Interview by Corey Jackson
Tasha Jones is a poet with the ability to bring your palate back to the plate just like your granny’s fried chicken. The stage becomes her kitchen for those who choose to listen. Her testimonies painted through poetry whisk you through her life with the most intricate of details; yet leave much of the mural still open to paint a vivid picture with your own imagination. It has been said that many of life’s lessons are taught through the aspects of cooking. Tasha is a teacher that taught in the classroom and chose to broaden her horizons by teaching the world from a stage. In 2008, she was confronted with a large leap of faith and with her back against the wall she answered the call. I for one am most appreciative of her decision to bend reality’s dimensions. Her poetry embodies the food pyramid, emboldens the human spirit, and serves as reassurance that anything is possible as long as the drive to obtain it is relentless. When was the last time you were full from words? I’m talking food for thought ’til you dropped? Skipping out on Ms. Jones spoken word is something I wouldn’t suggest.
Corey Jackson: In a nutshell, who is Tasha Jones?
Tasha Jones: I am a conduit.
C*: A conduit of what?
TJ: I think I am there to teach, so I teach kids great aspects of life; these lessons that we all have to go through although they might not necessarily know how to get through them. I’ve experienced so much at such a young age that it’s my duty to give back so other people won’t have to go through the same things the same way.
C*: How long have you been doing spoken word full-time ?
TJ: I’ve been writing poetry all my life. I’m just a writer. I walked away from a teaching job (I was an English school teacher) in the 2008-2009 school year, and officially my first show was September 13, 2008 in Saint Louis, Missouri.
C*: How many years were you a teacher, and was that a difficult transition to the stage?
TJ: I taught in the Indianapolis public schools for five years, and one year in an Indianapolis Charter School before moving the message to a broader class…the stage! Strategically the planning is the same, but the delivery can be different!
C*: We all know that teaching extends far beyond the classroom. With the onset of how they’re trying to take a lot of the arts out of the schools now; was there anything in particular that you did to reach out to your students beyond the standard expectations of the job?
TJ: I think there was a lot of liberty in my classroom. I’m a literacy specialist so I know that my gift is helping people learn how to read. I don’t know how it happened but it just kind of played out that every year I had 15-25 kids who would be far below their level. So if they walked in at the 9th grade and were reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level then I was challenged every year to say “At the end of my classroom they’re going to be reading at a 7th grade level.” I did a number of things that was not necessarily “traditional”, and those type of methods that I used and instituted ensured that my students were going to be reading at four or five levels higher than what they were when they entered the classroom. I did a number of things using hip hop and poetry that added the relevance of what was needed for the classroom.
C*: Is there any particular experience that really drove you in the direction of poetry? Can you recall a particular moment when poetry “might have saved your life?”
TJ: I think writing itself has saved my life. Like I said before I’m a lifelong writer and a lifelong learner. So I think all of that together is a great blend for good writing. However, I think there were some things that happened in 2008 that pushed me towards “I’m leaving the classroom” per say, and teaching on a broader level on the stage. I was nominated for Poet Laureate in 2008. I was going through a horrible separation from my children’s father and the principal in the middle of the school year didn’t agree with some of the tactics that I was using to teach the class, although the results from the class were amazing. And still used to this day. So it was a number of things that made me say “I’m fine. I can walk away and love myself, be happy, and be proud of what I’ve presented thus far.” Yeah, so 2008 was one of those years that was both the best of everything and the worst of everything at the same time.
C*: You were nominated poet laureate in 2008, the same year of your first performance. When did you release your first poetry project?
TJ: My first book was penned in 2002:Coffee Thoughts, 2003: Silent Killer, 2005/6 I published an anthology of my students work, Write On, 2006: You Don’t Know the Half, 2008 POET 24/7, 2010:The Liberation of L.B. Jones, so it has been a slow steady climb! I have performed for years outside of Indianapolis. I won my first ($1000) slam in 2003/4 at the Spitfire Slam in DC! Prior to September of 2008, I paid my expenses out-of-pocket and sold product just to recoup. The St. Louis show, at the Phyllis Wheatley Heritage Center was one of the first shows that I was paid, flown to the city, and given a hotel/food stipend.
C*: Your first feature performance was in 2008. How have you accomplished so much, performance wise, in only three years? Sometimes it takes poets ten years to achieve the success you’ve achieved in only three years.
