Divinely Guided: Brooklyn-Based Artist Jessica Yatrofsky On Her Debut Poetry Collection, Pink Privacy

Jessica Yatrofsky photographs gorgeous portraits of men, women, and everything in between. She has made films for Jean Paul Gaultier and Laura Siegel. Her work is part of the permanent collection at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, and she’s contributed to The New York Times and Brooklyn Magazine. But she has never written a book of poetry, until now. Wrapped in pink linen and embossed in gold, with illustrations by Live FAST favorite Alphachanneling, Pink Privacy is a limited-edition collection that explores… Well, we’ll let you hear that from Jessica.

Q&A

LF: How would you describe Pink Privacy?

JY: Pink Privacy is a snapshot of experiences I’ve gone through from young adult womanhood to where I am now in my mid-thirties. It’s poetry, but the poems come from a very personal, private space. Some of it’s pretty harsh—just pure uninhibited expression—and it can be snarky and directed toward men. There’s a lot of innuendos, and just a lot of very direct experiences. And I like to think that by capturing what I’ve been through, I’ve, in a way, encapsulated the late-twenties, early-thirties experiences that a lot of other women can relate to.

LF: Can you tell us about the process of writing your first book of poetry?

JY: Well, it’s one of the only pieces of work that I’ve created that was completely stream-of-consciousness. Like, one day I just decided to start writing. I was inspired. I think I was divinely guided, and it felt so pure to me—so cathartic. I didn’t give a fuck about anything when I was writing this, because I didn’t think anybody would read it. So I was creating for myself, and by the time I was done with this particular collection, I had over two hundred poems, and I thought, ‘Okay, I have to stop here.’ Because, by that time I thought I’d expressed everything that had built up over the years. And then I started to write more poems, but they were almost like a new volume or a new chapter of experience.

LF: The subtitle is, “an anthology of sex, burns, truths, and cunt tales.” Could you speak to that? What are cunt tales? And what would you say is the overarching theme of Pink Privacy?

JY: [Laughing] Well, Pink Privacy has a lot to do with the men who’ve fucked me, and you know, that has a double meaning: it references both the guys I’ve slept with, and the guys who’ve fucked me over. Those are cunt tales. But the cunt tales are also juxtaposed with poems of love and ecstasy. So, having those conflicted emotional experiences is kind of like what you experience in life, I think, particularly for women—and they are all very intense. Heartbreak is intense. Feeling humiliated is an intense emotion. And that is something that connects all the poems.

I think a lot of girls can relate to that. I also think that, in venturing into your thirties, there’s a sense of empowerment that I never thought I would come into, and I don’t mean that I never felt like I would be empowered—I’ve always felt like an empowered woman—but once I arrived at my thirties, it was as if I was really able to embody this notion of empowerment. What that meant for me was that I came into my own as a sexual being, and as a woman who has claimed her sexuality and feels really comfortable in her own skin. With that feeling is also a feeling of being very confident about expressing myself, specifically towards men, which I do in all of the poems.

LF: It sounds like you learned a lot about yourself during the writing process…

JY: Absolutely. There were things I’d never dream of saying out loud before, and now I would never dream of not saying those things out loud. The most important priority for me, right now, is to express myself, and to stand up for myself, and I think that writing Pink Privacy really inspired me to just be true to myself, as cliché as that may sound.

LF: It’s a cliché, but an important one. And I’m curious: Knowing what you know now, is there any advice you would give to your younger self? Or to young women who might read Pink Privacy? Is the book instructive, in some way?

JY: Well, I don’t know. When I sat down to write the poems, I didn’t show them to anyone. I didn’t ask for approval. I came into it because it felt like the right medium at the time to say what I wanted to say. And then, when I went back and read what I’d written… that was an entirely different process. The writing was fun and exciting and exhilarating. But when I started to read what I’d written, it became clear that the writing had been a really powerful tool—and I think that is a tool that anyone can use, if they’re drawn to it. I think that any artistic process that allows you to produce from a pure, authentic state is going to help you, whether that’s music, writing, or painting. All of those things are just tools that we use to learn something about ourselves, and I think that any young woman—or any person—who is seeking to improve themselves, can use whatever modality they’re drawn to in order to explore those things about themselves.

LF: You mentioned that, in a sense, you feel you were divinely guided. What do you think triggered that? What led up to that moment?

JY: Just before writing Pink Privacy, I was traveling a lot and spending time overseas touring for a photography book I’d just put out. I was doing a lot of artist talks, and even though I was around a lot of people, I was really secluded for most of my travels. There was a lot of self-reflection happening, and I think once I was able to slow down, when I came home, all of it just came rushing in. Like, I hadn’t written for a very long time. So when I started to write the book, there was just a lot of excitement. It was all coming back to me—all these old relationships—but I had a sense of humor about the past. I wasn’t upset about the relationships anymore, and the more I wrote, the more energy I got from the process. And then, literally, I could not stop writing. I’d heard that people have experiences like that, but when I started to experience it myself, I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to lean into this and write.’ It was pretty much nonstop writing for seventy-two hours. When I had the initial spurt of creative flow, I was at home and I was jogging a lot, running, biking. I would pull off to the side of the street and keep writing on my phone. Writing things down on scraps of paper. Anything. I was in the shower and I have this board where I can write things, and I was scribbling all over it. I was waking up in the middle of the night to write, and writing first thing in the morning. It was the best. So for me, I guess, the book is like a retrospective of my feelings captured in a very specific period of time.

LF: Yeah, and a purging, it seems, of past relationship and experiences and flings and deeper connections.

JY: Exactly. When I was looking back on a past relationship, I would realize that they teach you something. But they also teach you, again, in hindsight. It’s almost like I’ve learned now that those things that I was so upset about… they didn’t really matter… but they taught me what a deeper connection is. Now, I feel I know what a deep connection is because I have all these other connections that seemed important but ultimately shallow.

LF: Having revisited those past relationships, and having had that purge which became Pink Privacy, I’m curious, what do you think an ideal relationship looks like?   

JY: Well, I don’t know. But Pink Privacy was almost like a wake-up call to deepen your love for yourself and to value your relationship with yourself. That’s what I took away from the process. I was, like, ‘Damn, I love myself. I’m hot.’ I really put it all out there and now, when I move through the world, I have a sense of who I am and I’m not looking to other people for validation or encouragement. I possess that within myself. That was a very valuable lesson to learn.

LF: That’s amazing. It’s so true—loving yourself is difficult, but important. Alright, last question: How fast do you live?

JY: I would say the my initial reaction is, I don’t live fast at all. I work slowly, but am pretty prolific.

L’Agent Goodies…