Jennifer Christine Williams
Hi Jennifer, what are you up to lately?
I'm finishing up a short story I started about a year ago, slowly writing new songs, sending my novella manuscript around and free writing when I have a chance. I'm also in graduate school to become a Somatic Psychotherapist, so that takes up a lot of my focus as well.
Congratulations on your latest book, If You Are Unable to Help Just Say So, which blends poetry and memoir. Can you tell us a bit about it?
If You Are Unable to Help Just Say So has language inspired by automated customer service that I collected, collaged and mixed up for about a year. Right when I was getting ready to publish it, a friend suggested that I myself needed to be more in the writing. Around that time my mom got her second DUI and went to jail, and I started free writing to add bits of memoir between the desperate, redundant found language that makes up most of the book. A lot of the writing I added is about finding meaning or significance in everyday symbols or moments, especially during chaotic or traumatic times - that sense of trying to lock onto some sense of logic when things are otherwise falling apart, looking for the mystical.
Can you tell us about your relationship to poetry?
Poetry, or writing in general, keeps me buzzing. Keeps me believing in the mystery and the revolution.
Can you remember the first words (ie. poem, story, lyric) you fell in love with?
I can't remember the specific poem, but I remember it was in 8th grade and we had been learning to read and reread and find new meanings out of poems. We would spend hours working individually or in small groups, on one poem at a time. I remember a few lines about the heaviness of the body, and that that heaviness had an association with calm and with satisfaction at the end of the day. I read the verse and could feel that same heavy calmness in my own body, and that was when I started to feel really excited about writing.
Putting words to an experience helped me realize part of my own experience, even though it was small. Now I seek out that experience as well - sometimes when I am lying in bed, I imagine my body sinking deeper and deeper into the mattress, sometimes through it, down into the dirt, and deeper into the dirt, and that visualization of heavily sinking into the Earth helps relax me.
Is there anything specific that you are currently exploring through your writing?
I'm not intentionally exploring anything at this point - when I'm working on new projects it's just free writing and free writing and free writing until I have enough material to step back and hopefully there's some thread weaving through it, then I condense and circle around that idea. My novella and the short story do explore femininity and traditional gender roles as a kind of losing game. There's a lot of body dysphoria and a sense that the characters try and try and try to fulfill expectations of femininity but fall short, and the horror - either in the effort of it all, or the space between almost getting it right and failing.
How would you say poetry connects us as human beings?
I think it can help us feel embodied and realize our own experiences, and also help us relate to totally different experiences. It expands our empathy and our hearts and our imagination. To know someone else tapped into what you thought was an individual experience - you feel less alone. You see yourself as less separate.
What is your dream for the world?
No more money, no more prisons, and free healthcare and education and housing for all would be a good place to start.
How do you stay tender?
Nurturing my beginner's mind, sitting in emotions and reminding myself they ebb and flow, maintaining strong and compassionate boundaries, spacing out, doing things that aren't considered productive but make me feel good.
What do you think is the most important thing about a poem?
Some part of it has to be alive and true and ruthless. It can even be ruthlessly tender.
Who would you like to see interviewed on We The Tender Hearted?
Anna Avery, Lindsey Boldt and Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo are people I admire who work with words
Photos by Dani Fine
Find more from Jennifer at: www.jenniferchristinewilliams.com