From “Art Talk with Honorée Fanonne Jeffers,
2011 NEA Literature Fellow”

November 29, 2010

NEA:  What is your definition of creativity?
JEFFERS: Creativity is a mojo or a root-working power or a God-force within a human being. But it’s also a courageous spirit that will be what it will be, regardless. Creativity doesn’t listen to anybody else, and that’s what I like about being a creative woman, because I have an excuse to be headstrong, which is my nature.

NEA: What do you think is the role of the artist in the community?
JEFFERS: To connect with people and bring beauty to their lives, hopefully with kindness.

NEA: In the new issue of NEA Arts, Kronos Quartet founder David Harrington says, “I try to know as many of the things that are missing from our world of music as I possibly can…I try to put the thrust of my time into realizing those things that aren’t yet part of our work but should be.” When it comes to poetry what things do you see as missing? What should be part of the work you or other poets or artists as a community are making that isn’t yet there?
JEFFERS: One thing that I would like to see more of is necessity in poetry. What is necessary to a poem—to make it last beyond a moment or a particular zeitgeist? What is necessary to humanity in that poem? Also, I’d like to see more U.S. poets engage with non-poets and “laypeople.”  There’s so much wisdom and beauty we poets bring to our work, and I wish more regular folk found and read poetry to experience and learn from poets’ wisdom and beauty. But I feel that some of us poets–many of us–could try to reach out more, too, to regular folk. Just a little bit. I know that’s not a popular thing to say among other poets, but I feel it needs to be said.

NEA: In the spirit of Thanksgiving, last week I asked my NEA colleagues what artist (living or not) they would like to thank and why. Your answer?
JEFFERS: I’d like to thank those women who created poetry at their kitchen tables in between chopping vegetables, or while hanging out laundry on the line to dry in the sun. Poetry no one besides them ever read. They have helped me with their collective hopeful spirits and I hope my life’s work thus far is a testament to these unpublished, unknown women poets. I hope they are somewhere saying “well done, girl” about me.

NEA: What does the phrase “Art Works” mean to you?
JEFFERS: It means, the artist works for a living, whether other people understand or validate that living. It means art will work it out–whatever need you have, there’s some kind of art, somewhere, that will work with that need.

NEA: Anything you wish I would have asked, and how would you have answered?
JEFFERS: I wish you had asked me, “Honorée, is this poetry life you’ve chosen a good, worthy life, and are you happy?” And I would have answered, “Yes, indeed, it is a good, worthy life, and yes, I am happy. I feel so grateful and blessed.”

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