Welcome to Part 2 of the Interview with Jazz Cuffee! Please connect back to yesterday’s post to start from the beginning. This post begins with a poem and continues with the interview. Sit, relax, listen to some Jazz!
Prompt: “praise the leg hairs that sprout and are shaven, praise the ass that refuses to shrink or be hidden. . .” – Marty McConnell
Praise the pussy lips that unfurl
Undulate and quake when blossoming
Praise the heat
Of the thigh and sweat
Always awaiting the next offering
Bow to the alter of hipbones
Till the rising sun of pubic mound
stretches across the horizon
Praise the depth of the belly button
That deep well of universe,
the hum, the nothingness
Praise the lint of lover’s shirt
that forever gets stuck there
I’ve given permission to my body
To do as it pleases so
The shedding of skin
The celebration of scars
The ecstacy of an awakening limb
-Jasmine Sena Cuffee
The interview continued from yesterday’s Part One:
Liza: This is just from what you were saying, but I’m wondering: What kinds of things do you imagine when you’re walking onto the stage, before you even speak, what are people thinking and how do you maybe change that?
Jazz: Well, there’s a lot of perceptions, even throughout Slam. Like, Okay- young, black girl getting up on stage, what poem is she going to do? Is she going to be really loud and come from that kind of spiritual aspect? Of sort of like church- Is she going to preach to us now like the black girls do with the head twists. Is she going to talk about being a black woman? Is she going to come from that space? Is she going to rap for us? (Laughing)
Maybe that’s just me in my head, but having those experiences, like I tell certain people this is the kind of music I like. They’re like, “Oh my God are you serious, you like that kind of music, because I would have never thought that you would have liked rock-n-roll, because you probably just listen to reggae and rap all day. So it’s like breaking down stereotypes too when you get up on stage. I think that’s the role of women in writing and expressing themselves is constantly tearing down those stereotypes. Even for ourselves in what we make up in our heads for a what a woman is- this is what I’ve been told what a woman is, this is what I’ve been taught a woman is. Tearing that down for yourself- letting you know “Hey, I can do this, as a woman. I can do this or I can say this even though I’ve been told it’s not ladylike.” That’s why I think I cuss a lot (laughs).
It is to shock people out of that. I have however much time on stage. Here’s this book of poetry I put together from a woman. Everything that you’re thinking is going to be changed by me doing this. Whatever thoughts you had about young women, the thoughts you had about black women… I hope I can change your mind from that.
It’s our role to be confident and unafraid of those things so we can show people a different side, have them change their mind and then build that confidence for the next thing.
Liza: So another question I’m just thinking about from our conversation: How is it to be a black woman and be in poetry and be in slam?
Jazz: It’s funny cause I’m not just black, right? And so a lot of people wouldn’t know if I told them that my mom’s Hispanic. I call her Chicana because I tell her, “Mom, you’re not Hispanic.” That’s just the conversation that we have, but…
For me, I don’t approach it like I’m going to write this poem and I’m going to take into consideration my blackness or my womanness when I write a poem. It’s going to come out the way it comes out of me for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter. It’s so funny because Don McIvor, when he used to slam a lot still, when he used to really compete, he’d be like, “Oh, I don’t want Jazz to go on before me because I don’t want to have to follow her up” because it’s like this strong black girl going up and then it’s this white guy coming up after. And I was always like, “it shouldn’t matter, right?”
It’s like flower children saying, “Oh, it doesn’t matter.” Laughs. You don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to some people, being able to identify yourself. It’s all about that identity and being proud of that. I don’t really think of it, almost.
Liza: Do you think your poetry is perceived in a different way?
Jazz: Yes. I think it might be, but I can’t really say. Here in New Mexico, I can’t say. Maybe if I went somewhere else and saw. I’ve performed in other cities besides here. Here it’s like, I’m home. I have a thick south valley accent (laughs). I think I can confuse some people sometimes of being like “Where exactly is she coming from?”
