SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: J.P. HOWARD
J.P. Howard aka Juliet P. Howard is the author of the poetry collection SAY/MIRROR and the chaplet bury your love poems here. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Feminist Wire, pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Split this Rock, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, Muzzle Magazine, Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, The Best American Poetry Blog, MiPOesias, Talking Writing and Connotation Press. She curates the AWARD-winning Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS). Howard is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow. FIND HER at https://www.facebook.com/JPHowardAuthor and the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon at @WomenWriteBloom. In September, she will be featured at the Third Annual Hobart Festival of Women Writers and the BEATS Festival in New York; in October, appearances include the Women Writers of the Diaspora Series in New York and, in Detroit, Fire & Ink IV: Witness.
JP Howard! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?
My poetry is often published without compensation. Unfortunately, this is often part and parcel of being a poet. While I believe writers of all genres deserve compensation, and certainly wish more poets, including myself, were consistently compensated for our published work, for me it is still important to share my poetic voice with the world. I often write poems that are political, from the perspective of a queer woman of color, who is also the mother of two black sons in America; so my daily life is a political statement. I believe it is important for my voice and for poets like me to be heard, and I will continue writing and publishing my work, when given the opportunity.
Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?
No. Aside from being a poet and curator of a literary salon series, I am also a full-time practicing public interest lawyer.
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?
Finding enough time to dedicate to my craft is definitely one of my biggest challenges! I do work full-time and it’s a very busy day job. I’m always trying to find a balance between writing and the rest of my life. When I speak on panels focused on women writers, this is a recurring topic: how we as women often have to carve out time to dedicate to our writing, while also trying to balance full or part-time jobs, family and other commitments. It is definitely a topic that is near and dear to me — how women writers, who are often nurturers of others, need to also make time to nurture ourselves and put our writing and our needs up front. As for me, it’s something I’m constantly working to improve, making and finding that necessary time.
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?
A poem needs editing when it still feels incomplete after I re-read it aloud to myself. Additionally, getting feedback from fellow poets also helps to get a sense of how the poem is received in its current setting. Questions I ask myself when deciding whether to keep revising are: “What purpose does this line/image/word serve in the poem?” or “Can this poem survive without these images/words/lines?” If I feel the poem has images or language that feels incomplete, then I’ll continue to revise.
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?
Some days I have to just make myself stop revising! Often the hardest part of editing for me is knowing when to finally stop and say “J, this poem is complete. You can let her go into the world now, and just be.” When I’ve revised a poem to the point where it feels complete and no new edits are needed to improve that piece, then I can finally move on. Usually!
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?
I definitely believe being a writer was a calling for me. I’ve been writing, in some form or another, since I was a child. As an only child of a single working mother, I spent a hell of a lot of time in my local Harlem library when I was growing up. I discovered some phenomenal black poets in the Hamilton Grange library while in elementary school and fell in love with the words, images and whispered sounds of Lucille Clifton, Margaret Walker, June Jordan, Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few. Soon after, I began putting my own words on the page and calling it poetry and never stopped. Writing for me is often cathartic, a way to process the complicated world around me. I’m definitely a believer that my poems often choose me. I particularly feel that way about poems that are difficult to write due to topic/theme and yet, I’ll find myself working on pieces that emotionally drain me because the poem chose me. Writing is part and parcel of who I am: poet, mom, lesbian, partner, curator….
BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?
I read one of my favorite novels of all time, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, when I was about 11 years old. I wouldn’t say it haunted me as much as had an impact on the way I viewed the power of the written word. I could literally see and hear the characters that Morrison brought to life. No one could convince me, back then, that I didn’t personally know the main character, Pecola Breedlove, even though at that young age, I’m sure I didn’t have a grasp on the difficult themes running through the book. I do recall that I didn’t want the book to end. It’s definitely a book that I returned to once I was an adult, and each time I read it, something new continues to grab my attention. So when I say “haunted” I mean it in the best possible, lingering type of way.