Paris Jessie’s debut poetry collection touches on joys and aches of the mind, body and heart. Her work captures both the fleeting and eternal as she explores family, memory, trauma and loss. A writer and on-call set medic, she is moved to write for the hearts of others and is drawn to all things creative.
Enjoy a Excerpt from the book:
fall into the soul
what is that
why is it so good
called you today
like when my feet
would tap dance
in your belly
but you do not always pick up
with the same voice
you are not fooling me
i did not know
you would take it literally
when they cut the umbilical cord
show me all your phases
could snug up
in all your craters
see you blushing
from crescent to gibbous
i am not your only lover
little blue heron
of stepping on my own toes
and those of others
of falling with my hands
behind my back
Paris Jessie’s debut poetry collection touches on joys and aches of the mind, body and heart. Her work captures both the fleeting and eternal as she explores family, memory, trauma and loss. She is a writer of poetry & prose, and works as a set medic in production. Most of all, she is moved to write for the hearts of others and is drawn to all things creative.
Get to know the author:
How did this book come about? Have you always been a poet? What is it about poetry that appeals to you?
Honestly, sometimes I sit in a bit of awe on how it poured out. When it did, it was a time when I was quite worn out. I had life experiences that led to highs and lows. It was self-discovery and finding worth, to say the least, that worked in unison. I actually had no plans of self-publishing at that time. I knew nothing about the process. A relative actually said one day at the end of our conversation–simply–“write a book.” I think she knew it would comfort me to in staying true to who I am. Did I think creativity was possible? No, it took maybe two or three days until I finally sat at my desk. I also had the guidance and support of my editor. She gave encouragement and helped me keep my momentum. I just kept writing, kept flowing through what I was dealing with, and reconnected with this love for words that had always been.
I began just journaling when I was in maybe the 5th or 6th grade. I read a lot of books as a kid. I remember in elementary school, there was an opportunity for students to write and illustrate books that we ended up reading at a Barnes and Noble for other students. It’s kind of vague now, but I do recall that sensation of loving every bit of the process, being nervous, but at home. Creating those stories really gave back to me. As I got older, I began reading and writing more short stories, prose and poetry. All of which, I didn’t share or put out into the world. Whether that was feeling people wouldn’t understand my voice or just lacking self-confidence, it took until I was in college. I did begin to share and participate in spoken word events thanks to creative writing and film classes, as well as poetry clubs.
For me, and maybe it’s cliché, I don’t know, but poetry is really unapologetic. It’s something that, in itself, digs deep at the core, but in the kindest and sincerest ways. It is vulnerability. That is power. It works to reveal that we are more connected than we allow ourselves to cherish, especially in a world where chaos and dark can spread like wildfire. And don’t get me wrong, vulnerability is not at the forefront for everyone, and it’s like, there is a time and place for it. But art, creativity, something like poetry, is a means to bridge that gap. Poetry is healing for me and has helped me to unravel and continue tugging at life.
What or who are some your influences? What helped form your voice and style as a writer and artist?
I really enjoy finding writers who aren’t afraid to shake things up. So, it’s always changing, and I appreciate all voices and discovering new poets. But, I will say from the beginning, Maya Angelou was the first to captivate me. I also love to dance, so music is a big one. Lauryn Hill is another that influenced my creativity. It goes way back with her. I mean I would play her over and over trying to really dissect and hear every sound. Like there were words in her words. And you know, there are. That’s the thing with spoken word. Something that might take a page to deliver, she could rip in a stanza, if not a line.
I think those two helped in the shaping or the outpouring of what I believe in. But I feel where I come from and where I am has played the biggest part in forming my voice. I think it is the combination of lows and highs, dark and light, at least what I pull at. You shouldn’t be afraid to do this. Not sure who said it first, but “dark is the absence of light.” Perhaps, light is dark swallowed whole. Or something like that. I’m an advocate for mental health awareness and am intrigued by things like the working of emotional intelligence, breaking generational trauma, and uprooting stories. Especially those of historically, marginalized voices.
Nature and spirituality are also some themes you’ll find across my work, and my relationship with both is constantly reinvented. It’s always there, always giving, always fulfilling. I guess I am still evolving too, so I am excited to see where I further go as a writer.
It looks like you have a range of experience and interests–poetry, film, your work as an EMT, advocacy and openness about community and mental health. What drives you to pursue such diverse interests?
These are all just bits of me. I actually earned a B.A. in film…I love film…from all periods and cultures. That and poetry always just remained by my side. I wrote many analysis papers on films back in college and in that way also got to explore critical writing. This really helped me expand my mind as a reader. To see things and further paint that picture a poem was speaking–the best way I could.
