I first saw Joselynn Watts (they/them) perform in the back of a record store in the small town we both live. They read two poems. No one line from them stuck in my head, but their cadences, and Josie’s stern, powerful performance, hooked me.
They are on the verge of publishing their debut collection of poetry and art, called The World We Live In. On the cover, a figure in a white dress clutches a partially obscured globe. While this evokes the Atlas myth, this comparison does not hold true: the hero is smiling, embracing the globe in love, not ardor.
Josie and I sat down to talk about their poetry. They told me they began writing as a child.
“I used stories as an escape. I think I started writing stories when I was five. I would write them to my mom, and my grandma. I would staple pages of printer paper together and give them little books.”
They said that the contents of these were usually “something fantastical.”
Josie’s grandmother had a massive influence on them. They told me that “She is the woman that raised me. My mom was a single parent and wasn't home very often, so it was my grandma I turned to. She writes poetry, so when she realized that’s something I was trying to make a career out of, she got really excited. She’s one of my biggest supporters.”
My favorite quality of Josie’s poetry is a tender acknowledgment of yearning, of want, and the separation that defines want. This, in Josie’s poems, is very physical. In Insides, they describe, in turn, wanting their body to be obliterated, wanting their body to become the ocean. In Leave Me Alone, some lover wants their body, and they don't want that lover’s body, just their affection. It is all very heartbreaking. I think this is exemplified by The Beach Sonnet, which goes like this:
THE BEACH SONNET
In my mind, you are the Earth.
You are stable, kind and wise.
Those brown irises, so full of mirth.
Dark hair and eyes may be a guise
To the pure intelligence underneath.
In my mind, I am the sea
And our love becomes a beach
Where I hold you and you hold me
As I crash into your arms,
Much like water meeting land,
I notice that with all your charms
Your chest still holds the same warmth as sand.
In my mind, we’re here as long as possible.
Nothing ever feels quite as wonderful.
I love how this romantic scene is, we’re constantly reminded, just in the narrator’s mind. It’s sad. I love, too, how intimate this and other poems of theirs feel. It feels like the thoughts you have, whether peaceful bliss or dark curling doubt, when laying down with someone you love.
Josie says that small, intimate things inspire them.
“I’m most inspired by the mundane parts of life that I find really beautiful. Like, in my poem Mortal Temptation, its literally just about a girl I had a crush on. She used to smoke menthol cigarettes on her breaks during work. It’s such a mundane thing, but I really clinged to it, because the smell of menthol cigarettes represents her to me.”
Here is Mortal Temptations:
She would come back from break smelling like
And even with her warning, I would wrap my arms
around her and breathe her in.
I wished then that I could lick her precious wrist and
taste the smoke.
And even with her warning, I would fall deeper into
her little world.
Josie told me that the through line of their book is self discovery:
“I grew up really religious, so there’s a lot of exploration of spirituality and my own sexuality and coming to terms with who I am.”
Their religious background does play a heavy role in their poems. One of the ones I heard them read at the record store is called My Heavenly Father, and opens with the line: “The Christian God is Cruel.”
Nowadays, Josie tells me they are agnostic, and that in their day to day life, the influence of their religious background “leans more towards how I go about treating people. I love people, so I’m always trying to be charitable and listen.” Though they say this comes from NOT wanting to emulate the morals of their old religion.
Queerness, too, consumes Josie’s poems (one poem is titled Speak To Me Sappho), and is integral to them as a person:
“This is gonna sound so funny, and a lot of people are gonna be like ‘oh, it’s just another blue-haired SJW kind of moment’, but it affects everything I do. Down to the clothes I wear. I want to partake in my own culture of queerness as often as possible.”
They say that, in fully expressing their queerness, they are “the happiest I’ve ever been. What’s hard is having to restrict myself.”
Wrapping up, Josie told me about a world they want to “run away to”.
“It’s a fantasyland. There are so many things that people see as black and white that are actually gray. In this fantasyland, you just understand that people are people, and we’re here to love people. It’s about the person we’re sitting next to, even if it’s a complete stranger.”
The way that Josie practices love in their personal life is very characteristic, and very beautiful. They try to remember things about people, and “love people for people.”
“For me, it’s the small things that show people you have them in mind. Even if you don’t see a person for weeks, if you make a recall back to what they were talking to you about previously, it just makes someone feel so validated."
Remembering the small things. Like the smell of menthols on someone’s wrist, and writing a poem about it. That’s wonderful. Also, when they’re anxious, they go pick up trash on the side of the road. That’s just cool.
Check out their Instagram (@the_.bored._one) for updates on their work. Be on the lookout for the book they are writing (they just finished the first chapter!) The World We Live In will be available online through Writer’s Republic very soon. Keep an eye out, and buy it!
David coppin lanegan
Davidis a musician, journalist, and writer living in rural Washington. You can find him on the corner shooting the breeze, getting home late, or happy in Frenchman’s Coulee
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