I.S. JONES IN CONVERSATION WITH THOMAS FUCALORO
I.S. Jones is a writer, educator, and hip-hop head hailing from Southern California. She is a fellow with The Watering Hole and BOAAT Writer’s Retreat. I.S. is very Blk & loud about her joy. She is the Assistant Editor at Chaparral, a literary magazine based in Southern California. Her works have appeared in The Other Side of Violet (great weather for MEDIA, 2017), The Harpoon Review, Fat City Review, Qua Magazine, The Blueshift Journal, SunDog Lit, Matador Review, Wusgood.black, and other publications.
Thomas Fucaloro: Your beautiful poem, "Moon Dreams of Rivers" starts off The Other Side of Violet. For us, it seemed to hold all the emotion that would be evoked with this new anthology. Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating it?
I.S. Jones: First, I want to say how grateful to begin the anthology and also to know that this poem sets the tone for the entire body of work, so thank you. When I wrote the poem, I was attempting to negotiate loss and trauma in a body that was formed in such disrupting conditions, perhaps much like a black body, but I wanted to explore these ideas divorced from the idea of race. What is obvious in the poem is that the moon is me (the black scars, or mares, are just like the hyperpigmentation on my own face).
I wanted to write about anguish and longing if it had seemingly no end to it. Playing with the mythos of how the Moon was formed, I wanted to propose: If loneliness is as vast and endless as the literal universe, what is the antithesis of that...? The answer for me that just kept coming up was water. Water then must be a homecoming. In this way, I’m also indirectly attempting to navigate home as an unstable entity.
In this work, the spiritual and celestial are at work through the language and how language itself is another mouth that asks to be fed. The Moon wants to be seen and felt because it knows it is a dead thing, even the way it opens the night sky is with dead light. I want to work with language and that deep desire to be called back into the land of the living, and I hope the poem is successful in that.
TF: My favorite line in your poem is, “Tonight, I pull us into a restless language/ one where I drink from you/ as water is greater than God." Can you talk a little bit about how self, water, and God play into this poem and your work in general?
IJ: As many know, Aracelis Girmay is one of my great inspirations and even greater loves. After reading The Black Maria, I grew a particular fondness for water and the way it carries memory and or devours it. That line is my favorite also because it’s so blasphemous! I grew up devotedly religious and perhaps I still am. The line seeks to challenge Genesis 1:2: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. I’ve been fixated on this line quite possibly my whole life because it suggests water existed before God. Water is its own beast. Humans have been witness to water’s softness, its affirmation of life, and its brutality. There has never been a time in the book of Genesis that states God created water, yet He pulled life out of its formlessness. It made me wonder if God pulled Himself out of the water to become.
I think also positioning the line in this way allows for the reader to truly understand how devout the Moon is to water and how water cannot help but be pulled by the Moon, and how that unspeaking bond is another language. Even the cadence of the poem, especially where the ampersands are placed, make the poem undulate.
TF: You do a lot of essay writing for blogs like Upcoming Hip Hop, is there a connection between the two mediums of essay and poetry writing? What are those connections and differences?
IJ: I actually stepped down from Upcoming Hip Hop early this year, but I am grateful for the start they gave me. I now write at Dead End Hip Hop (shout-out to the greatest Managing Editor, Michael Stover). Thank you for calling them essays. A lot of people on the internet, especially hip-hop fans, will sometimes call this journalistic work anything but that unless it aligns with their beliefs. I say it that way because my first year writing I was threatened for how harsh I came off writing articles and album reviews.
For me, both mediums challenge me but in different ways. I want to say I am much more daring in my poems than I am with my journalism and I’m trying to learn how to translate one to the other. Hip-hop and poetry are both aggressive in that you aren’t given very many chances to be successful, but poetry is far more hospitable to women / femmes than hip-hop. Hip-hop deliberately makes the terrain rougher for women because it’s a boy’s club and we (GNC persons, included) aren’t really allowed. Yet, we are not going anywhere. Matter of fact, just today I was told I’m too sensitive to be operating in hip-hop because I am not accepting other people’s point of view (read: intolerance towards bodies too often deemed as ‘other’)
Poetry, arguably, allows more room for error. If you have not listened to “rapper x” or if you happen to, for example, like Cardi B over Nicki Minaj (which I do) then people jump at the chance to discredit you. I can not be a fan of Yosef Komunyaaka (which I’m not really) yet say I learned how to be a bit of a neologist from him (which I did) without having someone jump down my throat.
A lot of rappers I have met or have heard of, No Name for example, began as poets because it sets the foundation and appreciation of the way language moves. Poetry allows language to be that much more malleable, and an effective rapper who is both a student of craft and of the game learns language that is daring and demands to push against boundaries is what creates innovation and longevity.
TF: I know this is a bit of a loaded question but when you see the state of poetry today, how do you find your place in it?
IJ: Definitely not! I think as an emerging poet these are questions I must constantly ask myself to sharpen my oyster knife. I see the state of poetry as something that must respond to the time, to very loosely quote Nina Simone. It’s so funny because literally today my mother told me poetry is taking up too much space in my life and I need to quit for a while until I am more sorted out. I wouldn’t even be here if not for this work, my rage would have swallowed me whole. Yes, the work should response to socio-political climate, but I need to write because it’s apart of my ritual for survival.
I am remarkably fortunate now more than ever to find myself, my body, my experiences capable of flourishing in so many different spaces. As a first-generation Nigerian, as a Queer woman, and as a Black American, recognizing how I can write into these intersections of the self allows me to further exist in the world. It then gives permission for others to be. I have to be brave and write into that fear in order to hold my place in the world, in the same way that my heroes who came before me lit the way so I could be possible. I refuse to be ignored, and so no matter what I write about, I am always writing towards that intersection, refusal and insistence.
TF: Finally, what's next for I.S. Jones?
IJ: So much! I’m coming on full time as an Art Curator for this amazing space in Brooklyn called The Moon Show. I’m also working to create a fully funded internship program. I’m learning to scale back and not take on so much, learning to say 'no’ as an act of self-care. I’m doing research for a project and I’m always reading.
I.S. Jones' poem "Moon Dreams of River" can be found in The Other Side of Violet (great weather for MEDIA, 2017).