An Escape from Solitude

Olena Jennings, New York City based poet and designer, escapes to the train in her latest work. During COVID-19, social distancing has been in place. For Jennings, new kind of creative process has evolved during this time, when thinking of poetry and design together.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Would you like to name some inspirational poets?

Olena Jennings: Inspirational poets include Alice Notley, Don Mee Choi, Galina Rymbu, Queens poet Micah Zevin, Cladia Rankine, Simone Kearney, and Gala Mukulomova.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your artistry has evolved from poetry to textile art, and dress making. Hows is this combination working?
OJ: My thoughts become free as I sew and this process helps me to release words that I catch for the page. It can be meditative. I like the idea of connecting textile works with poetry. It’s fun to force the words into a visual shape. It’s become an important part of my process even if I never share the textile work. It helps me think of the words in a different way. It helps me to give them shape.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel that your cultural identity is in a process or evolving in the making of your new textile art?

OJ: My cultural identity is linked with memory. When I go into the past I explore my culture. It makes my culture more personal and different than it might be for other people.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did COVID-19 change your practice and plans a lot, how have you coped during this time?

OJ: COVID gave me the solitude that is necessary to be creative on almost a full time basis. Even when I’m working, I am thinking about projects.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When looking at this dress and the design of it, is there anything special about making the ‘rails’ of the dress?

OJ: The fabric of this railroad dress, which I made, is polyfil and wood. It was inspired by the poem “Social Distancing” by Christine Turczyn published in Lightwood 4.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The dress is essentially echoing the poem, and the theme of it. There is a special rhythm in Christina Turczyns poem that stimulates this design?

OJ: The specific line from Christina Turczyns poem is “Anna painted a railroad tie that stretched across her hand.” The fabric that looks like wood came from scraps of the previous dress I made, so everything is connected.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This is fascinating. So eventually, you wrote your own poem “Escape to the Train”. Did the poem by Christina, and making the dress inspired by the poem, end up in your own poem?

OJ: First came Christina’s poem, then the dress, then my poem came (without thinking of Christina’s at that point.)

Railroad dress by Olena Jennings.


By Olena Jennings

They took the photo
with the fire escape in the background.
They would sit outside
among the plants in terra cotta pots
and smoke cigarettes.
Sometimes it was the highlight
of their night until they started
to plan the train rides.
They couldn’t speak French
well and bought a ticket
to the wrong city that they decided
to go with because it was much closer:
their Strasbourg.

She was the third,
sat on her own next to a stranger
who kept pulling his cardigan around him
as if he had something to hide.
Her friends’ voices sounded
like whispers the row behind her.
Everyone was keeping secrets.

The journey was captured
in her arteries. The movement
tugged at her from within.
She followed the rhythm,
getting off a stop early,
leaving the giggling of her friends

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