Soul Clothes: A Conversation with Regina D. Jemison

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I read and wrote a review of Soul Clothes, a short poetry book by Regina Jemison, a couple of months ago. The pages of her poetry are so infused with the spirit of personal empowerment and cultural consciousness that I wanted to learn from the author about the context of these poems – to get to the resources of experience that nurtured her creativity. And as readers may witness below, Jemison’s life mirrors the images of her poetic expression.

Ernest: Hi Regina. After reading Soul Clothes, I really am interested in learning how a woman with professional experience in legal instruction and law practice keeps this soft, literary side of a poet to her?

RJ: I would say that strength has come naturally. So that I naturally gravitated toward people, tasks, professions, and other experiences that required my strength and tenacity. Yet, life has softened me through many personal losses, sudden tragedies, and being in professions that have exposed me to countless vulnerable and tragic moments of others. These intimacies with others have taught me compassion and great appreciation for the resiliency of the human spirit. I am amazed at what people can endure and still be in their right mind, know joy, and build a useful and happy life worth living.

Ernest: There is a profound feel of the divine or the spiritual in your poetry. Tell us a bit about your faith and how it influenced your poetry?

regina jemison
Regina Jemison

RJ: I was raised in a Christian home and have had my varied opinions about the effectiveness of churches and religious organizations through the years. However, I have always considered that human beings are spirit first, housed in a physical body and connected to the divine being. That divine being in my life experience, is called Jesus. I appreciate that you feel that divine presence in my writing. My life’s purpose as a lawyer, Christian minister, sister, daughter, spouse, and community member is to always empower people to encounter the divine and discover their own divinity as they navigate life and living.

Ernest: The poem “Women Waiting” has a story and commentary on cancer and treatment. And it gets really critical with the line “medical professionals turned insurance pimps”. Does it express your personal distrust in the medical practice today?

RJ: Yes. I would say that I greatly distrust traditionally western medicine. The way it is structured in this country has just led me to have an informed suspicion. It simply seems the patient is not necessarily the central concern for our current medical system. Although Obamacare seems to be an earnest effort, I do not see it changing in the near future. My view is not to take away the innumerable heroes and heroines that exist in our current system, who provide unmatched patient care. I have known personally both the horrors of the system and the amazing people that provide major victories for people’s lives, despite the system.

Ernest: I certainly think some of the poems have a strong feel of ethnic difference or the African-American experience. How important is your ethnic background to you in contemporary America when we don’t have much of the discrimination or segregation issues?

RJ: My cultural and racial heritage is very important to me. My cultural and racial heritage tells me of the greatness that is possible despite physical, economic, and emotional bondage. My heritage tells me of the importance of my ancestry and the essential lessons of resiliency, royalty, and forgiveness that my heritage teaches me. Although we do not have legal racial discrimination and segregation, we still very much have racial and social economic divide (and discrimination) that is impacting lives daily. The current African-American prison population nationwide is 4 to 7 times more (depending on whose statistics is used, or how the breakdown is computed) than the African-American actual population nationwide. What are the explanations, justifications, and/or impacts of this? We must continue to ask different questions and not become so numb to the human life condition that is lower for certain populations. Simply because laws have changed and there are not riots, fire hoses or “colored only” signs, there is still very much a racial divide in our current North American landscape.

Ernest: How do you relate poetry and peace?

RJ: Peace is a life station and space of being that allows people to be present to God and others. Peace is state of living that is not about calmness, quietness, stillness or even the absence of war (as is typically thought). Peace is a state of being in life that allows you to experience the beat of a heart, the presence of a flower, and the temper of a lyrical voice. Peace is an experience. Poetry can incite one to action and bring peace to a soul. Words are very powerful and give people articulation of the unsaid. Words are the ways that we gain access to the experienced world and put names to our multi-layered and multi-media experiences. Words expressed in poetry give articulation to the experiences of life that give life meanings.

Ernest: As a woman, what does freedom mean to you, as you express the desire for freedom in a poem?

RJ: As a human being who happens to be a woman, freedom is the ability to express and be the presence of love. Love allows people the space to be exactly as they are in any given moment and to be free to discover that the next moment is a new opportunity. Freedom is the ability to not be stuck with any life condition whether it be physical disability, war-torn countries, assaultive words or acts, and/or any other events and conditions of life. As a woman, freedom can also include the power to have a say about your own body, your own education, and the ability to be able to make a safe and decent life for yourself and your family without being degraded and abused sexually, emotionally, or physically.

Ernest: What in your opinion are some of the things needed most in contemporary American society?

RJ: Balance. The world needs the yin and yang of life. People in our North America and the world need male and female views, art and science education, rest and work hours, and discomfort and leisure activities. We need balance that takes away the extremities of the ridiculous wealth of the top five percent; and, takes away the pangs of hunger of the impoverished. The world needs to know and experience balance.

Ernest: Lastly, are you working on any other work of poetry or any other book or writing project?

RJ: I am at work on a second and third volume of Soul Clothes. The future series will have themes for certain audiences (e.g., entrepreneurs, single parents, spiritual guides, etc.). I am committed to inspiring and empowering people right where they find themselves. I am committed to inspire people to create their life in ways that are free from the past dramas of their life, and full of joy and freedom for their future. I am not certain of the release dates, but it will definitely not be before 2015.

Ernest: Many thanks Regina for taking time to share your thoughts!

RJ: Thank you for taking the time to ask! You have very thoughtful questions. Thank you for taking your time and expertise to share my work with others and to give heartfelt consideration.

Ernest Dempsey is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist based in Orlando, FL. He runs a popular blog Word Matters! at http://www.ernestdempsey.com/ and edits the journal and its blog Recovering the Self. Dempsey is a sceptic, vegetarian, and advocate for animal and human rights.