The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: JANEA WILSON
The decapitated mum
I found your head, upside down
orange flopped to the asphalt.
No body in sight. What stroke
of good fortune. Plump bloom,
not a petal plucked, though now the crown
a flat bottom, the green skyward.
I wonder how you got here—
your beheaded stem in some child’s hand,
or else cut off by an errant car door,
snapped in a flinging accident,
slapped by a misunderstood lover?
The decapitated mum rests,
not in a vase to preen
then wilt tableside, but nestled,
a dormant oracle,
warm in my overlapped palms.
alli from the valley
the queen of the sage-burners sails down laurel every friday night to meet the other nude lipstick wearers who drink kombucha and her denim is so thin you can see a cheek sometimes two and it might split open and someone might make a wisecrack about it but maybe they’ll talk about the weather instead of how to stop the condos from being built next to the private school on the other side of the hill but what about when it floods greybrown this winter who will put their primitive yachting skills to use canoeing down sunshine terrace racing the little red coyotes that last week ate someone else’s cat and they had to consult the crystal matrix for the pisces supermoon ecstatic chanting about joshua tree black skies and mecca underneath yards and yards of burning white stars
Sprinklers run all hours, sweet corn
cakes burn, and the postman
walks up the drive for a midnight delivery.
Dust sizzles from a black dog pawing at the rose bush.
What if I said cabbages taste like cotton candy?
Braid the seeping pines with the palm trees.
Spread bony organs over pie pans.
Joy is dark, earthy, deep, and tan.
Leather is just skin stretched over stone.
A few good words with Janea:
BVS: In spending time in your work, I was particularly interested in your focus on, for lack of a better term, the metropolitan pastoral—your poems reflect the juxtaposition of the natural (a flower’s bloom, the floods and coyotes, the joshua tree and rose bush) against the constructedness of the city. I felt the importance of this blended landscape in thinking about blackness and nature—how often in the larger imagination we are disconnected from/averse to the natural. What do these landscapes mean to you?
JW: Metropolitan pastoral sounds like an apt description–one I might have to steal! I am obsessed with the term “urban wildlife” and how odd and ironic of a term it is. Displacement (of people, of animals) is something I think about often, and I think in my work I try to replace nature where urbanization has displaced it (and us). My work draws on what I know of diaspora, nature/environment, and certainly the reading I’ve done: Michael Omi & Howard Winant; David Fine; bell hooks; Harryette Mullen; Claudia Rankine; Norman Klein; Gloria Anzaldua; and so many more.
I was working on a combination research/creative project for an undergrad seminar, “Literature of Los Angeles,” and in the course of my research I discovered the more insidious nature of redlining, white flight, urban zoning, and other institutional forms of discrimination and racism. This project tapped into a deeper curiosity about the place I grew up and called home. It helped me to disrupt the fantasy and romantic imaginary of Los Angeles that many people take away from stories like Ask the Dust.
This landscape is my home, and I am aware of the privileges I have now (in where I live and my education and more), and compare that to my circumstances growing up. Although there are so many things that upset me about the current state of things (politics, social injustice, etc.), it makes me so protective of my city when people disparage or dismiss L.A. as shallow or unimportant. Every time I read a poem or story, I look for the ways that the writer elevates the quotidien of life. Then I try to emulate that in my own writing. So when I zoom into details of particular landscapes, that is my way of raising the profile of the minutia of the metropolitan pastoral that is Los Angeles.
BVS: “The decapitated mum” and “Night Arrangement” employ more traditional line breaks, while “alli from the valley” is formatted in a prose block without any punctuation. What dictates your formal moves when you’re drafting a poem? What engine drives those decisions?
JW: This is going to sound like the most cliché or stock answer but…mostly instinct. I do what the poem tells me to do. When I wrote “alli from the valley” it was 2, maybe 3 in the morning. I had been up all night blog hopping and ended up at a well-known YA author’s blog. The blog writing was so compelling it jolted this poem out of me. As I wrote I thought about the then-impending El Niño season, how we might get inundated with unrelenting downpours. It reminded me of the storms and floods and landslides I’d seen looping on the news when I was a kid (from the early to mid 90s El Niño seasons). My hands couldn’t keep up with my brain, so there are a lot of jumps. It’s pretty much the epitome of stream of consciousness.
With the other poems, I think the structure gives some semblance of order to maybe otherwise unusual poems. I do try manipulating couplets, quatrains, tercets, but the poems flex themselves into their own shapes and I just work them until it looks, feels, and sounds right. Most important to me is the sound and mouth-feel. I read my work out loud every time I draft.
BVS: Whenever I put together work for the series, I think about complimentary vibes, what will feel best together, and I find that we do that all of the time in our own lives, curate our own experiences of (and in) art. What’s a favorite pairing in your own life? Do you always listen to a certain album when writing? Do you have a favorite incense to burn when you dance? What couplings do you keep returning to?
JW: I can only really write at night. I have a notebook on me always. I am a night owl, often awake until 2 or 3am, and that is my peak writing time. I love listening to Elliott Smith and Kendrick Lamar when I am writing, but can only listen in headphones.
I keep a rotating stack of poetry collections nearby, and whenever I feel like I need some invigoration I grab a book and read a few poems. Right now I have Camille Rankine Incorrect Merciful Impulses, Marsha De La O Antidote for the Night, Harryette Mullen Urban Tumbleweed, and Amy Gerstler Scattered at Sea in that stack.
Janea Wilson is the founding editor of lipstickparty mag. She served as the 2015-16 editor-in-chief of Riprap, the literary arts journal of CSULB. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Oklahoma Review, Canyon Voices, American Mustard, Santa Ana River Review, Indicia Lit, among others. Her passions include Flannery O’Connor, iced coffee, and intersectional feminism. In 2016 she received her MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from CSULB, where she graduated with honors. Janea lives, loves, writes, and teaches in Los Angeles.