When I found Emily Joy’s first spoken word project, Dichotomized, I couldn’t wait to share it with someone. I thought if anyone would appreciate it as much as I did, the girls I drove to church with would. The next Sunday, as we made the twenty minute drive to the Episcopal church where we still felt like visitors, we got quiet as Emily Joy’s words—angry and vulnerable and broken—filled my little car. By the small sounds my two friends made and their slow nods, I knew the words resonated with them as they did with me.
Since that Sunday morning, I have kept Dichotomized on my iPod. It is my go-to when I need spoken word poetry in my life. Emily Joy is now raising money to produce her first full length spoken word album, All Prodigal Daughters and Sons. She has until the end of October to raise $10,000 on Kickstarter. I believe deeply in the work she is doing through her poetry—so much so that I worked up the courage to ask her for an interview. Her answers to my questions further confirmed my support of her. I hope you will consider backing her financially as well after glimpsing her passion as it shows through in this interview. Enjoy!
Me: What is it that draws you to spoken word poetry?
Emily Joy: Well, I’m not good at many other things. Haha. But for real. I can’t not speak my truth, and poetry is the only way I know how to do it. I think that’s a good way to make decisions about your life. What can you not not do? That’s the thing you should probably dedicate your life to.
You recently competed at the 2014 Individual World Poetry Slam in Phoenix, Arizona. Do you have plans to participate in more poetry slams in the future?
I absolutely do! I am planning on applying to compete in the 2015 Women of the World Poetry Slam which will be taking place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since there’s no official Poetry Slam, Inc. slam in my area, it’s not a guarantee, but there are spots reserved for unaffiliated (storm) poets like myself, so there’s definitely a good chance of getting in!
In your fourth Kickstarter update, you say that “Beloved” is your favorite track on Dichotomized. Why is it your favorite?
I think sometimes, in time, we grow out of various phases and struggles and fights with God. But “Beloved” reflects a perennial struggle in my life. Do I trust that God is good, that he loves me, that he understands my pain, that he believes in me and wants to bless me? Or do I believe that he is a deterministic monster, that sovereignly ordains all of my pain and suffering and the pain and suffering of the world for some perverse notion of his “glory”? I want to say it’s the former, but often it’s the latter. I don’t know if I will ever truly believe the former at all. But every day is a fight to try.
What poets/artists inspire you?
Mostly people I know personally. I think of Micah Bournes, Chris Bernstorf, Levi the Poet—artists I have actually performed with and whose beautiful spirits I have witnessed firsthand. But I also I have a supermassive girl crush on Alysia Harris and if I ever met her I might die of artistic envy.
On Dichotomized, you collaborated with a couple artists. Do you have any plans to do this again on your upcoming album?
I WOULD LOVE TO [HINT HINT]. Micah Bournes is very busy releasing albums and being amazing, but E.M.J. of “Beloved” happens to be my producer, so I certainly wouldn’t be closed off to the idea of him adding his lovely voice to some of my tracks. : ) There are other poets I’d like to collaborate with in the future as well, but we’ll see where things go. Poets aren’t exactly notorious for being detail-oriented!
Do you have any advice for aspiring poets (like me)?
In my favorite book, A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis, he writes of his deceased wife that she was the sort of person who would have “truth at any price.”
“And how or why did such a reality blossom (or fester) here and there into the terrible phenomenon called consciousness? Why did it produce things like us who can see it and, seeing it, recoil in loathing? Who (stranger still) want to see it and take pains to find it out, even when no need compels them and even though the sight of it makes an incurable ulcer in their hearts?” –A Grief Observed
That is the sort of person I aspire to be, and if you want to be a good poet, that is the sort of person you should aspire to be too. Look at the world square in the face, without flinching. Take it in in all its glory and perversity, all its purity and sin, all its beauty and horror, and write it down faithfully. Do not water it down, and if you embellish, do it truthfully, with a purpose. Fall in love with the high of prophetic speech and never fall out. If you cannot or do not wish to do it, don’t. The world has enough false prophets already.
What takes up your time when you are not writing poetry?
I make tacos and save Nashville from its drunk self.
How did delving into the depths of purity culture (and battling against it) affect your relationship with God?
Oh lord. Haha. What a loaded question. Well. I think that for a long time, the god I believed in was the god of the patriarchy—the God who pretty much hated everybody except white cishet virgin dudes and was waiting up in heaven with his holy hammer to punish everyone else at the slightest infraction. When I realized that in fact, God was like Jesus, my entire outlook on life, including sexuality, changed. To be honest, I am still hashing out my relationship with God, but I am not angry at him anymore, not like I used to be—in large part because I no longer believe that the furthering of his kingdom is dependent on the repression of sexy-feelings. : )
How has poetry helped you through this battle?
Art in general, and poetry in particular, is a very helpful medium when it comes to processing the hard crap of life. Sometimes I don’t know exactly how I feel about something until I write a poem about it. I know it’s different for everybody, but I feel like for me, poetry is a blessing and a measure of grace I’ve been given to help me relate to the divine and process my struggles.
In a post from May 2013, you pleaded with the church to “prove [you] wrong.” Has the church done this? If so, how? What is your relationship with the church like now as opposed to when you wrote that post?
When I wrote that post I wasn’t attending church at all. In fact, I found myself trying and walking out in the middle of services more often than not. However, in August of 2013 I started attending services at an Episcopal church, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I wept my way through the entirety of the first Sunday I went, and several Sundays after. The Episcopal church is one of the most welcoming, affirming, inclusive communities I have ever encountered. They give me hope for the future of the church and I am now proud to count myself among their ranks. It’s probably not for everybody—PROBABLY : )—but as an evangelical burnt out on fundamentalist fervor and hate disguised as love, it has been a healing balm in my life and a medium of God’s grace to me in a way I could never begin to repay. The moral of the story is that I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, comprised of the body of Christ wherever she resides, and that there is hope for that body in spite of its shortcomings, because Jesus is at the head.
Go listen to some of Emily Joy’s poetry and tell me what you think. Which poem is your favorite?
AND Please please please consider backing her and sharing her Kickstarter with your friends and followers!