Jamie L. Smith is an MFA candidate in poetry at Hunter College, where she has been the recipient of the Colie Hoffman Poetry Prize and the 2019 Guggenheimer Award, and was runner up for the Academy of American Poets Prize and the Richter Award. She lives in Yonkers, NY.
When you found our SMITTEN was about women who loved women, without the
emphasis on erotica that is usually the case, could you immediately think of ways to express that love through writing?
I feel like poetry is inherently erotic, not necessarily in terms of sex but through its enactment of some type of longing and seeking. The poems selected for this anthology have existed in various poems for years, and I’m grateful they found a home here. I think focusing on love rather than erotica helps demystify the image of same-sex relationships. I’ve loved my partner—there have been passionate moments—but more often than not love is grocery shopping for items you would never buy for yourself or arguing over which Netflix show to binge.
What does it mean to you to be a part of something like SMITTEN and have your work alongside of their women who love women?
The acceptance notice from Indie Blu(e) arrived the day after World Pride NYC ended—I felt very honored to be included in something like this. I don’t think of my sexuality as something that defines me necessarily, it’s an aspect of my life and identity, but it’s far from the full story. That being said, I have the privilege of being able to be who I am and love who I love openly and with minimal fear because of the brave people who came before me and struggled for their rights and for acceptance. I had the privilege and blessing of an accepting family and social circle—I faced much more internal than external adversity in my coming-out process—which is an incredibly privileged an not necessarily common position. My attraction to women comes as naturally to me as having brown eyes, so I’m not necessarily proud of my sexuality per se—but I’m very proud of the people who came before me and those still working to lessen the struggle
of others within the community every day. Publications like this are important because they maintain increase visibility and create a safe space for voices that haven’t always had a platform.
The tag-line This Is What Love Looks Like was important to me—my love isn’t abnormal, I’m not a singular or anomalous phenomenon—we’re here—we’re women who love other women and that’s simple and real.
How does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you?
Even my poems that aren’t factually accurate hold truth, and my truth is that I’m a woman who loves women. I loved a man in college (hi, Michael) and I wouldn’t exclude the possibility of that happening again in the future. I’ve fallen for nonbinary people too. I tend to write into emotionally loaded moments, so my relationships and sexuality were always going to be a part of my work.
I’ve known I’m attracted to women for most of my life. The labels I use to identify myself have changed as I’ve gotten to know myself better and as the terminology has evolved. I realized at a certain point that my sexuality is confusing to other people, but it isn’t confusing to me. I know when I get the glimmers—and it isn’t necessarily affixed to gender for me. That attraction is attached to something else, some sort of frequency that comes across in certain individuals. I’m not straight. I’m not entirely gay. I struggle with the term bisexual to some extent because I don’t feel any sense of bifurcation or being in-between in any way—it’s not an either/or—I don’t have a sense of incompleteness or partiality around it.
Maybe I’m more accurately ambisexual—I don’t know—I’m comfortable with my sexuality existing in the space just outside of language. I think labels and words in general strive to capture reality but fail—poetry grapple with this
shortcoming and tries to enact experience through syntax, form, diction—all the tools in our arsenal. It’s the failing that creates Eros—I think we all live in the hope that someone will articulate the one unsayable truth about our lives that makes the whole thing make sense, at least for a moment, in some new way.
How if at all has the experience of being lesbian/bi changed over the years? And how has this influenced you?
I’m more secure in myself than I was when I was younger. I don’t have to be loud to be proud anymore, it’s more quiet. I am astoundingly privileged in that my family never rejected me, very few of my close friends have struggled with my sexuality, and I live in a liberal metropolitan area where protections are in place—most people do not have these advantages. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly aware of this and have come to feel a greater sense of responsibility. There are still 13 states which do not limit or prohibit employment discrimination against LGBTQ persons—there are foundations unable to meet the needs of the runaway teens and LGBTQ senior citizens they support—there is vast inequality, injustice, and need. Fundraising and letter writing don’t seem like enough, but I try to at least maintain my awareness of and gratitude for the privileges I have, and to help where I can.
I’ve also become more aware of discrimination within certain facets of the community. I’ve been told by publishers and publicists that I don’t “look gay” enough to read at particular events. I haven’t slept with a man in over 10 years, most of my significant relationships have been with women, but I’m femme and apparently give off a very limited “vibe” so my experience gets discounted a lot of times within particular circles.
It’s an experience I’ve heard echoed by a lot of bi women who become involved in hetero-romantic relationships. I’ve probably faced more rejection from within the community than I have from outside of it in recent years. That’s the other reason this anthology was important to me—I felt heard—it gave me a space to share my experience without being questioned or discounted.
Jamie Smith is one of the talented SMITTEN poets whose work is coming out this month. For more up to date information on SMITTEN please go to the FB SMITTEN page. SMITTEN will be available via all good book stores.