Jasmine Gibson is a Philly Jawn and psych worker. She is interested in the liberation from the psychic bondages of racial capitalism.
Her most recent published work has appeared in Academy Of American Poets “Poem Of The Day” series solicited by Jos Charles, The Segue Reading Series and A Perfect Vacuum.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My life didn't change materially but it did change conceptually and relationally. I began writing because I was a Case Manager working with clients with co-morbid diagnoses in the South Bronx, doing organizing and engaged in marxist literature. At the time, I was reading Anti-Oedipus (Delueze and Guattari) and Tales (Baraka) and it blew my mind. It was like a soundtrack for my mind. When I began writing, my own ideas about myself and others changed. I wanted to be a part of a large community of writers and thinkers that were engaged in the world and worked to transform it in creative ways. My thoughts on neurodiversity changed, my thoughts on how my clients used language to describe their symptoms and lived experience had changed. I had become a more intersubjective writer.
What feels differently now is that I was trying to illuminate the unconscious elements of writing. Trying to figure out where I began and where the world continued. I revel in the sea of it all now. Also I have met some really interesting writers and artists because of my writing.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry because radicals like Kuwasi Balagoon, Assata Shakur and Claudia Jones all wrote poetry. Because members of the Combahee River Collective did it. Because I saw formations like Metropolarity come together and was like "wow, that is super cool!". When I finally decided to give a crack at poetry, I was already writing political propaganda for an organization I was a part of and began writing long form essays for materialist feminist journals. I always loved Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan and Sonia Sanchez. I thought "if they can do it, I can too". I wanted to join the tradition in any way possible.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It depends! For a long form essay and poetry, I like to hunker down and read a lot before I begin to write. I like to stew in the juices of the work I am creating. It is a co-creative process. I am being undone, the work is being done, the work is being undone and I am done. Like an ouroboros.
For A Beauty Has Come, I had some parts of the book together prior to the pandemic, but once March 2020 had come around, I was sitting with the work with the greatest writing partner (John Rufo) and just had the best honeymoon in Berlin(Yes, I got into Berghain). I refer to that time as "our shared womb". Or as Tayannah Lee McQuillar would expand on that in her Siblys Oraculum "a sigh is both a womb and a grave". And that is exactly what that time period felt like. Very generative, and equally destructive. Cosmic composting. Upheaval. A space to explore the event horizon.
I wasn't worried about a complete book or my own project. I was a part of history now, which meant my little life was a part of a larger Aquarian question. The locomotive of history waits for no one. There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen, after all.
I now had all this time to figure out things that tangentially were in my view: How do I do zoom therapy for myself and others? How do I celebrate a solar return in a limited and virtual capacity? How do I connect back to my body and move? What do I really think of this album now? If this world event had occurred at any other point in my life would I be able to ride with it?
I went to virtual salons hosted by my friend Stephanie George and Willie Lee Kinard III, watched live streams of Hortense Spillers, I started a mutual aid box in my apartment building, I had two bomb gay Black therapists, I led my first Capital Vol 1 reading group that was informed by Black Materialist Feminism, I was reading Black Jacobins with Black and Brown children in the LES, I was providing therapy to kids in NYC, I began martial arts, I got fresh vegetables from my friend's garden, I biked the Central Park loop multiple times, my spouse was doing their orals exam (they've since passed! Congrats, Dr.John), I decided to apply to become a psychoanalytic student, I was rediscovering my love of music and collecting vinyl again(this album really saved me, particularly the song 'Qadir'), and I curated my home in a way that incorporated the softness I was sorely missing.
I allowed myself to grow, in a time of deep contraction. Which is ironic because it was during my Saturn Return. Allowing myself to grow, meant that I could allow my work to grow and allow A Beauty Has Come to transform and transcend me.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
The image of an ouroboros is my answer here too. I never know if something I am writing is going to be longer or shorter. It depends on the vibe, subject matter and context. It depends if the emotions stirred from a particular thought, feeling, theory or conversation rattles me into action where I must speak in the written form.
For example, when writing A Beauty Has Come, I had discovered that I was a fan of the Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead. Two bands I avoided with much effort. But ended up becoming really influential on the work. Why is that??? I think I avoided them because of the stereotypical white supremacist fans that the two bands have. Why did my orientation change? For the Beach Boys I heard "Til I Die" and read Tom Smucker's Why The Beach Boys Matters. It totally turned me out. The way he spoke about their alienation and the loneliness of whiteness and how the Beach Boys could be better understood as a R&B girl band, I was like "Damn shawty, ok!". For the Dead it was "Unbroken Chain" and "Box of Rain". I was listening to the Staple Singers "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" and I listened to them in conversation with each other. It became to me a continuum of the mid-century upheaval and necessary change that different sets of musicians were reckoning with.
