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POETRY e nina jay aims to help women shed shame
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2019-06-26

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e nina jay wants women to stop feeling shame.

"I think about how much we, as girls and women, waste being ashamed," the Black lesbian poet said via phone. "How many conversations don't happen and how many wounds don't get healed. Our society was created in a way that we feel ashamed for how we look, how we smell, how we taste. We could have so much more power if nobody felt shame, and that's what I want [readers] to walk away with."

jay celebrted the release of her second book, the poetry collection Bricks Blood & Water, June 20 at Mary's Attic. The poet described Bricks Blood & Water to Windy City Times as "a walk through my valley."

"I tried to plan the walk in a way that you don't get stuck in any one place [and] you can always take a route out if you need it," she said. "I think it's a really good picture of how I look on the inside right now, and I like the way I look. I think it's funny and painful and angry."

It's anger that got her writing in the first place.

"Pain was my inspiration initially, pain and rage," jay said. At first, she kept her work to herself. "I would write and write and write and I never shared anything. I didn't think it was very good."

As jay was planning her own suicide, a friend encouraged her to share her writing. "[My friend] suggested I not die with all those notebooks in my apartment," she said. "Writing was a way I could pull myself up and feel like I wasn't gonna fall."

Although she is no longer suicidal, jay continues to write "because it's almost become like breathing to me," she said. It's also therapeutic.

"Sometimes I write something and I won't read it for days because I'm scared," she said. "Then I read it and I was like, I didn't know I needed that. There's a freedom in that particular space because you don't give a s—-. I love when I can get myself there, where it doesn't matter and I remember I can say anything I want."

jay published her first book, Body of Rooms, in 2016. The following year, former Windy City Times editor Tracy Baim persuaded her to adapt the book to film, which Baim then directed.

"She spent a couple [of] months convincing me to do it," jay said. "I was terrified because I don't like to be looked at, but it was exhilarating because I could just talk [using] poetry." Body of Rooms, which consists of jay performing her book to the camera, was filmed in one day. "It was liberating, and I will always love Tracy for pushing me," she said.

"My favorite moment is when I finish reading and a woman of 75 will come up to me and tell me she was raped when she was 15, and she never told anyone about it," she added. "I love that kind of moment. We whisper all these things and we all whisper the same shit. I want to do away with the whispering."

At these times, jay calls upon her experience as a rape survivor and her past work as a rape crisis counselor. "I haven't been in emergency rooms in 20 years, but women are still in crisis, and I find myself counseling. Invariably I open some wounds and it's my responsibility to tend to them as well."

When it comes to representation, jay is encouraged by the recent election of Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. "I think a Black lesbian mayor is going to do a lot visually," she said. However, she remains cautious. "I've kind of blocked out politics and politicians right now," she said. "I'm overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all. I like hearing that Chicago has a Black lesbian mayor, but…[what that means] remains to be seen for me. I'm a cynic in that way."

She was far more optimistic about her then-upcoming book-release party. "I feel like I'm giving birth to a new baby, letting everyone know what we've been thinking about—the girls and women in me," jay said. "I want to create intimacy in a crowd of women. I'm craving it."

For more about the author, including books, DVD and speaking engagements, visit facebook.com/eninajay or contact eninajay@gmail.com .


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