I actually became an EMT after unexpected losses in my family–my great-aunt and grandmother. I wanted to know more and have the ability to do more, as humanely possible. And beyond that I just wanted to help others, while being challenged daily. I think it’s just an extension of what I want to do with my writing. Being an EMT is just more hands-on and pushes me in another way.
As for mental health awareness, I think my openness has grown, in that, I personally feel it is just as important as everything else going on in the world. Emotional intelligence is believed to be innate by some, while others argue it is learned and strengthened. I look at it as both and then some. It’s inborn, what you gather in your environment, and what you acquire out in the world. And since we don’t all walk the same lifepath, it’s important to remember that others may not move in the world the way you do or believe in the same morals and values. I came across something that said, “if we start healing ourselves, we start healing the world.” I mean I could go on about that, but if you just read it a few times, you get it. There is an umbrella of issues in the world, and not one person can fix that, but I’d rather be on the side that tries to. To at least drop something in the basket. I’m not perfect, I have to learn, relearn, and look at things I do and feel. I don’t know, I guess in short, that is what drives me.
What do you hope the reader walks away with after reading your book?
I like this question because it challenges my perspective. Mystery and wonder really fascinate me. The subjective versus objective. The thing about poetry, I feel, is whatever I write from does not have to be the same for the reader, if that makes sense. Yes, poems do and maybe should paint you an atmosphere, but it doesn’t have to be the same. A reader might be painting something another color. And I mean two colors just make another color. Though it is true sometimes you might have a hard time connecting with a poem, that is okay too, but why not try? There is the possibility of surprising yourself or shaking the idea of limit…and that is beautiful.
Your work feels very personal and invites the reader in. Was that a conscious choice in approach?
You know, I was having some inner battles with that. Like, do I want to say this, maybe I can change it, or do without it. But I wouldn’t be true to myself and what is supposed to be said might not even be making its way. I hope to help others, whether to raise a sense of connection, hope, or inspiration. So, if I hold back, how can I really do that? It can help to say to myself, I’m human like everyone else, everyone else is human like me. We all have human emotions. No matter if someone hides them away or is just scared to confront something, it’s there. So why not share something that heals me and may do the same for someone else? That’s what makes human connection profound.
I’m not sure if you can have any other approach, in my opinion. I think the way I invite readers in is still a work in progress. You aren’t going to be for everyone, and everyone isn’t going to be for you. And that’s okay! This I’m working on. But when that does work itself out, you just stay true, it will be as it’s meant.
Some people think about a book as writing it for themselves. Others feel it’s for a specific reader or listener. Who were you writing leaves and their tree for?
As my title might express, it was all the “leaves” that made up me. I am the tree. This was actually why I intentionally did not use “trees” in my title. Though these are my joys and aches they may and can still resonate with others. My thought process was that we are all a tree, and we all have our own leaves. They flow or rest about with different colors and patterns. If you stand, side-by-side with someone, and you both throw your leaves in the air, what do you think you might see? What might you not see? Maybe this thought process is still in the works, but I guess that just brings back the belief that we have more in common than we allow ourselves to understand. While at the same time, you never know what others are carrying, so let’s be more kind with how we walk around.
What has surprised you most about the responses to your work?
And what’s next for you as a writer and artist?
I have to say, I think the surprise comes from my own response. By that, I mean what my body feels from creating and sharing all the way to self-publishing my first poetry collection. Though I have had doubts and had to reflect back on the beauty of the whole process. My editor reminded me along the way to be delicate with every step. To take time and look at what is.
I do have family and friends who had no idea I was a writer, let alone, working on a poetry collection. It’s warming to share the book because it is part of who I am. And I’ve put myself in it. It’s important. There is also this feeling of a weight being lifted, so to say, like I am not keeping this all for me. I don’t know who stumbles across my work, but only hope that it gives them something good. I have heard from readers that they were inspired, or they read something that resonated, even some who open the book to a random page daily. Personally, that is really something to hold onto.
This first collection certainly taught me a lot about myself, as a writer, and the process of self-publishing. It definitely unlocked my house of creativity. Aside from getting my book to those places it’s meant to be, I do submit my work to journals. But for the moment I am just soaking in this book and embracing all that it is–though it is certainly not the last. It might even be nice to travel, when the world allows, and do readings or workshops with mental health organizations that help raise awareness. Events like that give people a chance to get to know me and for me to know them, and for us all to know more about ourselves. I’d also like to work with fiction and explore film and music.
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