I’ve kept a diary since I was in elementary school. When my childhood best friend and I were young, we used to read our journal entries to each other in my bunk bed. Then we began writing poems and songs together. The act of writing has always felt second-nature to me.
Jamie Oliveria is a nomadic poet, visual artist and all-around creative person. The 24 year-old self-published poet hails from San Francisco, yet prefers to be known as an inhabitant of the world. She received her B.A. in documentary film production from San Francisco State University. It was actually Oliveria’s film background that helped craft her knack for storytelling. This traveling artist has many stories to tell one medium at a time.
Give me a little summary/background about yourself and your work.
I’m a nomadic poet / visual artist that’s been working throughout the West Coast, India, Nepal and China since completing my documentary film degree in San Francisco a few years ago.
When did you start writing?
What got you interested in poetry? And why that platform?
Well, learning to communicate my emotions has been a series of mountains and obstacles. I’ve always been drawn to poetry’s power to communicate feeling. I loved the way other poets could describe the nuance of what I was feeling in a way I could understand (through imagery, subtlety, and metaphor) and I liked that I could share my experiences, process and reflections in a language simultaneously abstract, indirect, and tangible.
How would you describe your poetic style? What are some of the recurring themes in your art?
While my prose tends to go into great detail, I enjoy using poetry as a medium to express myself with minimal language to accurately represent a particular feeling or idea. Mostly, I explore themes of transformative healing, mysticism, relationships, and intersectional feminism, and then I just follow the rhythm of the heart and purge the excess. Instead of talking about the tip of the iceberg, I want my poetry to communicate the line where the water and air meet around the iceberg, while being aware of what is both below and above it.
How important is it to create work with a feminist lens?
Very! We absolutely need to take sociopolitical structures and the sensitivities of others into consideration while making and sharing art. I think that incorporating an informed, feminist lens (to the best of our knowledge) is one of the only ways we can create conscious socially-minded work.
What roles do gender identity and race play in your work? Is it important to blend activism into art? Or is art always political?
I hardly identify myself as any gender, especially since I have a tendency of disassociating from being a person that exists in general. However, I do move through the world as a mixed femme and this foundation influences most of the work I make that protests how others may see or treat me. While race and gender inform the work I make, which is often a response to the world, but not necessarily to how I view myself, the work that comes from my direct meditations is often transcendent of identities. Regarding the importance of incorporating activism into art, I think protest is as natural and as necessary a response to oppression as creation is. Art will always be political, because our backgrounds influence the ideas that we have and the ways we have the privileges of communicating them. Even if the act of creating and the ideas themselves were not inherently political, the moment we share our work, it enters the realm of the political. Politics inform which platforms we have access to, who will resonate with our work, and how our work will be valued.
Why is storytelling so important to you?
We share our stories to connect and heal, for ourselves and for others. I have never felt more alone than the times that I was too afraid to share. The weights we carry lift as soon as we begin to reach out. We need not always tell our stories in the form of art, but we do need to share our stories somehow. Speaking our truth, to at least one person, is crucial for our survival. We need to be witnessed — first and foremost by ourselves. Our experiences are worthy of seeing the light of day.
What inspires your craft? And who?
My environment, and my reactions to that environment. Lately I’ve been inspired by the resourceful people I encounter on my travels. People are constantly throwing useful things away, so I’ve been using found objects as my canvas as a way of combating waste and attempting to participate in capitalism as little as possible. There is only so much I can carry on my back or in my car, so what I find is completely dependent upon my environment. I have no way of planning for or anticipating what I will discover when I arrive to a new place. If I have the intentions of creating, I just have to trust that I will be able to find exactly what I need to make whatever it is that is desiring to come into fruition. The tools are nearly always there, right in front of us.
Do you think your background in documentary film changes the way you view your poetic work?
Not very directly, since documentary film making tends to come from a more cerebral dimension of myself, and poetry more of the heart-nature, but I do find that my film making background supports the way I organize and edit collections of poetry. I ditch what doesn’t fit and follow a cohesive story-arch.
How was the process of working on a photo heavy book, like ‘(more than) dust’ compared to a print heavy book, like ‘The Calming’?
Practically speaking, working on a print-heavy book felt a lot more mentally approachable. I really only needed a notebook, a pen and a laptop with me, so working on the go was pretty effortless. When I was working on the photo book, I felt a bit trapped in the spaces I was living because I thought I needed to have enough space to keep all of my materials. I would always tell myself, “I can’t leave until the book is done.” When my environments became too toxic to stay, and a friend helped me realize it’s okay to leave when projects are incomplete, I eventually found a way to make the next space work, too.
What inspired you to publish ‘The Calming’?
I needed a way to process what leaving toxic environments and listening to my intuition looked like for me. When I first moved into a friend’s cabin in the California Redwoods, I was writing every day, sinking more and more into my present space at the time. Once I started compiling the poems into a manuscript, I saw that Button Poetry and Where Are You Press were both having chapbook contests. I had put just enough poems together to apply, but almost didn’t apply because of (seriously minimal) entry fees, worries that I wouldn’t be able to promote myself enough to be published and confusion about whether or not either would be able to become full-length books if accepted. Luckily, on the last day, I applied anyway. After being chosen as a finalist in the Where Are You Poet contest, and being selected as the winner, I cancelled my application with Button Poetry. Clementine von Radics’ (author of Mouthful of Forevers and founder of Where Are You Press) suggested the book become a full-length, illustrated collection of poems, and The Calming began to take a clearer shape. While the book’s beginnings were in the Redwood forest, I ended up finishing all of the writing and illustrations while volunteering at a farm and living as an artist in residence in the south of India.
Whose work, regardless of the creative platform, are you feeling right now?
I just visited Guan Wei’s COSMOTHEORIA exhibition in the 798 Art District of Beijing and was absolutely moved. They brilliantly capture the yearning, strife, and resilience of the human spirit in relation to the cosmos in an accessible way.
Describe the self-publishing process. Why go the self-publishing route, rather than go through a publishing house?
There are definitely benefits to both. If the opportunity to be published by someone else comes up and their vision aligns with yours, you have the gift of an established support system in place for your book. A publisher will help provide a timeline, help you edit, and help you promote, but if you have the resources to do all of those things yourself, then going the self-publishing route is just as useful. If you are naturally entrepreneurial, you will have more autonomy, you can work at your own pace, and you will receive a larger percentage of the royalties. Even if you have no desire to market your book whatsoever, you can still self-publish for the sake of it. Just upload your PDF to CreateSpace, order a few copies to sell or give away in person if you’d like, agree to let the book be available for folks to purchase through Amazon, and they’ll print and ship for you each time someone orders your book. Really hassle-free.
Do you have any advice for any young creatives who want to self-publish their work?
Create as much as you desire, share as much as you desire, and be deliberate and selective about what you decide to publish. When you are the primary curator of your work, you are the master of your voice, so it’s important that you give yourself the room to reflect all that you are in focused, cohesive ways. But then again, sometimes the self in process is completely chaotic, so a mess of a body of work can be fine too. Just make with love! Or anger! Whatever! The world needs your voice regardless.
Where can people follow you and find your work?
You can follow me on Instagram and Tumblr @jamieoliveira, and check out my website at www.jamie-oliveira.com