This is part two of the interview with Jessica Helen Lopez. Please read yesterday’s post for the beginning of the interview with this amazing poet, feminist, mother, woman. Before the second part of the interview, please enjoy an excerpt from one of Jessica Helen Lopez’s poems in her book Always Messing With Them Boys:
Santuario de Guadalupe
through a thick sky
heavy with the promise of regret
the flower stems bend
at their waist, green knees
snap between the fingers
of ink-stained boys, who are
men growing into their skin;
they have been old
their whole lives
these beautiful boys
who own their girls
who drive their
mothers to madness
roaming fatherless figures
And the girls- who
toss their hair like
nervous mares and
smile like the sun
that breaks apart
the regrettable sky
the rooted body
of a marble saint
looks on but
at such desecration
her womb empty
for some time now-
a sonless mother
Run hard against
the wind I want
to cry out to
them- young women,
turn your backs on
such acts of love-
you will shred your
slender fingers upon
These boys want
to disown your body,
make a shallow grave of you
but even I cannot
from their young
how they ripple
over the rose
they shuffle their feet
extend their arms,
heads scuffing the
dull tattoos claim
one street corner
The interview continues:
Liza Wolff-Francis- Well, okay, so the question was, how is your writing affected by being a woman and being a feminist or by feminism in general?
Jessica Helen Lopez– Okay, by being a woman, I’m just talking from a true place, my experiences as a woman. My experiences when I was a little girl, being an adolescent and going through puberty and all that time in my life and the things that happened in my life that affected it to make me become a feminist. And I say make me, because putting up with a lot of the patriarchal oppression that was built within my familial structure, my family structure, to me there was no question, of going very very vocal from one extreme to the next.
In my personal history, there’s a lot of domestic violence. There’s a lot of violence against women and children in my immediate and my extended family. There’s a lot of drug addiction and lack of resources too and all of this contributes to those things, but I didn’t know enough not to- I just went with that direction- that’s where I went, to be very vocal about those past experiences. It’s not like one day I woke up and said, I’m a feminist. I think I was always a feminist and then I started reading feminist literature and taking certain women’s studies classes and identifying with a lot of the topics found within women’s studies in general and just by trade and by kind of coming around and following that path and so of course it went hand in hand with my poetry. And being a woman, living my life as a woman, and then a mother, it just went hand in hand.
A lot of people label my poetry as confessionalism. I would say that’s pretty accurate. I’m not going to say, well no, it’s this because there’s the distance of the narrator, No, it’s pretty damn confessional. The only time it’s not confessional is if maybe I’m working on a really specified topic for some type of reading or if I’m on a team and I’m collaborating on a topic that’s not my personal writing. My personal writing has thus far has been highly confessional and it relates right back to being a woman and it relates right back to being a woman who is also a feminist and who is affected by feminism in general.
Liza-Do you think people relate to it more because of your confessional style and maybe even seeing parts of themselves in your writing?
Jessica– Yeah, I think so, I’d like to hope so. I remember I was on a panel once with West End Press and some other authors and they asked, How does your poetry directly affect any kind of activism, any type of specific issue? And you know, people write very directly about one thing or the other and here I am writing in the first person point of view and it took me a while to kind of say, Yeah, I’m talking on behalf of a lot of people as well, even though I’m saying I, I, I. John Crawford actually was the one who helped me kind of recognize that cause I was like, am I one of those selfish writers, am I egotistical? I mean, I can help somebody write a poem. I feel at ease when I am working with a younger person helping them develop their style and understand craft, but how do I make myself understand that what I’m doing too is relatable in a sense to even bigger issues than just the first person point of view? So John helped me with that and I believe in it.
Liza– Absolutely. What are your ideas about how women can get along and work together to make change in the world?
Jessica– Yes! I am so glad you asked me this question. I’m going to answer it with a story. I’m working on a project right now in conjunction with the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Shelle Sanchez, I ran into her at a yoga class, she asked me if I would do a writer’s workshop for the Women in Creativity Annual Series in March. I said Yes. So this is what it is. It’s called: ‘La Palabra: The Word Is A Woman.’ The whole idea behind the writing workshop is to celebrate our bodies, our flaws, our functionalities, all the different pieces of our body but not in a hyper-sexualized way, the way we so often see ourselves portrayed in magazines and media thrown back at us in this pop-culture. Really saying, Ahh look at these stretch marks and one breast is larger than the other and that’s beautiful. You know. And I decided to include photographs to make it an ecphrastic writing workshop so we asked several writers in the community to be our models and there is nudity involved.
What we will do: it’s a four part writers workshop. It’s a series of four different parts. We will create our body anew. Our body of work. Our body. And we will use the photographs to inspire us, but we will start with the feet and the ankles and the toes and move up into the legs and the hips and the belly and the womb and the ass and the arms and our hands, what do we create with them, and our face, our ever magnanimous brains, and then hopefully what I want to do with that is create a collection of essays and poetry and the photographs put together and get it published somewhere. That is my ultimate goal.
Okay, that being said, I had to unearth a lot of different things for myself on how to collaborate with women. I often collaborate with women; this is not my first rodeo. I collaborate with women a lot, but this was one I think I’ve spearheaded this extensively. There are a lot of women involved and I wanted to make sure I honored each and every time they participated whatever it is they offered, whether they were the model or whether they were coming in as a writer or they were the photographer or they were the organizer. Whether it’s the woman who is helping me hang up the exhibit. I want to make sure I honor all those things, and so I started writing an essay about working with all those things. It’s called: ‘Women Who See Women’ and it’s incomplete right now, but I’m still working on it. I’ve submitted it to a different institute- that I want to be a part of- a writer’s foundation. I’ll hear back about that in March.
But it’s feeling good. It feels right and it really did start off with- I had to go to the beginning when I used to feel that I either was made to be pitted against women or I felt somehow I still needed to pit myself against women and I had to look at that before I knew I could move forward in working with women in a way that really celebrated all of our unique traits as artists and women, to come together. Sorry if I’m being redundant.
But it was just with a closer eye than ever I observed working with women. Because ‘hey Jessica, you want to work on this thing with me and the three women were, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Woohoo! We’re celebrating femininity or being a woman and it has been wonderful, but this time I have looked at it almost under a microscope and I realized I had to offer a whole lot more to make it a really good space for all of us to share all of our stories.
Even the idea…we went to all the women’s homes individually and we did the photo shoot with them there and we had conversations. We drank their coffee. We ate their toasted marmalade. We looked at pictures, their book collections. We photographed them and it wasn’t clinical, it wasn’t sterile, it was really engaging- and that’s what it is. Sometimes we just run so fast or we work so quickly even our art becomes commodified and this time, I was like let’s slow it down. I really want to work with these women in a way that is not McDonalds. It’s not like: can you do this reading? Can you write for this topic? Let’s go. It was like, what are we really doing here? What is our end goal? But can we still be happy about where we’re going with this end goal? And that’s very specific- that’s exactly what I’m doing right now to answer that question- I don’t know if it’s too narrow?
Liza- No, that’s a great answer about how you are working with women and how to encourage that. Absolutely. How do you think poetry can affect women’s current situation in the world?
Jessica– It’s a wonderful cathartic release. It’s therapeutic. But also, I think it will raise awareness to any issues that are relevant to women’s struggle or anything that we also want to kind of unearth in our own discovery of ourselves. You were saying too that you have a child and are now experiencing motherhood and you always wanted to have a child but when you’re actually in the middle of being a mother, and you will be for the rest of your life, suddenly your perspective changes. That’s going to be reflected in your own personal writing. In your poetry. So, when I pick up an anthology of poetry by women, I can identify, I can relate or I can’t yet or I think about it or it leads me to that path. So, that’s why I think it’s important. It’s a really great tool to be vocal about women’s perspectives and issues.
Liza– In this current political climate, how can performance poetry and page poetry affect how women are viewed and women’s rights? And if you want to be specific to your poetry, that’s fine and if you want to speak in general about how poetry in general can affect our rights.
Jessica– Well, okay, so, there is a poem in my collection called “On The Eve Of My Abortion.” I’ve only read it one time and I think you were there in the audience and I’ll probably read it again. It was a difficult poem for me to write because it was a difficult time in my life, but I wrote it for myself. I was by myself. I wrote it for me. Later I made the decision to read it in a public venue. Later I made the decision to publish it and make it even more available to a wider public by being in the book, but I stand behind that poem and I try not to cringe thinking, well, here’s this very telling poem about me. But it represents the idea of pro-choice rights in the first place, so I’m glad that poem is in the book. And that’s why I think poetry- stage poetry and performance poetry can serve that. Speaking to women’s rights, always advocating for them, and then you get to do it in an artistic realm. So you get to explore your artistic side while still speaking about these very relevant issues and so that ‘s why I’m really glad that poem is in there.
Liza -That’s pretty much all of my questions, is there anything else you’d like to say about feminism, or your writing?
Jessica– Ok, well, I’m not as knowledgeable as some people on quoting feminist authors or you know, or professors, I just know what I know intrinsically, inside of me, is that I need to speak up for the things to safe-guard me from oppression and so I do that through poetry and I hopefully help others express that, not just females, males as well.
Liza– Do you think men and women, respond or think about what they think, that people have changed their views because of your poetry?
