OBJECTS OF DERISION

AN INTERVIEW WITH NAOMIE JEAN-PIERRE

 
 
NGQ:
If you were a character in a piece you were writing, how would you introduce yourself?
NAOMIE JEAN-PIERRE:
I think I would probably be hiding in the grass watching others. In fact, in many of my pieces, the perspective of the hero or anti-hero is attached to my own gaze. You will see traces of this in this short story. I introduce the covert ‘looker,’ an unlikely discerner who is making of the meaning of what she sees, sometimes unbeknownst and inconceivable to others.

 
NGQ:
What do you find yourself returning to time and time again? What tropes or imagery do you find turning up in your work consciously or unconsciously?
JEAN-PIERRE:
I find myself continuously having conversations with other texts or ideas that cannot be separated from what I write here and now. Other texts often feed me material that I do not consider to be dead at all. For instance, The Passion According to the Panther is in conversation with at least three texts, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Mask, Kafka’s A Hunger Artist, and Patrice Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H. I also find myself returning to women and the relationship women have with agency, revelation, with trauma, and with the systems of rules that women navigate. I think I consciously choose to voice young black female voices because I find them intuitively maladjusted to the world’s view of their value. On a more subconscious level, I maneuver those voices alongside powerful tropes of nature and disaster. I like to entangle the female voice with cosmic images to render its powerful effect. I am always deconstructing the woman’s “place” in this way, so her seats of power tend to lean towards the magically real. Whether I try to or not, some elements of the uncanny always end up in my work mainly because the uncanny is a natural manifestation of the black experience as other.

 
NGQ:
Can you tell us a little bit about your studies in Paris? Do you find that experiencing the influence of different environments across the world has impacted the way you approach your writing or the kinds of pieces you gravitate towards?
JEAN-PIERRE:
My studies in Paris are pretty far ranging. I am studying some interdisciplinary fields in Anglophone or American studies. This is a pretty vast field, where I have been struggling to find my footing I find that I am gravitating to things I once took for granted: black bodies, women, the male gaze, the power of language, human interaction, nature. Recently, I have been revisiting canonical American poets such as Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, and Ezra Pound–finding their interrogative interaction with language to be profoundly in-sync with what my experiments with language have consisted of. I have always been concerned with revisions and how texts work within a network of conversations, historical and present. I am learning that in Paris in particular, everything I am learning or engaging is part of some larger conversation I have been having. This goes back to Stein’s ideas on the ‘nowness’ of language and performance and the impossibility of repetition. It has been interesting to study topics that I may have previously overlooked. The more I learn, for example, about film and psycholinguistics, or genre and form, or and context and texts–the more I move towards shaping my own poetics and ideas around writing. Thus, these are all topics that I am revisiting with a newfound sense of place and possible role. I find that the environment has also allowed me to critically engage with language in a way that I had only been passive before. Paris is beautiful and has a rich artistic and literary presence. The influences have been very introspective thus far, but I can feel myself approaching some major personal discoveries.

 
NGQ:
What does your writing process look like? Do you have a set schedule you like to keep to, or do you write when you can?
JEAN-PIERRE:
There are so many stories that do not get told and I feel like I live in that margin or gap. So when I write, it’s from that place and some of my lines or stories are expansions of feelings I never think will really get read. Sometimes, when I was living in New York, I would write on the subway, the thirty-minute commute between the 96th street 1 train and the express 2 to 135th and Lenox. This worked well for me for a while, and then it always helps to have a life full of material that bombards you, the material you wish you did not have. Some of my unplanned moments of writing happen when I am done pretending that I am okay when I can sink my feet into the wet sand and feel some of the graininess materialize, flow away, and then collect again. Recently, I have discovered the place of music and sound as point from which to write. I used go to the place where I dream and see what writes itself. Recently, I have realized that there is a rhythm to my work, like a current, that defines and composes the entire piece. I have gravitated to the sound or melody of my narratives, and not so much the content, though that is important to me as well.
 
NGQ:
What or who do you turn to when you’re in need of inspiration, in need of refilling your creative well?
JEAN-PIERRE:
This is a hard question. Every time I think I have the answer to this question, I feel like my answer gets challenged. I have a pretty close relationship with God, which strikes many people as being particularly insane. But when I am in need of inspiration, I go to a place of comfort where I do not actually need ideas or inspiration. I simply need to know that I am already known. I lay my head on the familiar chest of acceptance, where all my words are valid. All my abstractions are meaningful. In that place, I do not feel like a woman. I do not feel black or short or new to my craft. I feel like I am, like I simply am. Then, I think that feeling makes me feel powerful. From there, I can write. What comes out usually corresponds to my place in society or my silent frustrations, or simply what I feel is beautiful. As I said before, I have become more aware of the melody or rhythm of the writing that exists even before I write it. So, in some ways, what many would call meditating, focusing on the sounds and inner vibrations that surface when I am still enough to listen–this has been something that has helped me.

 
NGQ:
And finally, can you tell me who & what you’re reading of late?
JEAN-PIERRE:
I have been revisiting Stein’s spoken poetry, particularly her “Stanzas in Meditation”. Also, I have been reading a bit of John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing”. These two works are doing some profound things with language that I want to revisit and experiment with. One more read that I have found most beautiful of late is Alice Walker’s “Taking the Arrow out of the Heart,” which had some deeply meaningful sections for me.
 

 
 
 
 

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