Welcome to New Women Scribbling, a space where we will celebrate creative writing and art by and about women.
Brionne Janae is a Southern California native who moved to Boston to get an MFA at Emerson College. While in California, Brionne received her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley where she was a Student Teacher Poet in the Poetry for the People class/movement. As an STP Brionne had the privilege of teaching, learning and writing poetry within a “beloved community” inspired and developed by the late June Jordan. Brionne is currently an instructor at Bunker Hill Community College. Her work as a poet has been published or is forthcoming in Plume, Apogee Journal, Toe Good Poetry, Redivider, Fjords Review, and others. Brionne is the winner of the 2014 Muriel Craft Bailey Contest from the Comstock Review judged by Kwame Dawes, and her first manuscript was selected by Michael Ryan for Emerson Colleges Best Thesis Award.
Brionne Janae was a finalist for BOAAT’s book prize for After Jubilee, selected by Dorianne Laux and will be published in the Winter of 2017. After Jubilee examines how the lineage of violence against people of color is passed down generationally within the black family and how this violence becomes even more complicated being a women of color within those worlds.
READ THE POEMS:
An Interview with Brionne Janae
by Tyree Daye
TD: So let me start by saying congratulations on the book prize, After Jubilee is a beautiful, necessary book, how are you handling the news?
BJ: Thank you! I feel like I’m still mildly shocked by the news. I’m extremely excited but it still feels surreal, like I won’t be able to really believe it until I see a physical copy of the book. That said I am very happy and grateful to spend the next year looking forward to the day I get to hold my first book for the first time. It sounds corny but it’s so real.
TD: The opening poem “Postcard” uses an epigraph from Natasha Trethewey;
always the dark body hewn asunder; always
The poem shows a snapshot of American history, a violent one, so much of After Jubilee examines how the speaker has learned of their American history through family’s interactions with whiteness. Thinking about how important lineage is within After Jubilee I was wondering what is your poetry lineage?
BJ: I don’t come from a family of poets or poetry readers. My first experiences of poetry were probably the bible and song lyrics. I do come from a family of musicians though and story tellers, dancers and debaters. I have a huge extended family on both sides, and have had the privilege of growing up with all four of my grandparents. Some of my best memories are of sitting on the floor of either of my grandparents homes and listening to my family sing or debate or just be our weird goofy black selves. There is, for sure, much of the cadence of my family’s black english in After Jubilee. And though the book is certainly driven by violence I believe it is driven by the love of families and lovers too. Often dysfunctional, yes, but love never-the-less.
The first poet I read of my own choice was Maya Angelou. I was 14 and to this day I still think of her and try to walk as if “I’ve got diamond mines/At the meeting of my thighs.” Then at 15 I took a Creative Writing class at my local community college and read Nikki Giovanni’s “Collected Poems 1968-1998.” I remember looking at all those poems, and seeing how her voice changed over time and realizing poetry was something you could do, that a black woman could do, for their whole life. I didn’t read Natasha Trethewey until I was in grad school. Probably around the time I was beginning this manuscript. I read Belloq’s Ophelia and Thrall, and nearly died. Trethewey was one of the first poets to really teach me all that poetry can do. And I wanted to do it so bad. To write poems that brought the past flush together with the present, that could reckon with what has been and what is, and make something beautiful in the process.