I think there’s an expectation sometimes. I’ve felt this expectation. “Oh, you should be writing about those things, about being black or bi-racial.” Why aren’t you writing about those things? Or being a woman, why aren’t you writing about feminism or pointedly writing about those things. I feel those things are incorporated because that’s who I am. But sometimes I get- “Oh you should be writing about this because of your perspective on that.” I think it’s important to write about those things, but there’s an expectation that you should be writing about those things because that’s what you are. And that’s another kind of stereotype you have to work against. I think there is that expectation to do that because you are that, which creates a box.
Yeah, I could write about being black in New Mexico because it’s different than being black anywhere else and I have stories. I could write about all the little boys I beat up in elementary school for talking shit to my brother and that being my identifying piece. For me, poetry isn’t about that. Slam isn’t about that- well, that could be argued, right? (laughs)
Liza: It might be for some people. (laughs)
Jazz: It’s so much bigger than that. Why do we have to compartmentalize ourselves?
Liza: How do you see women being valued or not in the poetry slam scene overall?
Jazz: I think we are valued here. Even though Firestorm was a long drawn out thing and it was like pulling teeth to get those points. I remember there were people who weren’t even going to go because the women were getting points for it. It was like really? What’s the bigger issue that you don’t want to go? Do you feel like us getting those points devalues you as a male?
Eventually, it blew over. We were having good shows with good attendance. We were also raising money for this larger pot that we’re all going to be a part of. And now we have no more Firestorms, which is sad, but Tracey also took on a lot of that and it’s frustrating when you don’t have the support to pull that off.
Liza: And it could re-surface.
Jazz: Yeah. I always felt bad that I couldn’t do more and be more supportive of a really great slam and group of women- because of life, right. But we did get our points and we did get our Firestorm. That was a victory for us here.
I haven’t read the whole thing, but in the slam book, I know there’s only like four women poets in there, so that’s interesting too, but then there’s the big WOW event, the Women of the World Slam.
How are we defining value? In being women in slam. Are we being valued in that we are getting paid what we’re worth? When we go do workshops, putting out books, and different things like that? Is it that we’re being valued in that there’s more representation of women? On teams? On final stage? Outside of WOW? Are we in leadership positions, like executive council of PSI (Poetry Slam Inc.), which I’m sure there are, but it’s like when we have this conversation, what’s our definition of being valued as poets through poetry or in slam because I can say here, in Albuquerque, yes.
But our community is unique here in Albuquerque. Even though there’s ups and downs and we don’t agree sometimes, I feel like a very valued community member. I know that my opinion is respected. I know when I need something I can call on somebody and get the support. I know I’ll be sought out to do certain things, so I feel valued, definitely. And also because I’ve built relationships and trust with people as well. Plus, I host a show.
Liza: What would you say most influences your writing?
Jazz: Being around other women. Especially in this last month. I worked with Valerie Martinez, who is the former Santa Fe poet laureate, this artist named Lauren Camp, who is this phenomenal visual artist- poet, Shelle Sanchez, who is like my mentor from the cultural center (National Hispanic Cultural Center), we worked together and put together a 40 minute performance piece called Four Poets Respond. And the piece of work was “And I find her.”
So, I got to work with women that I admire in a different way than I had worked with them before. Valerie and I have worked together on different collaborative pieces in the past, but it was very collaborative and intimate, where we took objects and pieces of art from our home that had a story and presented it, looked at the stuff, wrote separately, came together, collaged our pieces together, and then created this show. That was very inspiring for me and some of the best writing I’ve done to date with them.
I had another opportunity to work with Jessica Lopez through her La Palabra project where she’s creating a whole body of art through a few poetry workshops and using the female body. I was one of her models- and that was fun and inspiring. I think working collaboratively helps my art.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be women, but somewhere you can bounce things off of people. Like Joe, one of my best friends, he’s like the best person to bounce things off of. It’s definitely when I can work with somebody eles. I can work alone and I write a lot of stuff by myself, but when I’m in a group setting, that definitely helps me out.
Liza: Thank you!