This is our second-to-last article in a series spanning five months with fifty poet interviews. Next week is it. It is all over. Additionally, I graduate Mount Holyoke with a degree in English and Politics. What a fabulous past few months of poetry it has been! Missed an interview? Never fear, just click here! And stay tuned for next week's FINALE!
Our poets this week are none other than Jenuine Poetess, the beautiful and the magnificent author of BloodStories and Tony Brown, New Englander and band member of The Duende Project! Here's what they had to say about home, poetic influences, their zodiac signs, and their futures.
Q: Where do you call home?
Jenuine Poetess: I was born just outside of Boston, MA and grew up in Connecticut. But my self, my true, authentic, being was born and raised by mi familia de valle—the community of kindreds who became my soul family via Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in Sylmar, CA. I call Los Angeles, CA home.
Tony Brown: Worcester, MA. I grew up not terribly far from here and have been around the area all my life.
Q: How did you get your start writing poetry?
Jenuine Poetess: I have written poetry throughout my life. It was not always a safe expression though, so for a long time my writing went underground simply as a means of surviving. When I got to college, I dabbled again in writing but one negative experience with submitting a poem wounded my already fragile insecurity about my writing so I stayed quiet for a long while. Later, after college while I was living in San Antonio, TX a friend encouraged me to attend open mic with the Sun Poets Society and there is where I really began testing out my voice. I still didn’t call myself a writer, or a poet. That would come later.
Tony Brown: I wrote a poem about the seasons when I was 9 that was published in a children’s magazine. Early recognition made me keep writing at that young age. By the time I was 14, though, I started taking it seriously, started thinking of myself as a poet.
I was also fortunate enough to have teachers who encouraged me, and who exposed me to live readings when I was young.
Q: Where is your favorite place in the whole world?
Jenuine Poetess: On this great flat stone in the middle of a creek, in the balsam and birch forest of the Adirondack mountains of upstate NY; in the lap of the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California; anywhere by the sea.
Tony Brown: Hmmmmm… I think I’d have to say that Venice, Italy, and central New Mexico are tied for that title.
Q: If there was one poet, living or dead, that you had to be handcuffed to for 24 hours, who would you choose and why?
Jenuine Poetess: Kristy Lovich. She is a poet, visual artist, and organizer whom I admire, respect, and from whom I love learning. I love the conversations we have about the practice of art-life-personal-political-becoming.
Tony Brown: I’m not sure. I’m kind of a loner, so honestly, either of those scenarios sounds like complete torture.
I do know I wouldn’t want to be handcuffed to a dead one for any length of time.
Q: How has poetry changed your life?
Jenuine Poetess: It goes far beyond a hobby or mere “thing that I do.” Being a poet is a facet of identity. It is a vocation. A responsibility. To me, being a poet is synonymous with being a truth-teller. I take that burden very seriously. Poetry isn’t fun or cute or nice. It could be those things. But in my experience, and what I have learned from my elders in the practice, poetry is the viscera of life. It is the blood and guts battle we wage with ourselves for our becoming. It is the mirror we hold up to the world. It is the light we shine on the gruesome realities. It is the flickering hope inside so much darkness. It is the rallying cry for awakening, for solidarity, for revolution. Poetry is messy. Poetry is excruciating. Poetry is magnificent.
Tony Brown: Oh, my… As it’s literally been the driving force in my life for nearly 50 years, it’s hard to answer that. I have nothing to compare it to. I’m a poet. It’s what I am. It’s really all I ever wanted to be.
Q: What is your zodiac sign and does it match your personality?
Jenuine Poetess: I am a Gemini who is also an introverted empath. Of course I’m a poet ;)
Tony Brown: I’m a Pisces. I’m told it does. As I don’t believe in astrology, I don’t really know what that means.
Q: What is your biggest fear in life?
Jenuine Poetess: My biggest fear is the power of others’ fear. Their fear of who and what is different. That fear that fuels hate and violence. The fear that is greedy for power and control. All of that curdles my marrow with terror.
Tony Brown: I don’t really fear death, for a variety of reasons. I think irrelevance is my biggest anxiety. Not too good on artificial heights, either.
Q: Where do you see yourself as a writer in the next ten years?
Jenuine Poetess: I honestly don’t know. I’m actively in healing process working through some significant and complex trauma. Writing has been a part of that, but also, writing is anguish. Because for me to be authentic on the page, to show up to what *must* be written, I also have to “go there” to feel so many things all over again. It is both the power and the poison of writing. Power in that it has the potential to be a medicinal “me too” to so many others, to bring into the light what shame would rather keep hidden, to spread the contagion of courage. Poison in that it takes so much out of me to sustain that kind of writing practice. I’m navigating the process of how to balance healing, writing, and self-care.
I will always be a writer. Every time I try to quit I can never stay quiet for too long. That is what happens when you have to fight to have a voice in the first place, there’s no going back to silence. But also who I am as an artist is ever-changing. I have so many creative interests and dreams. For sure, I will always be connected with fostering the growth of other writers and creatives. I will always contribute in some way to carving out, holding, and protecting safe space for creative expression—especially among marginalized identities and survivors. I cannot not do that work; this is my art/work.
Tony Brown: Well…let’s see. Still writing if I’m still alive. I don’t really have a lot of ambition about manuscript publication, as I post all my work on my blog. Still working and recording and performing with The Duende Project, my poetry and music band.
I would like, finally, to win a Pushcart Prize, I guess. Four nominations to this point. I’d like to put that one in the win column at some point.
Q: Anything else (comments, videos, links, etc)?