TJ: I praise God for the opportunities I have received, but I have been doing this longer than 3 years. I have been full-time for 3 years. Prior to 2008, I worked full-time as an educator in the Public School System and wrote poetry full-time. I performed at every place that allowed me an opportunity to grace the mic, and slammed all across the country. In 2008 I gained enough courage to move forward in faith without the security of having a bi-weekly check!
C*: You don’t do many open mic features. You go for much bigger gigs. Why didn’t you take the traditional open mic route like most poets do in spoken word these days?
TJ: It’s not that I don’t do open mic features ~ However, I love balance. As a full-time poet one is always sharing their work with an audience. Sometimes we want to be the audience as well. What open mic does (and I am grateful for) is allow one to go to listen and be fed! I definitely feel each person has a route to take and I pray we all find our routes and stay on it!
C*: For someone who is blessed to do this fulltime, what do you foresee in the future regarding how far poetry can go? Do you see poetry as an industry that could one day become parallel with hip hop?
TJ: I don’t think I should replace art. I think there are a lot of genres that need to be expressed. Poetry, rap, and hip hop…I don’t necessarily feel like Lil Wayne is a hip hop artist. He’s a rapper. Hip hop within itself; that whole culture needs to be cultivated and taken to another place. And rap in itself needs to be cultivated to another place as well. We cannot forget the fact that poetry has been here forever. If we look at our people who came before us: The Last Poets, Mari Evans, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Nicki Giovanni…These people have paved the way for persons like me to come into this art form and say “Not only are we going to take it to a place where we do announced works where we speak in front of the President, which has happened. Or we speak at The Kennedy Center, which has happened. Or we create hip hop albums, which has happened. But we’re also the pulse of the world. If you read books that say what job to have in 2050, a poet would be in the top ten. It’s one of those things where you have to remember the story-teller; and that’s what a poet is. If you don’t have that then you lose touch with the people, so from that standpoint we’ll always make it. Now what I plan to do within my brand and my poetry is to make it accessible for all persons. Why shouldn’t poetry be heard at a comedy club? Why shouldn’t poetry be heard at the Academy Awards? There is no physical seed for that during the Grammy Award process. It just is what it is so my job is to make sure that even if you don’t like poetry, you like and know Tasha Jones.
C*: I’ve heard that you were invited to perform something for BET and you told them no because one of your children had a soccer game. Can you talk about your kids some? Do you see young poets in them?
TJ: My son is already published. He’s 8 years old. He wrote a letter to President Obama when he was five and it got published in a book called “Kids Letters To President Obama”. He has already succeeded at things that me and his father haven’t accomplished. We were not published at 6. I wasn’t attending book signings at 6. And I wasn’t the only child in the state of Indiana in a book that the whole United States had the opportunity to give work to. My son is already established in that aspect. My daughter is so very vocal and so very talented; she knows exactly who she is at five. (Very strong) And she says clearly “This is who I’m going to be.” Right now she is modeling for a Fortune 500 website, and she says that quite frankly often “I’m a rock star!” So when you have children that are gifted that way they can grow into whatever they want to grow into. My son is going to be showing some of his artwork at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on September the 16th at a show that I am presenting. My daughter is going to be there supporting all of us because she’s going to be a visual artist. She also tap dances, she goes to jazz and ballet, and loves playing instruments. So like she said she’s a rock star! She’s prepared for it.
C*: How do you balance having children with being on the road and being a full-time poet?
TJ: It is definitely a balancing act, but most women across the world do what has to be done! I pray for strength and move in faith! My children are at the top of my priority list and nothing is more important than family. That remains the focal point at all times.
C*: If you could give any aspiring poet any advice on taking that leap of faith to go out on their own and pursuing this full-time, what advice would you give them?
TJ: Go. I think a lot of times you talk yourself out of what you want. I’m writing my first novel right now and the title of it is “God Cannot Give You What You Deny Yourself”. Everybody’s path and everybody’s journey is different. You have to just go. And if you have that passion in your heart, and you feel it in your heart that this is what you gotta do; the way will be made. You gotta go.
C*: If you weren’t doing poetry and you couldn’t teach, what do you think you’d be doing?
C*: One day when Tasha Jones is gone…what do you think people will say about the legacy you left behind?
TJ: I would want them to know that I was a reality bender. That I could acquire what it is I put my mind to and that the word “No” was not in my vocabulary. And that people learned how to love themselves and be okay with their skills and not be afraid to try.