jessica Care moore: A Detroit poet, publisher, artist, star

It's clear as soon as you meet jessica Care moore: she is a star. She is the type of star Prince Rogers Nelson describes succinctly in Purple Rain. "Hey, check it all out. Baby, I know what it's all about. Before the night is through, you will see my point of view. Even if I have to scream and shout ... ."

Yep, that's moore.

The poet was raised on Detroit's northwest side and lived out of state for years in places like New York, before returning to her hometown a couple years ago. Moore is totally kinetic and disarmingly wise, and she has no problem getting loud to make her point -- especially on stage.  What's more, she's got "it." (Click here to hear talk about Detroit and get a glimpse of that energy in this video from the recent U.S. Social Forum held last month in Detroit.)

Among other things, "it" includes a wild, blond mane and an infectious smile that belie the fearless poetic genius that has made her an audience favorite.

She was even discovered in the tradition of old Hollywood. On a family trip to New York, she broke away from the group only to wander into a talent show. After blowing away contenders at a spoken word set, she impressed organizers so much they urged her to compete at the legendary Apollo Theater. She won. She won five, consecutive times at "It's Showtime at the Apollo" with poetry in 1995. Yep, she's a star. Oh yeah, and she can really write.

"Jessica defined the genre and set the standard for spoken word in my generation, and the ones that follow. Before her, the type of poetry she writes and performs never garnered a national stage," says poet Chantay "Legacy" Leonard. "She is one of the founders of the present day poetry movement, and continues to be an important and relevant voice as it continues to expand and thrive. Jessica is a superstar in this thing, and no one can deny that."

The total artist

She made history by establishing Moore Black Press and publishing Saul William's The Seventh Octave: Early Writings of Saul Williams before he appeared in Slam.  Poetry has taken her all over the country, to Europe and to Africa. But for this internationally renowned poet, poetry is only one of her loves. When asked about projects, she goes on at length about an upcoming collaboration with local graffiti artist Shades.

"Shades is the top graffiti artist in Detroit. We, Shades and I, are both social media junkies. We are filming and documenting the installation. All the behind the scenes stuff will be on-line," says moore. "I'm impressed by him because he's one of the people who make art work. If we don't have working artists, then we don't have art."
An accomplished filmmaker, playwright and theater devotee, moore also has a long history of teaming with visual artists. Recently, she started creating her own visual pieces.

In her poem, "For Radcliffe Bailey," moore writes: "Just don't leave the walls white/Bring wet brushes, anytime music/Words & feathers with knives." Moore followed her own poetic advice during a residency with Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey. "Radcliffe pushed me to not just collaborate with the other musicians and painters, something I have done for years, but to actually see my work in a visual medium."

"My installation is titled, NANOC and deals with water, and the passing of the two ships, the passenger ship my mother and entire family came over on in 1948 from England to Nova Scotia, and the slave ships that brought my daddy's ancestors to the south."  

jessica the activist

Like most great artists, moore is passionate about the community. While she is optimistic she expresses some concern about Detroit's art scene. "I am really just back to Detroit. But with any art scene there are ebbs and flows. As a person who grew up here and went away for 12 years, I see what's been lost."

While she may lament the losses, moore actively works to make a difference in the community. She was recently elected to the Woodbridge Community Council.  She also makes it a point to reach out to up-and-coming artists -- especially women. Her successful two-day event, Black Women Rock, featured female artists in a variety of genres and was followed up with an extensive panel discussion for aspiring musicians. During a recent production of her play, Revolution in the Ladies Room, she hand-picked up-and-coming poets Shabree "Poetic Bre" Ferrell and Natasha "T Miller" Miller.

When Moore met Miller, she identified with her "fire" as an artist. Miller credits moore for her example. "I think when many people become really established, they forget what it feels like to be new," says Miller. "Artists like jessica Care moore have meant much to my career. Her contribution to me is the example of always giving back to the community."

A staple on the spoken word scene for ten years, Leonard was one of the editors of moore's book, God is Not an American. Leonard was also a member of the Revolution cast, "I definitely consider jessica to be one of my mentors and 'sheroes.' She has given me great advice and opportunities as a woman artist. Jessica is very supportive of artists, particularly women artists. She understands that we have a voice that demands equal standing and respect in the creative and academic world."

Always a poet

Even with her diverse interests, moore is a poet to the core. And like most poets, she writes because she must. "I write poetry because it's a way to stay alive. It kept me focused, and gave me an outlet when some of my associates and friends were being murdered or going to jail or just headed down a different path. I love being a story teller. There's nothing more wonderful than being an artist. I'm a poet, so I guess I gotta' write poetry. You know?"

In the poem, "about being a poet," moore writes: "i was born with it/i will die with it/because it's in my blood."
Most would agree that "it" is star power, and jessica Care moore is a star.  And with a big smile and a tilt of the head, she invites us all to join her in the Celestial Sphere.

jessica Care moore has several out of state appearances planned this summer, but will be in Detroit at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Wayne State for a show/installation with graffiti artist Shades called "Beats, Poems & Paint. The Missing Project: Pieces of the D." Watch for details in Model D and follow her on Twitter here.

Rhonda Welsh is a local poet and the author of the recently published poetry collection,
Red Clay Legacy, with a foreword by jessica Care moore. Join Welsh for a book signing celebration, Aug. 1 at The Sweet Epiphany, 13305 W. 7 Mile in Detroit.

Words from jessica Care moore:

detroit, this morning

canorous was the dictionary word of the day

detroit, this morning

the canorous beat of his heart forced me to hear motown songs
everytime i  took a step, or inhaled this bitter cold
attempting to kill me and save me all at once.
this is the melody
of my life.

i blow frost from my mouth
and the song is a circle, a heart, my son's name
against the window
against the air
these words can cut
transform this place
into what i need it to be.

this is the power of sound
& the beauty of silence.

60 mile an hour winds
cannot win against the canorous
whistle of my teapot.

i will not be moved.

breathing in
& pushing out

the city

where i was born.

from jessica Care moore's God is Not An American, copyright 2008 jessica Care moore

All photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here


Jessica Care Moore at Hart Plaza

Jessica Care Moore with students at Chicago State University - courtesy photo

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