Every week, I’ll be doing a mini feature on my site (& blasting it on social media) on activists, artists, and educators who are doing important things in the world. Like Levar Burton, the only thing these folks have in common is that I like them, and I hope you do too.
JP Howard’s work sizzles and electrifies. It’s sexy, strong, and gasp-inducing. Her dexterous use of the language leaves me hungry and satisfied at the same time– a sensation that would be difficult to explain, if you weren’t able to read some of her poems yourself (links below).
We’re lucky to have supernova JP here today.
Where can we find your work?
You can find my work up on the Academy of American Poets. My “praise poets and their pens” was part of their poem-a-day series this past fall. My poem “Ghazal for Sugar Hill Secrets or Lullaby for Harlem” was part of the recent Glitterbrain folio on Anomaly. I’m super excited to have new poems forthcoming or recently published in these new print anthologies, most being released over the next few months: Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press) edited by Neil De La Flor and Maureen Seaton, The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2 Black Girl Magic Anthology (Haymarket Books) edited by Mahogany L. Browne, Idrissa Simmonds and Jamila A. Woods and Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color (Nightboat Books) edited by Christopher Soto and Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars (Flashpoint Publications) edited by S. Renée Bess and Lee Lynch.
What themes or ideas do you feel your work engages with?
My work, I suppose, is a reflection of me. It is black and queer and sexy and sometimes it is sad af. Poetry has allowed me, in some ways, to make peace with my complicated past. My poetry often celebrates black bodies, especially black youth. Sometimes it mourns black bodies that are constantly under attack. Raising two black boys in this country is no easy feat. My oldest son is now a brilliant black queer man studying engineering on a college campus far away from home and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t worry about both of my sons as they walk through the world.
What are your favorite pieces of writing about writing?
Actually one of my favorite current pieces on writing is an audio by brilliant poet and friend Rickey Laurentiis. He gave a 2017 craft talk on the topic of revision for Poets House entitled “Necessary Cuts: Rickey Laurentiis on Revision at Poets House“. Rickey “examines how writers can enact revision in their language, politics and lives via a poem.” Revision is always the hardest part for me about writing poetry. I’m always asking myself when is the poem actually finished? I am forever a fan of Joan Didion and have so many notebooks/journals from years gone by, that it it hard not to see myself in her craft essay: On Keeping a Notebook. When she states in her essay: “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss,” I knew she was speaking directly to me. It’s a classic read. I often use excerpts/pieces of old or found journals as prompts to enter my poems.
I suppose, I am always trying to unpeel layers of my past.
Can you remember the first piece of art– performance, literary, fine, street–you saw/read that wowed you?
Yes I will never forget it!! I will always remember when my Mom took me to see a Broadway production of Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf! I was pretty young, probably in junior high, actually around the same age as my youngest son, who is in middle school. I remember being mesmerized by the production. It confirmed my belief in the power of words, which I already loved.
Seeing beautiful black women’s bodies move on stage, and watching them use their bodies, along with Shange’s powerful words, spoke directly to ME. It was really transformative. I was both blown away and energized by the line: “i found god in myself and i loved her fiercely.” I still love that line!
What work do you do in the world that you feel proud of?
I’m very proud of curating my Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon , a monthly literary Salon series in New York that I’ve been nurturing for over six years. Every month, month after month and year after year, I bring primarily women together, and many of us queer women of color and allies, to write and fellowship and be in brilliant community around good food and delicious wine. I grew up in Sugar Hill, Harlem and the Salon was modeled after traveling Salons popular during the Harlem Renaissance. I feel that each month I am also honoring and celebrating my literary ancestors. Most recently, I just finished co-editing, with Amber Atiya, the inaugural 2018 issue of Sinister Wisdom Journal. Our Issue 107 is titled Black Lesbians–We Are the Revolution! and I am so incredibly proud of all the hard work and dedication hat went intro producing this phenomenal issue. It celebrates black lesbian/black queer women writers and artists. I chose the theme for this journal based on my poetry muse, the late poet Pat Parker, who once said “The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.” I hope folks will order copies to include in their classrooms, libraries and bookstores. It’s definitely a Herstorical issue filled with work by brilliant black lesbians. If folks are in the New York Tri-state area I would love for them to come to our inaugural NYC launch at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay & Lesbian Art Tues, Feb 27th from 6-9pm. The Museum’s Eventbrite link to register free tickets is HERE.
Many think of poets as having a political or ambassadorial responsibility to the world– what do you think?
As a poet who has been active in the #BlackPoetsSpealOut movement and as a poet who first discovered the power of poetry to advocate and agitate around 18-years old, when I first read the poetry of Pat Parker, Cheryl Clarke and Audre Lorde, I do feel a political, perhaps civic responsibility to speak truth via my poetry and to use poetry as a tool to protest, speak out, agitate and try to create change.
Tell us a story.
When our oldest son was 15, he approached my wife and I one morning towards the end of the school year, in a very somber mood. He asked if we could have a “family meeting” that evening. Naturally we said “Sure, baby.” All day long my wife and I worried about what he wanted to tell us. We wondered had our usual A+ student failed a course and needed to go to summer school or had someone bullied him in school. Finally, that evening, when we sat with him at our dining room table, he said “Guys, I wanted to tell you that I’m gay.” My wife and I immediately exhaled in relief and said, “Is that all you wanted to tell us baby?” We were so relieved, hugged and kissed him and thanked him for telling us. It made us realize how difficult it is to be a queer youth, even with two totally out lesbian Mamas. When we asked him if he had come out to friends at school yet, he said no, he wanted to tell us first. It felt great to support him and we were honored that he came out to his Mamas first!
And anything else you want to add?
I’m super excited and also a little nervous to be a 2018 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program in New York. I so wish a program that brought queer writers into schools existed when I was growing up. I’m excited to discuss my book with students, and look forward to learning about what makes them tick. Most folks who know me or have taken workshops with me know that I LOVE, love, love praise poems. I’m very excited to rejoin the Brooklyn Poets faculty to teach a new five week “Praise Poem” writing workshop starting in mid-March.
Complicated, life is a hot ass mess, but still there’s stuff to celebrate type of praise poems. Like Pat Parker, I’m really just striving to bring all the different (complicated, queer, black, Diva, sexy, sad, angry) parts of myself along when I enter a room or the page.
JP Howard’s debut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System), was a 2016 Lambda Literary finalist. She is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*). JP is a 2018 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program. She was a 2017 Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist and is featured in the 2017 Lesbian Poet Trading Card Series from Headmistress Press. JP was the recipient of a 2016 Lambda Literary Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award and has received fellowships and grants from Cave Canem, VONA, Lambda, Astraea and Brooklyn Arts Council. JP curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a NY-based forum offering women writers a monthly venue to collaborate and is an Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review online. JP’s poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine, and The Best American Poetry Blog. JP holds a BA from Barnard College, an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York and a JD from Brooklyn Law School. You can find JP and excerpts of her work online at: http://www.jp-howard.com