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Culture

Why Art Matters

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A Conversation with Poet Jennifer Jean

“Why Art Matters” is a series of interviews exploring how the Divine Principle and Unification Thought influence the work of Unificationist artists. Unificationist and poet Jennifer Jean, a resident of Massachusetts, is the very definition of an “art activist,” as described in Unification Thought. As a professor and writer active in the local literary scene, she understands the power art has to shape our culture.

Jennifer is the author of the poetry collections The Fool, The Archivist, Fishwife and In the War. She’s co-director of the Morning Garden Artist Retreats, poetry editor for The Compassion Project, and teaches Free2Write poetry workshops at Amirah—a safe house for sex-trafficking survivors. Jennifer is currently working on her next poetry compilation to explore the world of human trafficking.

How did you get involved in working with sex-trafficking survivors?

JJ: I was in church and someone gave a sermon about affecting the world. The speaker talked about human trafficking, but felt disempowered, like they couldn’t do anything. I’ve been going to church for over 20 years, and sometimes I’ll just burst into tears over something. It’s always very significant, so I pay attention. When I open my heart, either with art or my life of faith, and when something moves me, I follow it. This sermon about encountering human trafficking moved me, and I knew that I had to write about it.

You eventually formed a poetry class for sex-trafficking survivors. How did that come about?

JJ: It started with wanting to write the book. In doing research for the manuscript, I knew interviews were necessary to get the essence of the experience. One of my friends connected with an organization that deals with this population. When I met with the organization representative, she was so interested in the fact that I was a poet and teacher and informed me that her organization runs classes.

It’s scary to confront the unknown and to meet with people you know are wounded, but I knew teaching would help me confront and heal my own issues that have come up that I’m still processing and exploring in my manuscript.

I keep coming back to this word “objectified.” It really became a focus for me. As a Unificationist, we have that term “object,” that refers to the receiver of love, the responder. In the human trafficking world, however, the object is what’s mistreated. They are the receiver of so much horror and pain. The way that that term is turned on its head, that people are made into something that can be used and thrown away, is beyond comprehension. I don’t even know how to express it. I should be able to, as a poet, but that’s why I have to write a whole book!

We all make the mistake of seeing people as objects in everyday life; when we’re on the road and get road rage, it’s because we’re not thinking of others as people, but something that’s in our way. I have been learning how to treat people not as objects, but people with divine essence and eternal value, especially the women in my class.

It sounds like you were in the class as the teacher, but you actually learned a lot in the process.

JJ: I did, and fortunately I was ready for that. My husband, who is an artist as well, supported me 100 percent, and I had my connection with God to sustain me.

In a role like this, you absolutely need strength and a support system in place. In my opinion, we cannot be without a connection to God. When we connect with God, we connect to grace and forgiveness. These women feel a lot of shame and guilt. They need to be in a space where there is forgiveness. The people that work there have to have a pure sense of love so they can give it out, and we can only access that kind of love from God.

Is your calling to take on this issue something you’ve felt before in your work? Is it important to you to use your gifts for a cause like this?

JJ: It’s important to me to create an impact that affects and changes the world in the big way I see that art can. I have no doubt that art affects the world, but consciousness and effort have to be put forth by the artist for that to happen. I try to imbibe myself with whatever values I have, take them in and then naturally they come out in my work. I don’t think a person has to have a cause, but they need to be conscious that their art can affect and change people, and have a sense of responsibility about that.

I have less patience for art that’s about nothing. It bores me when it’s not connected to something that’s authentic. Again, it doesn’t have to be a cause. I would hate if every poem I read was about a political or social cause, but there has to be something authentic and soul-driven there.

My advice for artists and writers: Absolutely study your craft. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be the kind of person that says, ‘I don’t need to study the path.’ That’s shortsighted. If you feel connected to a divine source, keep connecting. Don’t let that connection die, and it will naturally influence your work. You won’t even have to try. When I try, my work sounds weird. It’s better when I just fill myself up.

