This year in the annual observance of National Poetry Month, I want to celebrate a voice or two who is fresh and new to you, even if you are that rarest of mortal creatures in the dawning days of the 21st Century, an actual reader of poetry. There a lots of folks out there plying this craft with lesser or greater skill, but with a fierce determination to be heard.
Nobody is fiercer in that than determination than Jacqueline Nicole Harris.
I met her last year by happenstance when I was invited to emcee the Tenth District Democrats Poetry Slam, an event that honors and Lake County, Illinois high school age poets and writers. Jacqueline was one of the judges of the blind competition. After the program Laura Tomsky, prime organizer of the event, introduced us. Jacqueline, it turned out was a fellow Shimer College alum, attending the small college when it was in Waukegan forty years after I went to the old Mount Carroll campus.
Despite are differences in age, sex, race, and background, there was a bond between those who were exposed to the Great Books in the intimate setting of Shimer around-the-table symposium classes. We exchanged autographed copies of our respective books. I got the better of that trade.
My first impressions of her were simple—large, intense, deadly serious about her art. Her book, Random Acts of Verse was intimate, confessional, confrontational, and unapologetic. Her voice was strong and unique.
Jacqueline grew up in the 1980s, a child in the Black community of North Chicago influenced by the impossible dreams of the Disney perfect princesses and the betrayal of abandonment by a father she adored. Self-described as large and ugly, she grew up an emotional outsider in her own world, sustained by a fierce intelligence and love of books.
She grew into an instinctive rebel against anything. I was reminded of the classic line by Marlon Brando in the Wild Ones when asked what are you rebelling against?—“What do you got.” Early on she learned to express herself in words, eventually entering the world of Hip-hop, spoken word performance, and poetry slams. Comfortable in the new possibilities of the internet she sometimes identified herself on-line as R.A.C.—Rage Against Convention.
Active in a lively club and spoken word scene in Lake County and the Milwaukee area, Jacqueline was in some deep way betrayed by a close associate leading to her self-described nervous breakdown and two periods of hospitalization. She was likewise betrayed in love. All of these experiences, how she learned to process and ultimately triumph over them, became the grist for Random Acts of Verse.
One of the most impressive things about Jacqueline is her determination to put her work out into the world despite all of the obstacles that are in place for poets outside the academic and little-literary-journals-that-no-one-reads that offers the dim prospect of eventual public recognition. Dedicated to continuing to work in her home community, she was even cut off from the wider spoken word circles in Chicago and other major areas that offer their own paths to recognition.
With the spirit of an entrepreneur Jacqueline plunged ahead to self-publish and promote Random Acts of Verse. But don’t mistake that to mean that this is a mere vanity project. The book is beautifully conceived and produced as a high quality trade paperback, marketed on amazon and Goodreads, and promoted on line via facebook and other social media. Of course it is available for digital down load as well.
This year she followed up with a spoken word and music CD release, My Time: The Words of Jacqueline Nichole Harris and continues to do readings and performances.
My pick from her book, and there was a lot to choose from is Ghosts.
I am not afraid of them—
living inside my head
of my brain
them into nothing.
They are precious:
The sound of a voice
The touch of a hand
These are already gone.
All I want is
The faces not to fade
From sight when I close
My eyes to sleep.
I fear losing them.
I love them.
They are memories
Pale like the white glow of
Moonlight in shallow pools
Drying up ever so slightly
One dream at a time
—Jacqueline Nicole Harris
Random Acts of Verse can be ordered in print or Kindle versions at http://www.amazon.com/Random-Verse-Jacqueline-Nicole-Harris/dp/1461037042