All this to say, I let the process inform the shape of things to come.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Tongo Eisen-Martin gave me really good advice about this. He said, "Read like you are practicing your instrument". I used to be very anxious and dreaded the reading process. After he said that to me, and definitely having more years under my belt with practicing therapy, I am aware of my instrument and the power it has to sway. I view readings as a practice space. The audience is there with me, and it is time to get co-creative. I am sending energy into the room. My voice is cutting through the thoughts and cellular process of the collective. It's liminal, so might as well be expansive when given the chance.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Yes, I have been stating that my poetic and therapeutic process is "Black Materialist Feminism", meaning I am concerned with Blackness on an international, and historical level. I am concerned with materialism because of the material power relations that dictate movement and embodiment of the world we live in. I am concerned with feminism because I operate from the perspective of decentering cisheteropatriarchy.
How this all comes together in my poetics is illuminating, critiquing, exploiting and working to resist subjugation in effort to transform the world and ourselves. I hope to be a part of that tradition.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
That depends on the writer. All writers are in service to something or an ideology. I am Foucaldian through and through. We all are in service to social, political, emotional and psychical reality.
A Beauty Has Come is in service to larger culture concerned with the malleability and expansiveness of Blackness, with material conditions that impact the realities of the dispossessed and on the side of life, resistors and upsetters.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I haven't worked with an outside editor per se, but I have worked closely with my spouse (John) while writing A Beauty Has Come. They were writing their dissertation as I was writing my manuscript. We noticed that we had a lot of overlap in the concepts we were using within our respective works. For example the overlapping of revolutionary Black Aesthetic and Black Radical Political traditions and metonymy. We were both listening to Cecil Taylor and Mary Lou Williams' Embrace and reading similar works. In many ways, I considered John an outsider editor. I also like to share my writing with friends and get their perspective. I also consult my cards and see what they say about the direction of my writing.
I am very grateful to Lindsey Boldt and Jaye Elizabeth Elijah for their insightful and concise editing. They really followed me through my process, were very patient and generous. I consider them to be my co-writers and midwives for A Beauty Has Come. This was my second time having Lindsey as an editor and she is a great writer and thinker. She's always thinking about who writing can be in communication with, who needs to see the work and great recommender for books and her amazing projects that she has in the words for herself. While I was writing A Beauty Has Come, she sent me her recent writing There Are No Cops in America & The Streets Are Paved w/ Cheese (2020) and it made me grateful to have a fellow traveler for an editor. Working with Jaye is a blessing. They are intuitive, imaginative and promising writer and editor in their own writing. They presented a visual representation of how my book looked and I had never heard or seen that before. It was really cool to see a visual representation of my work and I'm grateful that they did that. They really provided feedback for me to step totally out of myself, which was a relief.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Know where you end and where the world begins" and "Know what is yours". These are things that I've heard in therapeutic work and training. It is very useful to know what is something that you consider to be yours and what is not yours and can be composted, if it does not serve you.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
Vibes are everything! My ideal writing situation is a warm sunny day at my desk. Music playing, vinyl or bluetooth speaker. Incense burning (preferably the incense Nag Champa) and a few books that I can pull off the shelf that I can dip in and out of. Perhaps some movement to go along with the writing, and groove until words shake out of my bones.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I return back to “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe”, “All the Things You Could Be” (both by Spillers), Poet In New York by Federico Garcia Lorca, Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, Palmares by Gayl Jones, Jazz Fan Looks Back by Jayne Cortez, Capital Vol 1, Heart of The Congos by The Congos, Return of The Super Ape by Lee Scratch Perry, Movement In Black by Pat Parker, Loveless By My Bloody Valentine, Journey In Satchidananda by Alice Coltrane, Weapon of Theory by Amilcar Cabral, Nothing But The Music by Thulani Davis, Taste of Brown Sugar by Mireille Miller-Young, I Against I by Bad Brains, Black On Both Sides by C.Riley Snorton, Sula by Morrison and so many other.
Especially over the course of writing A Beauty Has Come I was revisiting items new to me, but old to the world. Moby Dick by Melville blew my mind in the first chapter. My public school education didn't introduce Melville to me but as I got older all these marxists were into Melville. When I read the Black congregation scene where the pastor is leading a sermon on the "Blackness of Darkness", it blew my mind. I've been revisiting Black Athena by Martin Bernal and that has blown my mind and been affirming because as a young person I was very interested in Greek and Egyptian mythology. Especially the story of Io, who escapes more molestation from Zeus and the gods, and finds solace in Africa to finally give birth. A beauty has come, indeed.
Tera Hunter's 'To Joy My Freedom is a text I frequently return to as a reminder of the history of self-adornment, labor revolt and resistance towards racist, sexist and ableist projections placed upon newly emancipated Black women in Atlanta. The book begins with a prologue of a newly emancipated Black woman stating that she is leaving her past behind to "'joy her freedom" which is so powerful to be reminded that project of freedom(s) is an active one that is always being advocated for in the minds, the hearts and tongues of ancestor of the past and present. The first chapter begins with an enslaved Black woman risking physical violence on behalf of her gazing upon her likeness in a mirror and adorning her body with perfume. It is a beautiful vignette to be reminded of the ways Black women even whilst enslaved are finding ways to self-adorn and are actively finding covert and overt ways to display beauty and resist white supremacist notions of beauty, at the risk of violence. The Beautiful One Has Come in the flesh gaze at herself without fear, indeed. And yet, the risk violence is not enough for the beautiful one to reconsider the option of bucking against the demands of servitude and fighting for bodily autonomy. The beautiful one has sought to claim herself. This is the historical context of Black Is Beautiful in the America(s). How to make one's self in an image of their own liking that transcends the categories of race, class or ability position. It is an active cosmic position. A life giving position.
