She: Jessica Edwards Writes lyrical.catharsis
I had the chance to catch up with Jessica Edwards, a published poet whose words evoke raw emotion, provide thoughtful commentary on society, and manifest an authentic example of self-care. The visual and written art that Jessica revealed to the world through lyrical.catharsis. could not be more relevant today and will remain timeless. Previously an educator, check out the interview below to learn about Jessica's pursuit of establishing herself as an avowed writer.
Tell me about yourself.
I'm originally from Washington, DC but I've been in Houston since 2008. I attended Rice University as a Sociology major and graduated in 2012. I taught middle school English and Social Studies for a few years post graduation. I currently work at a nonprofit youth serving organization while simultaneously pursuing a writing career.
Who exposed you to creative writing and what kept you interested in writing?
I can't point to one particular instance. I lived in a text rich home and we would read a chapter of a novel during family dinner, so I always had a love of literature. When I was young, starting around 2nd grade, I'd always have composition books full of my own thoughts and stories I'd make up. Writing really helped me manage my anxiety. I remember I wrote a story titled, "A Runaway Slave during the Civil War” when I was in 3rd grade. I still remember proudly reading my story to my family at dinnertime one night. I was always encouraged by my family, even though they laughed at my story because it wasn't realistic that an old slave ran all the way from Mississippi to Washington, DC to convince Lincoln to free the slaves, then run back to Mississippi to tell everyone they were free. But I was like 8, and was very proud of all the historical references I'd tied in. But writing was really an on and off thing. I started focusing on poetry more during high school and performed some in school. I dabbled in spoken word in early college too, but I was focused more on graduating and finding a job toward the end. Then my mom told me post-college that she always saw me doing something with writing, and that really inspired me to take it more seriously.
I remember the relief I felt that someone clearly articulated how I was feeling at a particular moment. It made me realize that I was not alone. I want people to feel that way about my words as well.
What inspired your desire to publish your book of original poems lyrical.catharsis.?
After Mike Brown's murder in Ferguson I found it really cathartic to write my feelings down since it is overwhelming to be Black in America. That is when I wrote the poem "black.anathema." Then I thought that sharing my words might be helpful for others. I still remember reading "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes, "If We Must Die" by Claude McKay, and "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar when I was in elementary school. Those were some of my favorite poems (and still are) and I remember the relief I felt that someone clearly articulated how I was feeling at a particular moment. It made me realize that I was not alone. I want people to feel that way about my words as well. So every time I felt overwhelmed by a certain feeling, be it about racism, hearing about women dying for saying "no" to a man, dealing with my own anxiety, I wrote a poem, and shared it, either as a video or as text. Then I realized I had over 50 poems out in the Internet world and I was anxious to have them all in one place. I saw some people sharing my poems on social media without giving due credit as well, and that made me anxious too. So I decided to put them all in one place.
lyrical.catharsis. explores the dynamics of systemic racism, intersectional feminism, and feelings of doubt, anxiety, and love.
What is your favorite poem in lyrical.catharsis.? How does it translate to the life you wish to live?
That is a hard question. I love the first poem "domestic.abuse." simply because I remember the moment I decided to tie the lyrics of a song with my poem to make the antagonist clear. It was a really exciting writing experience so that is why I love it. But I have so many like: "strong Black woman," "the police are junkies," "for colored girls....". I like "my vagina is a sewer" because it unlocked feelings that I have been pushing down for years. It really is hard to choose, I like so many for different reasons that is why I shared them. I think the reason why I like some of them is that I try to pack a lot of meaning into a few words. My former students could tell you that I always give them the necessary information but I did not like repeating myself. I don’t like saying more than is necessary. Also, bloviating really bothers me, I think the brevity in my pieces and even the loaded sentences in my longer pieces show that I don’t like wasting words.
What goal(s) have you set to take your writing to career to the next level? How do you plan to achieve your goal(s)?
