Thursday, October 30, 2008

Jemeni Interviewed

Born in Grenada, raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, but now lives in Toronto, Joanne Gairy, better known as Jemeni, is a woman of many talents. She is an actress, poet, radio host, and writer. She is also married to "words" and "words" must be infatuated because Jemeni has a way with words:

"I already know you're having an affair with words, but, boo, i'm married to it. My vocabulary leaves most men wary. I need to know: can you get into it?

Would you let me lick you with alliteration and tie you up with
similes? Give you pain and pleasure with soliloquies until you beg me for release. I think we can have the ebonic plague solution. Lace me with your lexiconic seed and in nine months we can start to raise the revolution." -- Jemeni's verse from Esthero's "Fast Lane"


IAI: Is Langston Hughes still your favorite writer in the entire world?

Jemeni: Yes Langston Hughes is still my favourite writer always and forever. His work to me was so poignant and beautifully, unapologetically, heroically black. I love his exploration and celebration of his people, sores and all. Or as he put it:

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express
our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.
If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too.
The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people
are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure
doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,
strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain
free within ourselves.
I LOVE THIS MAN!!! I mean what's f*#%ing with thaaaat???

I also love his story, who he was, what he came through and what he stood for. His swagger was impenetrable, which is not to say that there aren't a great many writers that I also love and admire (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston are some of my favourites). It is just that there is always that one person who stops you in your tracks and makes you silent. For me, that's always been Langston Hughes.

IAI: What poet, dead or alive, is overrated? Underrated?

Jemeni: Honestly, there are poets I don't dig, or don't get but I respect that it's about perception and time and perspective so I can't say they are overrated just because it doesn't speak to me. I guess that to the masses that rate them it means something. Besides who does it hurt to overrate a poet? I'm not mad at that.

Underrated? Tough too...I guess I can speak on poets who I think are dope, but maybe the world isn't on yet. Right now my low pro poet fantastic is my home girl Mansa Trotman; her stuff is fluid and soft... right before it kills you.

IAI: I'm sure everyone has heard, by now, your piece "No More Dating DJs." Would you date a poet?

Jemeni: lol! In my mind, sure, I date poets every day. Dope poems make for great pretend boyfriends. All lyrical and witty and no toilet seat left up. I'd never say no; talent is attractive and words turn me on, but it can be tough dating someone who does what you do. It makes it too easy to see through their bullshit cuz it's the same colour as yours.

IAI: Do you write poems for the stage or the page?

Jemeni: This is weird, but I write them for the page -- by performing them into existence like I would for stage. They write themselves with rhythm, but their true calling is for pages.

IAI: I read somewhere that you said: "I don't ... see myself as a poet as much as I do a storyteller." What's the difference?

Jemeni: That came from trying to figure out exactly what it is that I do -- radio host, actor, writer, poet, performer, and I sometimes pop up in songs. To me storyteller encompasses it all. Even in radio, I was telling the city's story every morning. I wasn't raised on poetry, but culturally storytelling was a big part of my upbringing. We didn't do bedtime stories, but Saturday mornings I remember running into my parents' room to hear ananci stories and tales about jumbies and soucouyants and the dreaded la Diablesse. Poetry is a fascinating form, but I'm not always interested in poems. Stories are different; I've always loved a good story. I love telling them in whatever form is available (acting, recording, poetry). And I love experiencing them in any form (movie, TV, great book, in person).

IAI: What emcee today could have been an accomplished poet in his/her past life?

Jemeni: Mmmmm...emcee…Papoose and Kanye and it'd have to be my girl Esthero -- that's a bad bitch right there; a redhead word gangster.

IAI: Anything else you want to add?

Jemeni: Just thanks for having such an interest in words and reaching out. And to whoever takes the time to read this or check out my work -- I want them to know it means a lot and I'm thankful.

You can read Jemeni's work in Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, edited by Tony Medina, which can be purchased at

You can hear her work on Esthero's latest CD Wikked Lil Grrrls.

No comments: