Today I have poet Jenean C. Gilstrap on my blog discussing her latest poetry collection, Words Unspoken.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Having lived a rather nomadic lifestyle due to the nature of my father’s work and the very frequent relocation from state to state, I soon discovered and nurtured my free-spirit. Listening to and learning from that gypsy spirit I came to see that we all are gypsies of a sort wandering traveling through this life other lives space and time here there and yon on roads less traveled. Several years ago when I began blogging, my blogs were designed to be written and visual journals of my own travels – imagined and/or real. They, my blogs, are simply a streamofconsciousness rambling of words and images in which I find meaning and beauty – there is no organized order of thought or format. That is the way that I write. My poetry and painting and writing on love and life and things thereof are from the heart and through the eyes of this Louisiana gypsy spirit travelin’ roads less traveled.
An individualist, I choose not to follow any pre-conceived pattern for the outlay of the words I write – rather, I allow them the freedom to forge their own path as they make their way from my heart to pen to paper. My art work involves mixed media on large canvasses as well as photography. Presently, I am a weekly featured poet in several online magazines. My piece The Granite God was the winning poem in Painted Bride Quarterly Sidebar #12 . Also, my work has been featured in performance poetry theatrical productions in Louisiana and my short story, Retribution, published in the Helicon Literary Magazine there. My “gypsywomanworld” blog and I are included as character/story elements in Ghost Key, the fictional work of award-winning author Trish MacGregor. Having retired from a career spent in the legal field, the last few years have been focused on my love of writing and painting, together with spending time with my grown children and their children.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
The place of my birth is Sedro-Woolley, Washington, a little town in northwestern Washington, just a few miles inland from Puget Sound and a few miles south of the Canadian border. However, the place I call home is Louisiana – Shreveport, to be more specific. Currently, I divide my time between the East Coast and Shreveport. Right now, I’m overdue for my Shreveport stay.
What or who inspired you to start writing?
Books and the written word were mainstays in my life from earliest childhood – earliest memory. Beause of the nature of our father’s work, our family traveled/relocated frequently – very frequently. Regardless of where we were, though, there was always a library and we children were always taken regularly to the library and books were always a gift item regardless the holiday or whatever. There were also writers on both sides of our family – a number of them published authors. So, having been surrounded by books and reading and writing, it was all just a natural course of events for me.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was ten years old, I wrote my first major piece – a play on the life of George Washington. This play was ultimately produced by my elementary school and I was cast in the role of Martha Washington. That was my official debut – but even before then, I was scribbling poetry and little short stories. It isn’t necessarily that I consider myself a writer, actually. It’s just that I’ve always written.
How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
Oh, well now, the poetry that I write comes from the heart – and our experiences remain embedded in our hearts forever [or so I believe] – and we, ourselves/our personality, are the composition of all that. So, for me, I would have to say that the all of me is in my words – in my writings – my books. Sometimes readers will say to me that they wish I would tell them more about myself – that I would tell this or that – and I am always always surprised at such remarks because to me, as I said above, the all of me is in my words. I am who I write. To read me is to know me.
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
Well, currently, I have several projects underway, either very near completion or approaching completion. One of those, my next book, is another volume of poetry and will come out within the next few months. This time the pieces come from “gypspywomanworld”, the first blog I began . The poems in this book are of a more eclectic nature than those in “words unspoken”; they are a mix of some “from the heart” kinds of poetry, together with those perhaps metaphysical in nature, some addressing social and/or political issues and some that are just for fun. My third poetry book [almost finished] picks up with a bit different style of poetry than my previous ones. There is more prose in it – the pieces take on a more contemporary feel. My other project, which is in the preliminary stages and under contract with a London-based publisher, is still another book of poetry. It’s what I refer to as a “generational poetry” book as it is a compilation of some of the poetry of my mother and her mother, both of whom were prolific poets in their time, together with some of my own work. Some of their pieces date back 100 years or so and interspersed with the poems will be vintage family photographs taken of the women during the period in which the poetry was written.
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
At the present time, I write two weekly [Sunday] feature columns for online e-zines: Yareah Magazine and Plum Tree Books. My column with Yareah has been ongoing for more than a year and I am very humbled to be a part of that fabulous forum of the arts. Also, I am more than humbled to be a part of the Plum Tree family with whom I’ve been for a number of months now. The past few months, I have begun getting back to my painting [oils and acrylics on large canvasses] which had fallen by the wayside the past few years and I occasionally do oil pastels on paper to accompany some of my poetry. While I attempt to spend a large portion of my days writing or doing some sort of writing-related activity, I also care for my young grandson several hours a day.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
Worst advice was from an editor many years ago regarding a short story of mine. His style was entirely different from mine and my short story ended up being chopped into bits and pieces I barely recognized from my original manuscript. The chopped version being the version that was published, of course. When I saw it in print, I vowed never again to allow anyone or anything re-shape what had come from my heart – from my very soul. Best advice is from a dear friend [even though we’ve never met in person] – a prolific award-winning author herself, Trish MacGregor, who is a staunch supporter and inspiration. Basically, she always encourages me to write from my heart – the only way I know to write or will ever write.
What is the best thing about being a poet/writer? The worst?
The best thing about being a poet/writer is just that – getting to do what I love and having others appreciate what I do. The worst…well, I’m not sure there is a worst.
What fuels you as an author to continue to write?
The fuel that allows me – pushes me – to write is simple. It is all those voices – those inner voices – just waiting to be heard – needing to be heard – wanting/needing to speak all those words unspoken.
How did you come up with the title?
My current release, “Words Unspoken”, is my first book of poetry and is a compilation of poetry that began several years ago when I began blogging. The poems were the basis of my blog. When I saw that there was a theme of sorts to what I was writing, I began another blog to accommodate just this poetry. The name of that blog is “the gypsy on words unspoken” as the poems were those from the heart, those dealing with a love relationship that could not have a life of its own for whatever reason – hence, my own words dedicated to all the words left unspoken, the acts left undone – the love unlived unfulfilled. “Words Unspoken” is available in both paperback and on kindle at Amazon.
This is the poem that began all the others that are included in the book:
i cannot say aloud the words
that fill my heart
yet rip my soul apart
i cannot say aloud the words
that if i said
would leave us both dissolved instead
i cannot speak
in voices heard my love for you
yet in my silent screams i do
i cannot speak
of life within our stolen time
for we both know you are not mine
i cannot live
a loveless life
so i go on in secret strife
i cannot live
in time stood still
yet all i have is life unfilled
Tell us a random fact about you that we never would have guessed.
I’m sometimes really very shy.
Ms. Gilstrap’s first book of poetry, is a collection of poetry from the heart – her own words dedicated to love – to a love finally found and then, out of love, relinquished, leaving all those words left unspoken – the acts left undone – the love unlived, unfulfilled. One writer describes Ms. Gilstrap’s poetry this way: An authentic gypsy soul lives inside the poetry of Jenean Gilstrap, who writes of the unspoken, the longings in the night, the closeness of the far-away and distance of the near. Gilstrap’s words are images of love, in all its manifestations, but one should not so easily call these ‘love poems.’ Instead, the reader is invited behind closed doors to witness the passions and the gut-wrenching spirit of what love is, of what love makes possible, of that which is indeed a personal and protected space. This is a place where lovers knock down their walls of vulnerability and dance for as long as they can. We leave these interiors like voyeurs, and yet we also remain touched by the mastery of the words and the emotions they invoke. – Geoff Schutt – Novelist
You can buy Words Unspoken on Amazon.