Of Some Mothers
by Naomie Jean-Pierre
I have heard it said that / as a bear defends her cubs / so may she maim them / in the process/
how I got here / is no mystery / that I am part miracle and part ecosystem / is truth / wild and sacred / are we / in our natural state / and we are doing life scared / or scarred with seven generations of survival / beneath their / our / my nails
Naomie Jean-Pierre is a MA literature candidate at City College of New York. She hails from Haiti by way of Atlanta. By day, she tutors high schoolers at Countee Cullen library of Central Harlem. By night, she versifies the raw material of daily life.
Naomie’s work was brought to our attention by poet Kay Bell, whom we interviewed here. We offered Kay the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Naomie. Kay says, “I chose Naomie because through her work we connect with themes that are often complex yet relevant. The way she articulates aching is so lovely that we see the thin line between pain and beauty and question if we can even experience one without the other.”
So, here is Kay’s interview with Naomie.
Q~How would you describe your style?
A~I think my style is a collection of streams, flowing into one major stream. Sometimes that flow is expressed smoothly like calm waters. Other times, that style is harsh, dangerous waters. The waters of trauma and anger rise, waters of survival and confrontation. My style also speaks from streams like Atlanta (pronounced Ah-lanna), a Haitian-refugee household, Pentecostal pews, and political and social dialectics. So sometimes, my style will be intellectual and other times, it will bleed with the streets that I have walked.
Q~Tell us a little about “Of Some Mothers.” How is it representative of your work?
A~I love to write about generations, about women and about nature. The form of this poem is free and eclipsed at moments by dashes that either disrupt or rush the flow. This is quintessential of my writing in that it attempts to capture something as nuanced as motherhood without casting blame, simply observation. It is like watching a stream flow and noticing the different currents that push the water in this or that direction.
Q~Is there a backstory you want to share?
A~My mother is the bear, and cubs trail not too far behind.
Q~Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write?
A~Most of my poems just come out. If I am writing right, not from a place of intellect, but of dreams and focused feelings, then the poem will write itself. Later, I return with small tweaks here and there to make sense of the raw feeling that is hidden within.
Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?
A~I hate that almost nobody ever really knows what I am saying. When I write, I have to chip at the raw material of my senses for a long time. I have been guilty of over-doing it and worst, writing to be understood.
Q~What is the poet’s role in society?
A~The poet is a prophet, I think. And, some prophets prophesy through intercession, through weeping. Others, by hurling stones or travelling through wildernesses. Some wait on walls and watch for a word. Some prophets sit in wells and feed on very little. They eat from the mouth of ravens. I think overall, though that no matter what kind of prophet, a poet’s role is to be a mouthpiece, an instrument for society to hear again. Poetry is the song of the soul. It’s pain, comfort, lessons, love–all of these aspects of our flesh made word. Those moments that are deeply impossible to articulate, those songs that are muted, resonate and sound on a poet’s tongue. Once they land, we share something that reminds us all that we are more than flesh, even something more than what can even be worded. We can be reconciled to one another. As such, poets remind society and the individual that it is possible to author new agreements between one another.
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~The youngin’ in me wants to say Langston Hughes. It was because of him that I traveled to South Africa, that I came to Harlem. I would stare at a photograph of him in his youth. In his hands, he held a book but I could not take my eyes off his knuckles. I could sense the struggle despite the smoothness of his skin. The strain between his fingers made his knuckles protrude, an image that reminds me of that iconic photograph image of the enslaved man’s back. You know the one. It look like someone carved a tree onto his back. Well, that is what Langston’s poems did for me, and I would be lying if I said it ended with me at 14 or 21 or 27.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~Nowadays I am revisiting Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, and Rita Dove.
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~I would say to not war with time. Let every rejection and confirmation of your words secure you into something that is unshakable. For me, that unshakable security is in the fact that I write for an audience of one. That one is not even myself, because there have been dozens of times where I wanted to throw my children away. But, no. That one for me is God, who I feel sometimes over my shoulder saying ‘Keep that. That’s good.’ In time, what I keep becomes something that keeps me.
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~A short story and a collection of short essays can be found in Fiction Magazine. A website is coming soon.
Kay Bell has been published in the book Brown Molasses Sunday: An Anthology of Black Women Writers, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, The Write Launch, as well as other venues. She considers herself a bibliophile and lives in the Bronx with her sons, Zaire and Morocco, and their tabby cat, Chad. Her website is www.iamkaybell.com