I've also been reading La Movida By Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta, revisiting Crosslight for Young Bird by Asiya Wadud (which I recently gave away to a student), A Theory of Birds by Zaina Alsous, u know how much i hate being alone in social situations// by Stephon Lawrence, Nasty Notes by Benedict Nguyen Gossypiin by Ra Malika Imhotep (I have been repeating their line from the book: "Never baby/Just Doll" because it is so cunty and a praise reclamation of one's self) and This is your receipt and is not a ticket for travel by danilo machado.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Nag Champa! However, currently at home we have this burning. Amber and Vanilla will never not be a potent combo. I love heady, deep and warm fragrances like vetiver, sandalwood, leather, magnolia, and jasmine. I also like to wear Bohemian Reves' 'Desert Fleur' or Tom Ford's 'Tobacco Vanille'. My mom used to wear Gucci 'Rush' and that always reminds me of her.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Of course! I was obviously quite excited by the science news of the new photos of a black hole. As I wrote in A Beauty Has Come
"the blackness that holds space and time together
Blackness as congealed time."
Also became very excited that our own galaxy has a black hole at the center of it, and how it literally holds our reality together. The news about our galaxy not being "locally real" also really encouraged me to think cosmically. The concept of infinity and spooky actions at a distance all feel comforting to me. That the time and space we exist in is infinite but we are not, is very grounding for me personally. That the time we have in this moment isn't even encapsulated in an exhale of our galaxy. We are part of a cosmic churn. We become cosmic compost, constantly being remade and unmade. Folding and unfolding. The only reason why any of us are alive is because a person decided that they wanted to participate in the cosmic exhalation and usher us into this plane of existence. We don't consent to it. We just arrived. A sigh is both a womb and a grave, after all. And I'm of the Klienian belief that the only thing biologically essential about giving birth and being birthed is that we do come ready to relate. Whatever that relation is, we are soaking it in our tiny, expansive bodies through intimacy. I'm using intimacy in the Spillers way, which is very dictated by the sensual reality of flesh.
That is why I am communist, because I think it incredibly boring,violent and unimaginative that the so-called normative belief that we come ready to think in binaries or commodities. To spend our lives crouched and cramped determined by our labor value. Ugh yawn. Imagine all the things we could become while matching the cosmic samba.
I was raised by horticulturists and went to high school to study landscape design and horticulture (fun fact:I ranked 4th in Pennsylvania FFA for my horticulture knowledge). I'm named after a plant and I'm a Leo, so my love of nature was charted for me. On certain days I prefer being non-verbal and hanging out with my plants or the cherry tree in my backyard.
Music is also a given. Visual art is also impactful. The first drafts of A Beauty Has Come had Circe by Romare Bearden and Chitra Ganesh's She the question, as potential cover art ideas.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I answered this above a little but by trade I am a therapist, so I try to stay as abreast on the field. I've been really into what Psychoanalysis & History has been putting out. I really liked the article "The Clinical Space as Quilombo" by Kwame Yonatan Poli dos Santos. We could all find a way out of recreating colonial white supremacist psychic notions by decentering the global north and looking toward the Quilombo form. Daniel Jose Gaztambide's People's History of Psychoanalysis is a great recentering of decolonial psychoanalysis. I like to go back and re-read Anti-Oedipus, Wilhelm Reich and a few vintage copies of anti-psychiatry journals.
This blog on libcom really was ahead of its time and was very encouraging for me to become a social worker.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would love to create a film or create a soundtrack for a film. I love the soundtracks to films. They can really propel the film. Examples of this are Yojimbo by Kurosawa, any Gregg Araki film, Pariah by Dee Rees (Echelon by Honeychild Coleman is phenomenal and should be discussed more) and Mandy by Panos Cosmatos.
I'd love to get into oil paints or be a layman astronomer.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I'd prefer a reality where labor wasn't structured by capitalist demands. That would be my dream :)
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Probably spiritual possession. I just feel moved to write and I don't try to question it. I often fantasize that if I could've been born at any other time, I'd prefer to be a part of the Griot tradition, orating story and knowledge with my tongue and learning tongues of other teachers. "A sacred child deserving of her cronehood" in the words of Junada Petrus. Or a member of the Dogon tribe staring up at Sirius and seeing myself, and self-fashioning my drum and hair in time with the cosmos.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Palmares by Gayl Jones and Andrei Rublev by Tarkovsky (but probably Lucia by Humberto Solas) . However, my friend Van did introduce to me the joy of Junada Petrus' Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers?
19 - What are you currently working on?
I'm starting a band (ojalá), perhaps a choreopoem (ojalá) and reading and writing with friends. And being in love with my beloved and my own self possession.