Jessica– I think they’ve definitely changed their mind about slam poetry. I get that a lot. Oh you made me re-think what slam poetry is. I thought slam poetry was only this thing. And I think what they’re really saying is that there’s a lot of emotion in my poem and I know they’re expecting some political kind of rhetoric , you know, the rant, and that’s in there too or whatever, but mostly I’m coming from an emotional place and a confessional place and I think that’s what catches them off guard.
If they were to go a little bit further, say I had a further conversation with A, B, or C audience member who says ‘wow you really made me rethink what slam poetry is, I think that it would be that if we actually sat down and had coffee, it would be: well I didn’t expect you would discuss such personal issues that a lot of people have, like having been a survivor of domestic violence or a survivor of addiction, or a woman who is exploring her sexuality, or a mother that has gone through some tough decisions to be made in her life, and I think that’s what throws them off, so then you start getting to the meat and potatoes of women’s perspective, in this case, in my poetry. That’s when you get into those topical things and that’s where I think it would really be going if I ever were to have that discussion. That’s what I think people who are like, wow okay, that’s not like the slam poetry I expected. Not everybody, but usually new green people to slam poetry.
Liza– So it’s possible they’re re-thinking other issues, but it’s coming off like wow, I didn’t think slam poetry was like this and suddenly they’re questioning all their thoughts- hopefully. I think it’s always a good thing when we are questioning: what do I think? Why do I think that? What about this person’s perspective that’s different that mine.
Jessica– Yeah, exactly, there you go, you just said it in a nutshell.
Liza-Well, thank you for the interview.
I turned off the recorder and we kept talking and we decided to turn it back on for one more thing.
Jessica- Okay, so we were talking about reclaiming the word bitch or the word cunt and that got me to thinking of the idea of erotic poetry and I’m really interested in the power of eroticism in poetry and in any genre, but in poetry in particular because I am a poet. So, I posted a couple of workshops that have explored eroticism and I found them to be quite challenging. I’m ready to write an erotic poem. I will write the words clit, cunt, dick, ass, anus, pubis,… I love all those words at my disposal, you know. What I don’t do with them is exploit them. It is not my intention to re-write Penthouse. What I want to do is talk about my very individualized experience as a woman making love to either a. a woman or either a. a man. And so, I find it liberating in that sense. So here I think, I’m ready to talk about this. I’m ready to host a workshop. I hosted two erotic workshops. I’ve had very different experiences. I learned from them. First I learned, okay, excuse the pun, don’t just thrust people right in to the erotic workshop (laughing- both of us laughing).
So the second one was for Outspoken, which I told you about and even there, we’re talking about sexual identity and we’re being really vocal, it was still like Hush Hush. We didn’t really want to go right into it and then I had to really rethink, well what is it that I’m asking other people that I’m already just doing on my own- I’m ready to go right in there and do it. So I relate that to sometimes I don’t want to perform certain poems in this book and definitely one in particular that I call the clit poem, but in my book is called The Next Sunday. I look at my audience and ask, are they ready for this? Do they want to hear this? Do they want to hear a woman saying these things? You know, in no way am I exploiting myself as a sexual being or anybody I might be talking about in my poem, but just hearing those words, they’re like bombs, so I finally approached it in a different way as a presentation not a workshop.
I was invited by Self-Serve, which is a local business here in Albuquerque, you know about Self Serve, to do a talk at a place called Sex Talks. They had different people come in to present. They had a psychologist, an actress, a visual artist, and they had me as a poet, so I entitled my presentation Cunt Bomb And Other Delicious Words and I thought, I’m just going to go in there and present different poems, not mine, E.E. Cummings, Sonja Padgtell- it’s this really erotic beautiful poem about her lesbian lover and how she had to break free of some of the restraints from her culture, she’s an Indian woman, and she used her culture in the poem to tell the story of her love for this other woman.
Anyways, so, I realized this is really powerful and maybe this is where I want to come out with my feminism, you know is through this identity and sexuality and what that means to embrace all sides. I know, I’m not going to do that in a classroom, but I also realize that in general, like for La Palabra, we’ve got nudity. We’ve also got a woman who’s in her 60’s who’s nude. Does mainstream popular culture think that’s beautiful? I do. The women who are taking this do. So, it’s through my exploration of sexuality through my writing that I find most, that I’m discovering a better way to adapt my feminism to be particularly expressive in the way I want it to go artistically and content wise. That’s all I wanted to say.
Liza– Awesome. Thank you.
That’s it for our Weekender. Join us tomorrow and every day on Matrifocal Point because the oppressive system of Patriarchy can change. It must. Please Follow us by clicking the follow button on the right. Thanks!