Poetry stirs the emotions of readers. But I’ve often wondered whether readers understood the road that a poet must travel as she weaves her emotions into verse. We are shaped by our life experiences. Our imaginations, I believe, offer us solace during the painful moments in our lives. Life is about growth. I would argue that the most moving poetic words honor the beauty yet struggles as we evolve.
Jennifer Stewart walks readers through her life and reveals her strengths and vulnerabilities in her marvelous poetic collection, The Evolution of A Poet. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Stewart. Read what she had to say below.
In your book ,The Evolution of A Poet, readers experience a natural and beautiful transition of your poetry through various stages of growth. Please tell our readers how your poetic journey.
When I was ten years old, a very close family friend, committed suicide. He was eight years older than I was, but he was a very important person in my life. I was not allowed to attend the funeral due to the nature of his suicide, and I became very distraught. So much so, that on the evening of his wake, I was in my room, banging on my window, begging my mom, who was leaving with friends, to please take me with them. I beat on the window so hard, that my hand went through it, and needless to say, I ended up needing stitches. Not long after, I became withdrawn, disconnected from my mother and siblings. All I could think about was being with my family friend, and I became fixated with death. I tried to talk to adults, but no one would listen. Things were getting more abusive at home, and still, no one listened. I even tried to run away a few times because of the abuse, but always ended up back home. I began collecting articles from the newspaper, all related to accidental deaths, suicides, murders, etc., and kept them in a notebook.
It wasn’t until I went to live with my grandparents, that someone finally noticed my fixation on the morbid. I heard comments like, ‘that’s sick” “what’s wrong with you?” and “throw that shit away” but never anything like, why are you so focused on this? I was thirteen by then, and although I was strangely aware that something was wrong, I still did not receive help. I joined clubs at school, the choir, created art, anything that would take my mind off of dying and the desire to seek death. I went to the school counselors a few times, but only fell deeper into depression when my mother would show up, tell them “I was making things up and had a vivid imagination”, or “that I was just looking for attention.” I fell deeper into the abyss, when she stopped showing up for award ceremonies, performances, etc., all of which meant a great deal to me. And yes, maybe I did need the attention. I honestly needed to know that I mattered. My wonderful grandparents tried so very hard to fill the void that they could see in me. But in the end, my grandfather was a hardcore Marine, and told me to suck it up and that all I needed to do was focus on school and everything would be okay. They were wonderful people, but I was becoming a not so wonderful teenager.
The first poem I ever wrote was “The Rose.” I was fifteen years old when a movie of the same title, starring Bette Midler as Janis Joplin hit the silver screen. I could not stop thinking about that movie, the music, the longing it left in my soul. It was like being haunted.
In High School, I took my first Creative Writing class and I still have a copy of the original poem I had written. We were given a Daily Journal Assignment that would last through the school year, and would become part of a final poetry project. I had taken the class, honestly, because I thought it would be an easy A. Up until that point, I thought poetry was simply about rhyming, and nothing more. Wow, was I ever wrong!
What challenges did you face in your road towards publishing The Evolution of A Poet?
I spent months, years actually, submitting work to various magazines and contests, trying to find ANY format that would take my poetry. I received various replies that my poetry was “too dark” “wrong subject matter” and once was told that they contained “inappropriate content!” By then, I had read so much poetry, and styles of poetry, that I knew, if Edgar Allen Poe could be published, then so could I! His poetry however, was deemed to have manifested from madness. No one could believe that someone, as young as I was at the time, could actually be so troubled. Even then, the stigma of Mental Health was alive and well, but somehow, I just wasn’t disturbed enough. I found it rather insulting in all honesty. The truth of the matter was, in fact, that I had simply never shared my back story with anyone at the time. And a good, horrific background, unfortunately sells a story.
I began researching various self-publishing methods, and even sites that charged fees for publishing without an agent. I was beginning to lose hope. Then I stumbled upon CreateSpace. It allowed for so much creative freedom, that I was able to incorporate my own photography as the cover of The Evolution of A Poet.
Were there any other titles that you considered before deciding on The Evolution of A Poet?
There were two titles that I had originally considered: For Love of Becoming-the evolution of a poet, and The Road Less Traveled. After much consideration, in the end, I chose a title that conveyed the contents of my book in the best way- The Evolution of A Poet.
Why do you think people should read The Evolution of A Poet?
If reading a part of my journey can give just one person the courage to speak up, speak out, seek help or even help others that are struggling, then my goal will be achieved. It is my hope that anyone who has suffered mental or physical abuse, might read my story, and realize that they are not alone in their fight. It is my hope that they will find some form of acceptance, and know that they are understood by someone that fights some of the same demons as they do.
How would you describe your poetic style?
Oh my goodness. How to “describe my poetic style?” Perhaps a bit eclectic in some aspects? I honestly do not feel as if I belong to this era of life at times. I should, instead, have been born centuries ago. There are times when I would describe my style as morbid, but with a glimmer of hope. Kind of like a Catch 22 of sorts, like a vampire seeking light within the darkness of shadows. And yet, other times, I would say that I am a hopeless romantic, yet sometimes very naïve. Yes, I do believe eclectic would be the best label to place on my poetry, if it was necessary to do so. I am honestly skipping through hundreds or more thoughts at any given moment, and sometimes, they settle on a page or two.
What is your writing process like? For example, how much time do you devote to revision before you feel as though a poem is finished?
Like some of my paintings, I do not feel that some poems are ever truly complete. Some of the poetry in The Evolution of A Poet, was written prior to, or during high school. With life experiences and knowledge, those were re-written and re-constructed after further education in college. Much like the title of my book, I feel that with time, some poems may continue to evolve.
What would you say are some of the prevailing themes of the poetry in The Evolution of A Poet?
In response to “prevailing themes” in The Evolution of A Poet, I would have to say that the cliché “Love Conquers all” seems very obvious. I truly did believe that when I was younger: that all things could be fixed if one just loved enough. However, as I have grown older, I learned that “love” encompasses many things, and it does not fix everything, no matter how much one wishes it to. I would have to say that perseverance and self-realization are very dominant throughout the book. But, as a writer, and one who seeks to crush the stigma placed on those that suffer from ALL forms of “invisible illnesses”, it is important for me, that each poem speaks to the reader in its own unique way. Each person will interpret the poems, in the manner in which it helps the individual cope the easiest.
Are you able to share with us any current projects that you are working on?
While in a College Writing Workshop, I had a professor introduce me to a new group of writers as follows: “her poetry, though dark at times, was on the very far end of a broad spectrum of writing, when it comes to fiction.” He actually laughed and said “That if it were physically possible for Emily Bronte, Stephen King and Alice Cooper to conceive a single child, Jen Stewart would be that offspring!” He was, at the time, speaking in reference to the horror novel I have been working on for the last eleven years-MINION. And no, it’s not those cute little yellow guys from the Despicable Me movie that was released in 2010. MINION is actually based on a wealthy family from England that came to America as powerful land owners. The story is in fact, a “Lady in White” ghost story. Without giving anything away, I believe that anyone that enjoys edge of your seat scares and page turning blood and gore will enjoy the book. THE PINK FRILLY BOOK (Actual Title: Pink Frilly Dresses, Lacey Tights and Black Patent Leather Shoes, was just too long) is a comical short story about a five year old tomboy, that hates the color pink. I also have a project called JOVARIA’S JOURNAL, that has a most unusual take on Vampires and Immortality, and surprisingly enough, is not much of a love story.
And of course, just like The Evolution of A Poet, until the Universe stops speaking to me, I will continue to evolve.