I am trying to challenge myself to write something every day, since the next level for myself is completing a novel. It has always been a goal of mine that I pushed off because full length is terrifying. Poems can be done in a sentence, so keeping a reader’s attention for hundreds of pages is intimidating, but it is also exciting. My other goals are to have my writing published in several more publications. I’ve been proactive about looking up contests, but it takes a long time to hear back. On my website there are links to where my work has been featured. Some is not poetry (like Blavity) but I feel like the more I write and submit the more my name will become synonymous to writing. Another goal is to get paid for my writing so I feel a little stuck. It is frustrating because I need money, writing is arduous and to do that for free is insulting, so I do feel torn when submitting pieces or pitching ideas, knowing I’ll be getting paid in “exposure.” Kroger’s don’t take exposure, I can’t get my hair done or my nails filled in exposure. But I digress.
I don’t want to compromise for vanity. That is why I write on the topics and the messages that I'm passionate since that is true catharsis for me. I know my words are polarizing, but I won’t change them for some "likes".
Speaking of next level, what does that level look like for you?
I never want to do just one thing. But, as far as the next level as a writer, my dream is to be a full-time career writer. I would love to see people lining up for my novel one day and be able to make a living wage from my writing. Some people think I should become a spoken word performer, but I really don't get as much joy from that, at least not the way it is typically done. But the next level with poetry is definitely finding new ways to engage my audience with my content.
Besides writing, I eventually want to go back to school too. I'm torn among three different things I want to focus on, so I'm not in a rush for that. There is no use going into (more) debt for an, “I think I wanna."
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you’ve faced being a Black woman who challenges how we view society through your writing?
Well as far as challenges, the publishing world is overwhelmingly white and male so that’s a whole issue in itself. When I think about where I am right now, what can frustrate me is seeing some of the content that gets praised, especially on social media since that is how people publicize these days. People are more like, "I like that person, so I’ll hit like on their stuff," rather than truly discerning quality when it comes to art. Actually, my last poem in my book is about that. It is an elegy for art; elegy is a funeral poem. And I’m not simply talking about myself, I’m thinking of my brothers’ works as well as writer friends and other artists.
However, when I do focus on my content, I feel happy with my work. I don’t want to compromise for vanity. That is why I write on the topics and the messages that I'm passionate since that is true catharsis for me. I know my words are polarizing, but I won’t change them for some likes. You know how Jay Z says "dumb down for my audience to double my dollars," or something like that? I just can’t do it. I want white people reading my work to be physically uncomfortable with white supremacy. I want men to feel sick to their stomach about sexual harassment and assault. I want people to experience the frustration of panic and anxiety. I also want people to read and relate to my work like I did/do with poems and say, "Yes! That is my experience!" And so, saying some innocuous statements or basic mantras will not do that, realistically.
Opportunities wise, there are some people out there who want to read timely poetry, and I provide that.
What advice would you give to the next creative writer who wants to be published and start a writing career?
- Look at writers you admire and see what they did, but at the same time don't spend time comparing yourself.
- Realize the first draft is never perfect.
- Write often, even when you don't feel really creative at the moment, at least write a sentence.
- At the same time give yourself a break, allow for self-care.
- If you write for competitions, work on them way before they are due because looking back on a piece after being away from it can save it. But all writers procrastinate, that’s like a rule, so while I give that advice, I'm still working on following it.
- Oh, and find at least one good writer friend, usually one that has a different strength than you. Mostly so you're not always competing for the same contests and also so they can point out the holes in your work and vice versa.
What’s next for Jessica Edwards Writes? I peeped black.olympus on your site. Any exclusive details you can give us about this next project?
Well I'm really excited for it. I keep pushing the date back because I want it to be perfect but I’ve decided it will drop on my birthday, January 17th. It will be a multimedia poetry experience. That is all I will say about it because I do not want to give too much away. But it ties into one of the goals I mentioned before of engaging my audience in poetry in new ways. I'm also being featured in more and more publications, so keep checking "the writer." tab too since I've been updating that.
Anything more you want to add?