Doing homework with JP Infante

JP is a Libra, a writer and in his own words, a palomo.  His collection of prose poems “On the Tip of your Mother’s Tongue” is scheduled for release in the fall of 2020.

That’s all you need to know from me, let him tell you the rest: 

Tells us about JP, not about what he believes but tells us about yourself. What do you want the world to know?

I’m a teacher and writer in Washington Heights, New York City. I won the 2020 Thirty West Chapbook contest and they’ll be publishing my chapbook: On the Tip of Your Mother’s Tongue this fall.

Do you remember your first piece? If so, what was it about?

My first pieces were made while I played with toys by myself. I was born in New York City but taken to DR as a toddler and lived under different caretakers on the island. My mother stayed hustling in the US so she made up for it by buying me toys. A lot of toys. I remember playing by myself for hours and hours as a child and getting lost in the toys’ conflicts and their interactions with each other. Getting lost in play with my toys as a toddler were the first stories I wrote. I can’t remember any specific storylines.

What advice would you give your 15 year-old self? 

I would tell myself: “You’re too young to drink Hennessy and the truth is that you don’t enjoy the taste.” I would also tell myself that it gets worse. But it gets better too, but it gets worse also. Suffering and discomfort and doubt are part of the ride and feeling these things are proof you’re alive and still in the game.

Sometimes we’re told as adolescents that the angst we’re going through is temporary. And that’s half true. The discomfort is temporary, but it’s also periodic, and some seasons of discomfort and pain last longer than others. The suffering is always there when you pursue goals or indulge in desires or perform acts of service or when you’re minding your business trying to hide from suffering. You'll hurt, and hurt others as you grow, but the frequency of the hurting dwindles and if you’re lucky the lessons become clearer and clearer so you’ll hurt less and less people. People will still hurt you and this will be more motivation for you to work on hurting others less and less.

Can you share a bit of your favorite piece written by you and talk to us about it?

My favorite work right now is the chapbook I’m pushing: On the Tip of Your Mother’s Tongue. It’s two prose poems and an essay that builds on the structure of the two prose poems. I’ve had single pieces published in different journals, but I’m excited about how readers will react to this project. The story is about a son coming to terms with his mother’s mental health. It’s a sad and funny story with a lesson for those of us with difficult childhoods and strained relationships with our mothers.

What do you want young aspiring writers of color to know?

Some people are born storytellers. They don’t need my advice or anyone else’s. You know who you are. 

To aspiring writers: Trying to get people to read your shit is giving them homework. There’s no money or fame in giving people homework and that’s what you’re doing as a writer. I understand that Toni Morrison said “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

The shit is that Morrison presumed you did your homework and learned no one has told your story after hours and hours of reading. You can’t claim your story hasn’t been written if you don’t own a library card. There’s a chance your story has been written, YOU  just haven’t read it. Therefore if you’re going to give people homework make sure it’s beautiful. 

My advice is to read always. You should be close-reading Morrison’s work or reading and pushing and celebrating the work of Edward Rivera ( Family Installments) or Toni Cade Bambara (Gorilla, My Love). There are a lot of books out there. If you’re going to write make sure it’s beautiful because reading is homework. So I’d tell aspiring writers not to give us anymore homework if they haven’t done their own.

If you’re writing for yourself then keep writing you don’t need my advice or anyone’s permission to write for your own self-discovery.

I have a feeling the way you curate your social media is almost a glimpse into your brain. Is this true? Do you have a process or a criteria?

I think so. I think you’re right. Social media, especially my Instagram stories can be considered a glance into my thought process. Even when I’m promoting an event or someone’s book I try to arrive at that “promo” or book cover through a series of steps. I enjoy starting with an idea and building off it with texts, images and sounds that either reinforce or deconstruct the idea. 

The goal with my IG stories is to get people thinking in order for them to arrive at their own conclusion. My only process or criteria is making my thinking visible without explicitly telling the viewer my thoughts. I think I’m modeling thinking not in a way that arrives at  “the correct answer,” but one that carefully considers the question and several answers.

How would you describe love to a 5 year-old?

I’d tell the kid there are different kinds of love and give examples. One kind of love is cuddling with someone you enjoy staring at while they stare back at you. Another kind of love has you help your guardians do dishes or sweep. Sometimes love is being honest even if it feels like you might get in trouble and hurt someone’s feelings. Love is being honest but gentle. Sometimes love is staying away from people who make you feel “funny” in an uncomfortable way and you don’t know why, and yet you understand staying away from these people is taking care of yourself.

You’ve recommended me some great books. What 3 books would you recommend everyone right now?

Carmen: A Graphic Novel by Josefina Baez is a must read. Once again, Baez has us reconsider the black experience, the Dominican experience and how to tell a story. 

Invasive Species by Marwa Helal is a poetry collection that deconstructs the effects of imperialism and neoliberalism through an Egyptian poet’s particular experience. It gets at the geopolitical through the personal. Marwa has a line that says something like, “And when I say my country, I mean both of them...” That shit hit me.

Roberto Carlos Garcia’s black/Maybe is another collection of poetry bookended by powerful essays. It’s a great example of how a poetry collection’s structure can reinforce its theme and central question around afrocentricity, immigration and class with fresh images, moments and language. 

What is your creative process? Do you “set the mood” or are you a run-around-and-something-pops-up-randomly type of writer?

I really don’t have a process except smoking weed, but I smoke whether I’m writing or not so that says nothing about my writing process. I’m a binge writer, meaning once I start I can’t stop until I’m exhausted. This means writing for long stretches of hours. When I get in the zone while reading and/or writing I get scared I’ll “lose it” so I don’t stop until I fall asleep. It’s not healthy, but I’m working on establishing routines. Dique my 2021 resolution.

If you knew this interview would be read by every person in the world, what would you like to leave them with?

I rather leave the small group that follows me on Instagram with a message. They’re 25 to 45 year olds— 65% women/ 35% men— in the tristate area. I know there are some gender-nonconforming/ non-binary folks in those stats, but IG doesn’t give me that data. These are the people who buy the books I push, read my work and attend events I’m involved with. I want these people to buy On the Tip of Your Mother’s Tongue this fall. I’m preoccupied with those who accept, encourage and follow me for being me.

As for everyone else, I don’t know you, but based on YouTube comments, and comments on social media in general, there’s a great chance you’re an asshole. And yet, I also want you to buy my chapbook. Please and thank you.

And there he is, JP Infante. You can follow him here @infanteJP or if you want to experience his thoughts for yourself and keep up with his work.


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