Jennifer Mathews is a self-proclaimed spiritual cheerleader who lives in Mount Shasta, California (or wherever her camper van takes her). Her lifework has included economic justice, laughter yoga, and facilitating conversations on living and dying.
In her 2019 TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” Jen shares how she responded to the death of her life-partner Kate with connection, gratitude, and joy rather than heartache. For more of Jen’s writing, go to JenniferMathews.com.
I’ve been writing poetry since I was thirteen or fourteen years old in the 1980s. As a teenager, I often wrote until the wee hours of the night while lying in bed. I’d write drafts of poems on a pad of yellow lined paper, using a pencil so that I didn’t have to worry about the ink not flowing properly. It was the magical time before sleep came, and I’d often close my eyes and drift off, eventually placing my pad of paper on the floor when I couldn’t stay awake any longer. In the morning, I would reread my words and sometimes be surprised by what I had written because I had little or no memory of the late night creative process. All I knew was the beauty of the buzz I’d feel, that it was sacred time in which I could tap into something greater than myself.
Most of my poems are in a fireproof box in my closet, or in digital folders on my computer. Most of them have never seen the light of day. Why? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure. My perfectionist-self certainly has a lot to say about that, but the rest of me – MOST of me – has wondered if my personal experiences and perspectives would be universal enough for others? Will anyone else relate to my yearnings, my philosophical musings, my fascination with how ordinary moments
magnify deep truths?
For the past few years, I have finally begun to call myself a “writer.” But more accurately, I am a witness, a synthesizer, and a communicator. I am compelled to use words to articulate that which is challenging to put into words, to point toward all that language cannot express. Poetry is my favorite form of writing because I can spend hours or days (or yes, years!) waiting for the right phrase or
title to show itself. I can get frustrated with a poem for its stubbornness (see how I deflected that?), but it is all worth that moment of arrival.
How does poetry and identifying as lesbian come together for you?
Poetry allows me to touch into the subtleties of being attracted to women in a culture that is very heterosexual. While women-loving-women relationships are more accepted than they were in the early 1990s when I was coming out, it’s not as simple as saying “I think of your relationship as the same as if you were straight.” When we are surrounded by constant messages that normalize heterosexual existence, with lesbianism being an exception, it has an impact on our inner experiences that is at times beyond words.
And so, writing poems about being a lesbian is like spooning a new lover. I can feel the buzz as I press up against the poem. My heartbeat quickens while I simultaneously relax into finding ways to put my experiences, and all their nuances, onto the page. Perhaps poetry is the only true way to express my lesbian heart because of these subtleties? I’m grateful for all the ways I’ve become more self-aware and in touch with myself because of poetry, mostly by reading other poets’ work! There are so many brilliant lesbian poets!
Did you ever want to be a voice for the lesbian/bi community? If so, why?
As a woman with long hair, who physically presents on the more feminine end of the spectrum, I have often wanted others to know that I am lesbian-identified. I find that I often “pass” as straight, but it is merely because of my looks, even though my intention is to be out. I want to be a voice for going beyond
assumptions about someone’s sexual orientation. The “we are everywhere” slogan of decades ago is true! I love having the freedom to look the way I do, and I also yearn to be seen and acknowledged as a lesbian because I believe in the power of breaking stereotypes. In terms of being “a voice for” the community, I really just want to have a presence and be myself.
And that self is very much, and very happily, a lesbian!
Why is love a worthier subject than erotica to write on?
Writing about love rather than erotica demonstrates how sexual orientation is so much more than physical attraction. Love expresses so much more of who we are as women. Lesbian hearts connect deeply, and I believe expressing this spiritual and emotional affinity is what makes the sexual desire come alive between women. Romantic love and intimacy between women is worth articulating because the sacredness of love itself can be orgasmic, whereas sex itself cannot necessarily achieve sacredness.
Have you ever been SMITTEN and if so, do you feel it’s possible to
summarize those feelings in poetry?
I love the word SMITTEN and yes, I’ve been smitten many times in my life.
Because it’s an experience beyond the reasoning mind, creative expression may be the only way to point toward what it feels like to be intoxicated by a woman’s presence. Visual arts, movement, sound, and poetry can at least attempt to capture the rapture of being smitten! But words alone cannot convey what it’s like to be a woman falling in love with herself as she looks into another woman’s
Just writing those words makes me smile! It is so mysterious to be smitten, whether that’s infatuation or love or lust or a friend crush. The sensation of being enamored naturally gives itself to poetry, to the lyrical nature of the unknown and
the risk of allowing oneself to feel those feelings (even if they aren’t
reciprocated). My poems “The Passenger’s Seat” and “go figure” both touch upon the tenderness of being smitten as a teenager. So much swirls in one’s body and mind and heart all at once. Poetry has the potential to say hello to the inner experiences we rarely speak about, and being smitten is often one of them.
Your poem “What He Gave Away” in SMITTEN is excellent. Why did you
choose this particular poem and what do you hope it would convey to readers?
I noticed that the poems I submitted are all about what is acceptable and how to honor my inner attraction toward women, and anything else that is not mainstream culture, about staying true to myself and at the same time navigating the external pressures from friends or family or society to stay silent or to do things their way.
“What He Gave Away” is about giving and receiving and courage and
forgiveness and love despite prejudice. And I’m referring to mine and my grandfather’s and my grandmother’s too. It is hard to describe what I hoped to convey, aside from how complicated family dynamics can be, and how there is often love under the surface, regardless of our resistance to it at times. It also expresses how love is displaced, and how love is withheld, and how sometimes the lines are blurry. Sometimes we need to see between those blurry lines in order to find connection.
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