Interview With Jessica Helen Lopez

Mostly we wrote “dis” raps about boys and girls we didn’t like.  This, of course, meant we absolutely had crushes on them.  It was the only way I knew how to get attention.  If I wrote something, say a rap or short story, than it existed and was tangible proof that I could create. I also used to produce my own newspaper complete with advertisements, comics and eyewitness news reporting.   Always an avid reader, I would emulate my favorite authors and their story-telling craft techniques.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I always replied that I wanted to be a writer.  I suppose I always knew that I had a torrid love affair with words.

What advice do you wish you had gotten as a teen?

       I wish my parents were more involved in advocating for me in general.  I missed out on motherly advice during my teen years.  She was so busy working all of the time in order to put food in our mouths and bellies.  Recreational and quality time was a luxury in our household.  I wanted my mother to tell me that everything would come out alright.  I wanted her to tell me to love my body the way it was designed because it is beautiful and glorious in all of its functionality and perceived flaws.  I wanted her to tell me that there was no such thing as flaw.  I had to self-soothe a lot growing up.  Reading and writing alleviated a lot of my fears during that time.  I still do wish my mother would have advised me to love myself more.  But I’m still learning.

Tell us about a time when you were brave, or bravery was required of you, or you saw someone else being brave.

       I said no.  I said very loudly, “That’s enough.”  I told my father that he was no longer allowed to hit or berate my mother in front of me.  I was seventeen-years old and I learned the language of NO. 

How do you start a poem? Give us a window into your process.

       A poem is like a private whispered event.  I ask myself what it is I want to say that given day.  I think about what it is I NEED to write on that occasion.  Usually my poems are small acts of survival.  They tend to work through my past trauma and advocate for others to do the same.  I begin with an internal whisper.  I ask myself in a strong but silent voice, “How will you heal today?” Then I begin. I know that I am onto something cathartic and true to me when my body reacts viscerally.  It seems that time is suspended and my breath becomes shallow and regular. I call this the Golden Triangle.  I don’t always access writing poems in the same way and there are times I must work against a deadline.  Even when my poetry writing seems to be utilitarian in purpose, I always attempt to put the real “me” into them.  Truth and poetry are a cataclysmic marriage.

What is your motto for getting through the tough times?

       Whenever I have days where I mentally beat myself up I am reminded of this mantra, “You are strong. You are beautiful. You are good at forgiving.”