In this month’s Literary Arts profile, we talk to Oregon writer Gina Ochsner. Her new novel, The Hidden Letters of Velta B., weaves an intricate and multi-generational tapestry of Latvian history, folklore and magic.
A performance by Jamondria Harris is like nothing you’ve experienced before. As a multimedia artist, they use words, images and sound to project the feelings from a dream state or reverie. Something that seems impossible becomes almost tangible to the viewer through the use of abstract tools of language and experimental music. It’s like having a daydream privately screened through some magically poetic technology.
After writing four chapbooks over the last few years, quaerere (Magic Helicopter Press) is Jamondria’s first full-length work. The book implores the reader to seek, to ask, to desire in a collection of poems written from a black queer prospective. Astonishingly, the book came together in about a month. The poems are interspersed with images that invoke a sense of natural beauty combined with an ethereal affect that pairs perfectly with the musings of Harris. Quaerere feels like a book that should not only be read, but experienced on a higher plane, almost in a state of peaceful meditation or that sweet, fleeting moment before you enter the dream realm. At the same time, the poems in quaerere are powerful statements of individuality and truth, and the poet has succeeded in creating something purely of themself, and for the reader to experience the truths within.
I found speaking with Harris to be an educational and enlightening experience. Harris’s thoughts and words are crucial to the overall movement against oppressive tyranny and hatred running rampant through our society today.
ELEVEN: Can you tell us about the musical aspect of your performance? How do you create the sounds that accompany your works and how do they relate to your poetry?
Jamondria Harris: My soundscapes are a part of the same flow that produces the words in my poetry, the sounds and the words arise separately yet in resonance with one another. The sounds when played while segments of the poetry are incanted serve as sonic-wave meditative breathwork to bring myself and those witnessing/co-embedded with the process of the performance closer to the multiple cores of meaning that will mark our experiences of being in collaborative presence for the duration of the performance.
11: I understand that you’re in New York promoting the new book. How has that gone so far and what do you have planned for Portland?
JH: In New York City I am going to have another pre-official release reading at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on August 4th. New York and Harlem in particular, where i’m staying while I am here, has a feeling of expansion and beauty. People see and are seen but keep their energy to themselves unless there is something resonant between them, in hatred or in love. They connect in lines of fire that can light up everyone who surrounds regardless. Non-attachment is necessary and impossible and that struggle is very visible and present here. The official Portland quaerere release event is set to occur at Polaris/North Star Ballroom on September 20th, which is also when my accompanying album of the same name will be released. It is going to be a really exciting event and will be blessed by the presence and performance of Dolphin Midwives, ritual noise harpist Sage Fisher’s powerful solo music project.
11: You have named Édouard Glissant, Aimé Césaire and Dionne Brand as influential writers. Why are they so important to you?
JH: Édouard Glissant is a black professor, poet and essayist whose work traced parallels between the history and culture of the Caribbean and those of Latin America and the plantation culture of the American south. His thinking seeks to interrogate notions of center, origin and linearity. His essays and poetry have been fundamental to my development as a poet and deeply resonate with me, in particular the essay “Earth” and his book The Poetics of Relation. Aime Cesaire was inspired by Glissant but had a more concrete engagement with blackness and the direct relationship between the African diaspora and the continent of Africa. His poems are vast, dreamlike and violent, with an unmatched beauty and resonance in both its original French and in English translation. He uses language to rip the tongue of the colonizer out from under its oppressive power and turns that power back onto it and destroy that oppression with that violent beauty. I aspire to this as a poet. Dionne Brand is also a black Caribbean poet, novelist and essayist whose work delves into love between black women and seeks to give voice to an eroticism that is annihilated by the white gaze. Her work has helped me understand how to create a space for that eroticism and beauty that exists in opposition to and outside of the white gaze in my poetry.
11: What does the term “know your dignity” mean to you?
JH: “Know your dignity” for me is a politicized stance against the violence of the white gaze, which has a particular devaluation it leverages against all that is black and femme. It is about the formation of a core that is as tender as it is beautiful and a lament that this cannot ever be safely engaged by all that surrounds in our anti-black and kyriarchal culture.