For more on Jennifer Jean and her work, visit: http://www.fishwifetales.com/

“Why Art Matters” is a series of interviews exploring how the Divine Principle and Unification Thought influence the work of Unificationist artists. Unificationist and poet Jennifer Jean, a resident of Massachusetts, is the very definition of an “art activist,” as described in Unification Thought. As a professor and writer active in the local literary scene, she understands the power art has to shape our culture.

Jennifer is the author of the poetry collections The Fool, The Archivist, Fishwife and In the War. She’s co-director of the Morning Garden Artist Retreats, poetry editor for The Compassion Project, and teaches Free2Write poetry workshops at Amirah—a safe house for sex-trafficking survivors. Jennifer is currently working on her next poetry compilation to explore the world of human trafficking.

How did you get involved in working with sex-trafficking survivors?

JJ: I was in church and someone gave a sermon about affecting the world. The speaker talked about human trafficking, but felt disempowered, like they couldn’t do anything. I’ve been going to church for over 20 years, and sometimes I’ll just burst into tears over something. It’s always very significant, so I pay attention. When I open my heart, either with art or my life of faith, and when something moves me, I follow it. This sermon about encountering human trafficking moved me, and I knew that I had to write about it.

You eventually formed a poetry class for sex-trafficking survivors. How did that come about?

JJ: It started with wanting to write the book. In doing research for the manuscript, I knew interviews were necessary to get the essence of the experience. One of my friends connected with an organization that deals with this population. When I met with the organization representative, she was so interested in the fact that I was a poet and teacher and informed me that her organization runs classes.

It’s scary to confront the unknown and to meet with people you know are wounded, but I knew teaching would help me confront and heal my own issues that have come up that I’m still processing and exploring in my manuscript.

I keep coming back to this word “objectified.” It really became a focus for me. As a Unificationist, we have that term “object,” that refers to the receiver of love, the responder. In the human trafficking world, however, the object is what’s mistreated. They are the receiver of so much horror and pain. The way that that term is turned on its head, that people are made into something that can be used and thrown away, is beyond comprehension. I don’t even know how to express it. I should be able to, as a poet, but that’s why I have to write a whole book!

We all make the mistake of seeing people as objects in everyday life; when we’re on the road and get road rage, it’s because we’re not thinking of others as people, but something that’s in our way. I have been learning how to treat people not as objects, but people with divine essence and eternal value, especially the women in my class.

It sounds like you were in the class as the teacher, but you actually learned a lot in the process.

JJ: I did, and fortunately I was ready for that. My husband, who is an artist as well, supported me 100 percent, and I had my connection with God to sustain me.

In a role like this, you absolutely need strength and a support system in place. In my opinion, we cannot be without a connection to God. When we connect with God, we connect to grace and forgiveness. These women feel a lot of shame and guilt. They need to be in a space where there is forgiveness. The people that work there have to have a pure sense of love so they can give it out, and we can only access that kind of love from God.

Is your calling to take on this issue something you’ve felt before in your work? Is it important to you to use your gifts for a cause like this?

JJ: It’s important to me to create an impact that affects and changes the world in the big way I see that art can. I have no doubt that art affects the world, but consciousness and effort have to be put forth by the artist for that to happen. I try to imbibe myself with whatever values I have, take them in and then naturally they come out in my work. I don’t think a person has to have a cause, but they need to be conscious that their art can affect and change people, and have a sense of responsibility about that.

I have less patience for art that’s about nothing. It bores me when it’s not connected to something that’s authentic. Again, it doesn’t have to be a cause. I would hate if every poem I read was about a political or social cause, but there has to be something authentic and soul-driven there.

My advice for artists and writers: Absolutely study your craft. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be the kind of person that says, ‘I don’t need to study the path.’ That’s shortsighted. If you feel connected to a divine source, keep connecting. Don’t let that connection die, and it will naturally influence your work. You won’t even have to try. When I try, my work sounds weird. It’s better when I just fill myself up.

