For this edition of Conversation With Poets, We Love, I had the pleasure and honor of asking Jessica Metha about what she is currently doing artistic-wise within her writing and creative process.
Jessica Metha is an Aniyunwiya, multi-award-winning, queer, multi-, and inter-disciplinary author and artist. Jessica is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Her writings, poetry, and art have been published and exhibited widely. Her most recent exhibit, “Beguiled,” is displayed at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Jessica is finishing her tenure as the poet-in-residence at Hugo House. In one week (April 1), she will be performing alongside a local Indigenous guitarist who will be putting one of her long poems (“Her Name Was Rita”) to music. She will also be reading a newer poem here in honor of the Ukrainians. Natives have a long history of friendship and trade with Ukrainians. Jessica worked with a Ukrainian speaker on this poem.
In early 2023 Jessica’s artwork will be on display at Columbia City Gallery (Seattle). She is currently working with the curator to decide on pieces (as one has legal ramifications to consider) — it is a small 3-D piece that draws attention to the opioid epidemic in NDN country and honors her mother, who died of an opioid overdose. The exhibit will use her mother’s opioids and ashes as part of the work)
Her most recent publication of a collection of her writings, “When We Talk of Stolen Sisters,” is a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, the awards ceremony happening in late April. Her first children’s picture book, “One of Kokum’s Kids,” received a 2022 publication prize from Lee & Low Books and will be released in 2023. Jessica is now prepping for her MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship at Gonzaga University. She hopes to be the catalyst for founding a yogic-based non-profit for Indigenous People.
UZOMAH: What advice would you give young indigenous writers and artists if they find trouble finding their way?
JESSICA: Read great (Indigenous) literature. We tend to write similar to what we read, which should be argument enough against reading subpar material — this does not mean “good” writing is academic, dry, elitist, or vapid. There is quality writing in all genres and for all reading levels. In addition to naturally becoming better writers by being better readers, excellent writing also inspires. Don’t feel like you “have” to finish a book or read a certain book if it doesn’t resonate with you. Life is too short to read bad literature or books that you don’t like — you can always pick it up and try again, if you like, in a different part of your life.
U: Have you faced any difficulties being queer within your community and tribe, and how did you deal with it?
J: Not in the traditional sense, but that is because I often pass and present as a cis, white, straight woman. I do fall into the camp of pan-sexual (though I typically just use “queer”) and face all of the long-standing obstacles that the bi- and pan-community have long faced. We are not queer enough for some people, nor straight enough for others. This is another form of erasure, though I am also aware of the privilege I enjoy being in this position.
U: How has literature helped you address your own sexuality and identity issues?
J: The first book I truly fell in love with was The Ball Jar, which inspired my doctoral work because it was the first time I ever realized that there had been someone out there with the same thoughts and feelings that I had. It makes no difference that Plath was a white woman who, at the time I first read it, was afforded opportunities I could only imagine. All I knew was that I wasn’t alone, which I had so long thought. That was the beginning of my finding my community and myself in literature.
U: What were some of the authors that helped you find or led to discovering your passion for writing?
J: I have been an avid reader since I could first read. In elementary school and middle school, this was mostly the Sweet Valley series and horrors like Dean Koontz and Stephen King. These books are what made me fall in love with reading, while Plath is who introduced me to the love of a book. Over the years, the authors I go back to again and again are Toni Morrison and Li-Young Lee.
U: What are some movies that accurately portray indigenous characters who are a part of the LGBTQIA community?
J: I watch very, very few films, so I would have to say Reservation Dogs is the closest to answering this question (albeit a series, of course). The organic, natural inclusion of a 2S character is, in my experience, how queer folks are interwoven into Native communities. Their identity isn’t an outlier storyline, nor does it make them who they are. They just simply are.
U: Can you describe your writing process? What do you do if you have a block or a pause when writing?
J: I never have a writing block creatively because I write for myself when my body and mind tell me I must. The writing that I do to make a living isn’t wholly creative, so it is something I can naturally and relatively easily do (being an over-driven, Type-A helps with this). However, I am very much a morning person and am most ambitious and creative between 3–7 am typically.
U: What are you currently working on?
J: A lot. My first children’s picture book, One of Kokum’s Kids, receive a 2022 Lee & Low publication prize. I also have a slew of individual publications coming out in the next few months. In terms of just strictly writing projects, I am working on a poetry manuscript that de-colonizes the tarot deck ([sp]RED, under contract with Indigenous publisher Red Planet Books). I am also finishing my post-doc article on “Tradish-ish,” which examines the language used in open calls for Native artists. During my Fulbright Senior Scholar award in India, I will be curating an anthology of Indian poetry written in the colonizer’s tongue.