

I want to make a thinking space for us to still love language even as it fails us and we tear it apart.


Jennifer Kronovet is the author of the poetry collection, Awayward (BOA Editions) and The Wug Test (Harper Collins). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in A Public SpaceBoston ReviewFence, The Nation, Open City, Ploughshares, Pleiades, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. She is a Founding Editor of Circumference: Poetry in Translation and translates poetry from Yiddish and Chinese. Currently, she is the Poet-in-Residence at Washington University in St. Louis.