For more on Jennifer Jean and her work, visit: http://www.fishwifetales.com/

“Why Art Matters” is a series of interviews exploring how the Divine Principle and Unification Thought influence the work of Unificationist artists. Unificationist and poet Jennifer Jean, a resident of Massachusetts, is the very definition of an “art activist,” as described in Unification Thought. As a professor and writer active in the local literary scene, she understands the power art has to shape our culture.

Jennifer is the author of the poetry collections The Fool, The Archivist, Fishwife and In the War. She’s co-director of the Morning Garden Artist Retreats, poetry editor for The Compassion Project, and teaches Free2Write poetry workshops at Amirah—a safe house for sex-trafficking survivors. Jennifer is currently working on her next poetry compilation to explore the world of human trafficking.

How did you get involved in working with sex-trafficking survivors?

JJ: I was in church and someone gave a sermon about affecting the world. The speaker talked about human trafficking, but felt disempowered, like they couldn’t do anything. I’ve been going to church for over 20 years, and sometimes I’ll just burst into tears over something. It’s always very significant, so I pay attention. When I open my heart, either with art or my life of faith, and when something moves me, I follow it. This sermon about encountering human trafficking moved me, and I knew that I had to write about it.

You eventually formed a poetry class for sex-trafficking survivors. How did that come about?

JJ: It started with wanting to write the book. In doing research for the manuscript, I knew interviews were necessary to get the essence of the experience. One of my friends connected with an organization that deals with this population. When I met with the organization representative, she was so interested in the fact that I was a poet and teacher and informed me that her organization runs classes.

It’s scary to confront the unknown and to meet with people you know are wounded, but I knew teaching would help me confront and heal my own issues that have come up that I’m still processing and exploring in my manuscript.

I keep coming back to this word “objectified.” It really became a focus for me. As a Unificationist, we have that term “object,” that refers to the receiver of love, the responder. In the human trafficking world, however, the object is what’s mistreated. They are the receiver of so much horror and pain. The way that that term is turned on its head, that people are made into something that can be used and thrown away, is beyond comprehension. I don’t even know how to express it. I should be able to, as a poet, but that’s why I have to write a whole book!

We all make the mistake of seeing people as objects in everyday life; when we’re on the road and get road rage, it’s because we’re not thinking of others as people, but something that’s in our way. I have been learning how to treat people not as objects, but people with divine essence and eternal value, especially the women in my class.

It sounds like you were in the class as the teacher, but you actually learned a lot in the process.

JJ: I did, and fortunately I was ready for that. My husband, who is an artist as well, supported me 100 percent, and I had my connection with God to sustain me.

In a role like this, you absolutely need strength and a support system in place. In my opinion, we cannot be without a connection to God. When we connect with God, we connect to grace and forgiveness. These women feel a lot of shame and guilt. They need to be in a space where there is forgiveness. The people that work there have to have a pure sense of love so they can give it out, and we can only access that kind of love from God.

Is your calling to take on this issue something you’ve felt before in your work? Is it important to you to use your gifts for a cause like this?

JJ: It’s important to me to create an impact that affects and changes the world in the big way I see that art can. I have no doubt that art affects the world, but consciousness and effort have to be put forth by the artist for that to happen. I try to imbibe myself with whatever values I have, take them in and then naturally they come out in my work. I don’t think a person has to have a cause, but they need to be conscious that their art can affect and change people, and have a sense of responsibility about that.

I have less patience for art that’s about nothing. It bores me when it’s not connected to something that’s authentic. Again, it doesn’t have to be a cause. I would hate if every poem I read was about a political or social cause, but there has to be something authentic and soul-driven there.

My advice for artists and writers: Absolutely study your craft. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be the kind of person that says, ‘I don’t need to study the path.’ That’s shortsighted. If you feel connected to a divine source, keep connecting. Don’t let that connection die, and it will naturally influence your work. You won’t even have to try. When I try, my work sounds weird. It’s better when I just fill myself up.

For more on Jennifer Jean and her work, visit: http://www.fishwifetales.com/