Under Pressure: Marlin M. Jenkins

Picture of Marlin M. Jenkins along with cover for Capable Monsters

Capable Monsters, Marlin M. Jenkins

Marlin M. Jenkins was born and raised in Detroit and currently lives in Minnesota. The author of the poetry chapbook Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020) and a graduate of University of Michigan’s MFA program, his work has found homes with Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Waxwing, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. You can find him online here.

Here, Marlin M. Jenkins talks Pokemon, art-crushes, online gaming, and his writing routine.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Capable Monsters take to write from conception to publication?

Marlin M. Jenkins: The oldest poems in the chapbook were written in August 2016 at Vermont Studio Center. These poems, in particular the Pokémon series of poems that make up the backbone of the chapbook, became part of my MFA thesis project in early 2017, and then after some time away from the project I re-imagined it as a chapbook. In some ways, the poet I was when I drafted the earliest poems feels really distant, but it felt important to me to take some time after my MFA to process and take some space away before jumping back in.

SHP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

MMJ: Depends! I usually really struggle with being on time for anything, so usually they just add stress! But sometimes if there isn’t a deadline nothing will get done at all. 🤷🏾‍♂️

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

MMJ: Visual artist Maria Krutz (who did the cover art for the chapbook! check out her work on Instagram @meyyomafa); music artists Noname, Anderson.Paak; Sarah Bonito, Shy Baldwin, and Powerline (yes I realize the last two are fictional, I still stand by it!); voice actor Xanthe Huynh; and I very much consider what Brian David Gilbert does with Polygon’s Unraveled series to be art and I love it and love him.

SHP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

MMJ: On a good day, I make a fruit smoothie and play a video game (not necessarily together). Recently, I’ve been playing at least a few rounds of a game online each day, and that bit of interaction with real humans, even if only through the control of digital characters, is a really beautiful thing that I love—as much as I love words, often I feel more inspired by the ways we can communicate entirely without them, and online gaming is one of my favorite modes of that in action. I also like to always be immersed in some type of fictional world, so there are lots of stretches where I’ll watch a couple episodes of a TV show (often an anime) each day.

SHP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

MMJ: To hang out with my poems! And to focus on the work, and play the long-game. (Shout out to Tarfia Faizullah, who’s taught me so much!) These things help me stay attuned to myself and my own voice and they help me keep perspective, making sure the career aspects don’t distract from the art.

SHP: Do you keep a journal? Where does your composition take place?

MMJ: I’m a huge proponent of journals! Though in honesty I’m pretty bad at keeping a dedicated journal. But, I do take notes regularly, whether those are in a designated notebook or on random scraps of paper or on my phone, and I do as much drafting as possible—sometimes even second drafts—by hand. Usually for 2nd or 3rd draft, I’ll type it up, print it out, and then work in pen again. Huge fan of working with paper and hard copy.

SHP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

MMJ: This is maybe a cop-out answer, but I stand by it: I like to consider myself whatever is needed for the situation! I like my role (and what I call myself) to be porous and adaptable and overlapping and intersecting and all that. That’s where the fun happens, I think.

SHP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

MMJ: I really believe that inspiration is something that you cultivate; or, at least, if inspiration isn’t cultivated per se, we can ready ourselves for it, creating circumstances for its best chances of success. I write down lots of quotes from things I love—whatever’s interesting, whether or not it feels like it’ll inspire a poem later. I draw a lot of inspiration from video games and TV and music and other writers. When I go to museums, I take a notepad with me and take notes (and pictures if they’ll let me). I go to movie theaters a lot. I’m not always looking to be inspired toward a poem per se, but I’m always looking for things that inspire my imagination and curiosity, and then when I sit down to write there’s lots of material from all these sources and wonderings to work with.

SHP: If given the chance to design a new Pokemon, what would its most important attributes?

MMJ: Resilience, adaptability, and the ability to live both on its own and in groups. It would probably be a dark/ice type. Small, and active at night. It would be able to heal itself and most of its fighting ability would be based on defense and countering.

SHP: If you could describe Capable Monsters in three words, what would they be?

MMJ: Pokémon is lit. (Get it? Like, video games are literature. But also … lol yeah.)

Order Capable Monsters here!