Monday, October 29, 2012

Affrilachian Appreciation interview 4: Parneshia Jones talks to Teneice Delgado

In recognition and appreciation of Appalachian heritage month, and in an effort to contribute to a more diverse conversation on what it means to be Appalachian, Stacia Fleegal and I decided to show a little love to a few talented poets that we’ve published in previous issues who are all members of an organization called the Affrilachian Poets (you can follow them here on Facebook and learn more about them here).

We're going to feature one poet every Monday that remains in October. Last week's interview was with Ellen Hagan. Week two featured Keith Wilson, and the week before that featured Ricardo Nazario y Colón. Our fourth and final interview is with Parneshia Jones, who will have work in the upcoming issue (#26)--but we include a timely reprint of one of her poems here, a poetic reminder to vote next week.

Enjoy the interview!

-Teneice Delgado

TD: Parneshia you work in publishing and you are a poet. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like being on both the creative end and, I guess, the logistical end of creative writing? What is your favorite part about your work? What do you wish you had more time for? 

PJ: It’s a constant balancing act. Even though publishing and writing live in the same house, for me, they enter through different doors. The publishing happens during the day and the poet comes out at night (like some kind of red wine drinking superhero) and on Sundays when I draw the shades and unplug everything. Working on both sides of the literary world opened my eyes to the grand picture of what it takes to be a writer and be published. I think a lot gets lost in translation between the writing side and the publishing side. The best part of my job is welding those gaps, giving writers more support to get their works out into the world, but also giving them insight from the publisher’s angle and how being published is a great privilege. As for more time, well I made peace with the fact that there are 24 hours in a day. I no longer say I don’t have enough time. If there were 26 hours in the day we would wish for 28, then 30. I’ve developed a relaxed discipline about things and become more forgiving of myself. I don’t get to write every day and I don’t beat myself up about it. The passion for writing, the passion to create something is always there. I try and block out time every week to sit with my pens and journals, my stacks of books, and the quiet. That all falls under the writing umbrella for me.

TD: One of my favorite poems of yours is “Auto-correcting History” which was included in an anthology of poems about the election of president Barack Obama. On the eve of another election, and because you hail from the Chicago area, can you speak a little bit about politics in poetry?

PJ: Thank you. It makes me really happy when people respond to that poem. Politics is exhausting; and being from the Chicago area, we’ve been pretty worked over. Art, including poetry, is needed now more than ever. Old demons, the ugly side of history and just the attack on women— the threats placed on our bodies and our rights is unbelievable. It’s the 21st century and I feel like we’re in some bad time warp of Jane Eyre and The Flintstones. It also has to do with the fact that there is a large portion of the American population that can’t and will not accept that a person of color is president. When I wrote “Autocorrecting History”, I initially wrote it for President Obama making a certain kind of history. I realized after that it’s really a poem about all of us. In one way or another it matters to be known—to count. We all deserve to be known. Our names and our stories deserve to be collected, not corrected.

I tire of politics easily. When art, like poetry, and politics combine, it makes me pay more attention to political part because it allows me to understand and navigate waters that are completely muddied to me otherwise.

TD: Other poems of yours, and your photos of food on your facebook page, are rich with sensory details: tastes and textures and vivid descriptions of colors. Can you talk a little about what things inspire you to write in such a sensory way? What poems or poets do you find mouth-watering on the page?

PJ: I had edible visuals growing up. My mother, aka the best cook in the world, made elaborate dinners every night. It was important to her that we ate something homemade, something crafted from scratch, every day. She also wanted it to be beautiful on the plate; to make an impression even before you had a chance to taste. This carries over into my writing. Sensory details are key elements in writing. If you awaken a person’s senses you awaken their imagination, memory and emotions. I love photography and painting, so painting a picture with words feeds the poet and visual artist in me.

Angela Jackson and Seamus Heaney are masters when it comes to combining food and poetry. I love Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking” and Jackson’s poems “Greens” and “Grits”. The food becomes the symbols of living.

TD: Can you share with us a favorite memory from an AP reading or tour?

PJ: Wow! So many moments jump out with that question. It’s too hard to pinpoint one memory. Each time I hear an Affrilachian read it becomes a favorite experience. The Affrilachian poets always rise to the occasion; even coming from different spaces to celebrate and read for my 30th birthday. Bourbon, poems, a jukebox, and the mood of being in a juke joint—surrounded by this tribe sweating out poems in the heat of July. Now that was an experience!

The favorite memory is the collective coming together. This collective of extraordinary poets ready and willing to change the world, speak the truth and believe in something much greater than them. Every single Affrilachian gives that when they read. I’m just grateful to be a witness.


Auto-correcting History

by Parneshia Jones (originally appearing in A Writer's Congress: Chicago Poets on Barack Obama's Inauguration, ed. by Chris Green and published by the DePaul Poetry Institute, 2009)

~ for President Barack Obama. For all of us. 

Spell check does not recognize
this name –yet.

It tries, with a red underline alert,
to tell me that this is wrong,
that my letters are misplaced,
leading my complicated PC,
with its perfect vocabulary,
to believe no such same name exists.

It offers suggestions to fix
what history has already confirmed.

These letters, round-about, with all
their beautiful curves and angles,
their intricate folds forming perfect Bs
and As and the roundest O,
shaping a name that has awakened us all.

Barack and Obama cause key stroke duels
between my auto-correct and me.
Not willing to give up,
it plugs in Brick and Abeam, trying to
hold on tight to its King’s English.

This name isn’t a mistake.
No slip of the keys on my part.
No half asleep or dazed typing,
no hurry rush of tidal wave words and wonder.

Every letter in this name comes with purpose.
Each key stroke is meant.
I highlight the name; click “add to dictionary.”
I auto-correct my spell check.

It must be understood the he exists,
that we exist.

We are real and breathing.
We are hungry and re-writing dictionaries.
We are poets and presidents.
We have made it known that his name,
our names, every Black letter birthed
from the blinking cursor is permanent
and correct.

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