Temple poet turns to music to further explore his identity

A student’s work explores his race, faith and relationships.

Stuck in a creative rut, poet Jamal Parker tried to spice things up using a new medium, music.

Since October, he has thrown himself into recording tracks for his new passion project.

“A lot of it will have to do with the gray period I was experiencing where I felt like I was going through a creative stunt of growth,” said Parker, a senior Africology and African American Studies major.

“A lot of it will just be about me opening the experiences in my life that I haven’t displayed, so my relationship to my faith, my relationship to art and my relationship to masculinity and other things that I wanted to address,” he added.

Parker plans to release his music project in 2019. Though he is in the beginning of the project, Parker is no stranger to exploring these themes in his work.

In October, Parker published a micro-chapbook, or a short collection of poems, entitled “Bondage” that addressed similar topics. In the book, Parker highlights his ties to family, faith and race in 12 original poems.

Parker was previously a member of Babel Poetry Collective, a student organization dedicated to performance poetry. In February, his mentors asked him to write a poem that reflected his identity without using words he would usually use to describe himself.

In response, he wrote “Bondage,” a poem with five sonnets, or groups of 14 10-syllable lines, written in iambic pentameter with a stressed syllable, unstressed syllable pattern. The poem went on to be included in his chapbook.

“It was basically for me to write about my bonds to my family, my faith, race and masculinity because those were really common themes in my writing,” Parker said.

One of Parker’s mentors, 2015 English alumnus Miriam Harris, said the prompt attempted to push Babel poets out of their comfort zones and explore writing in a new way.

Parker realized the poem “Bondage” was the last one he needed to publish his micro-chapbook in L’Éphémère Review, an online literary and art journal.

“In the hip-hop world, there’s albums and there’s mixtapes,” Parker said. “In the poetry world, your mixtape is your chapbook.”

The name of the chapbook originated from a difficult time in his life, Parker said.

“There was a period of time where I just felt kind of stuck,” Parker said. “Whether it was in writing, or just being stuck as an artist facing writers’ block…and I just felt I was in a gray area for a long time, and that gray area made me feel like I was in bondage.”

He added he wrote most of his poems during that time.

Parker plans to write a full-length poetry book building on the chapbook, but is currently focusing on his music project.

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, an urban theater and community engagement professor and the Babel faculty adviser, has seen Parker grow as a poet since he took her Poetry as Performance course in Fall 2014.

Williams-Witherspoon said she noticed his talent almost instantly.

“He’s really gifted because his wordplay, his word choice is so fine and exact that he’s able to capture a moment or event in time and crystalize it in words,” Williams-Witherspoon said. “Very few people can do that. He’s a powerhouse.”

Parker met his mentor Harris while she worked as a teaching assistant in Williams-Witherspoon’s poetry performance class. Harris described Parker as one of the hardest-working people she’s mentored.

“He’s hungry to learn, almost to the point where his learning and his skill and his craft has surpassed what I could really do for him as a mentor,” Harris said.

Parker said writing and performing poetry is a cathartic process that help him become more aware of who he is and connects him with people across the country.

“There are other people in the poetry community and even outside the poetry community who hear poems and are like, ‘That’s my story, too,’’ he added. “It kind of bring you in connection and forms a bond that you wouldn’t have imagined.”

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