The American Nigerian poet I.S. Jones’ chapbook Spells of My Name has been selected by Newfound for its Emerging Poets Chapbook Series. The poems “navigate language, memory, sexuality, identity, longing, and the mind’s inner workings, in such a way that forms a summation of the heart’s histories.” Newfound is a US-based nonprofit publishing books that “explore how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding.”
Jones first shared the news on social media.
“This culmination of labor arrived in the world at the time it was meant to,” Jones told Open Country Mag. “I think a good book teaches its writer about themselves.”
Here is a synopsis of Spells of My Name:
Guided by an erasure sequence of interviews, we find a speaker whose body is fractured through a series of misspellings: “In every mouth, I’m a copy of a copy of an error. It is exhausting to live as mistranslation.” A speaker who returns to “open the body into a new language” is constantly searching, probing, hungry, and is unflinching in their exactness: “Why do any of us return / to that which has promised to slaughter us?”
This splintering of the self is neither borne out of confusion nor is it a subject of total indecision on its own, but the musings of one whose path has already been laid out, a path full of sharp bends, a corridor of tress, much like the fawn that bounds throughout the book.
The speaker is driven by an urgency to constantly self-question, to name the sexual violences enacted against the femme body, against the immigrant body, in a measure to be whole again.
At the center of these moving parts, the speaker confronts their violent relationship with their father, reimagining themself as a black fawn moving through a forest as they are being chased by a faceless hunter.
Form and structure, which represents the body’s shifting landscape, governs much of this collection. With empathy, lyrical dexterity and some notes of humor, Spells Of My Name holds within its pages a voice that is firm and yet tender, akin to a lone voice in the wilderness.
These poems are confessional, just as they are urgent, timely, experimental and beautiful crafted, each effortless in its grace. A strong indicator of the long and luminous road ahead of this poet’s career.
Also a music journalist, I. S. Jones freelances for Complex, Earmilk, and NBC News THINK. She is a Graduate Fellow with The Watering Hole and holds fellowships from Callaloo, BOAAT Writer’s Retreat, and Brooklyn Poets. She is a Book Editor with Indolent Books, Editor at 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, co-editor of The Young African Poets Anthology: The Fire That Is Dreamed Of (Agbowó, 2020), and served as the inaugural nonfiction guest editor for Lolwe. She hosts a month-long workshop every April called The Singing Bullet.
Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Guernica, Washington Square Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart Pulp, The Rumpus, The Offing, Shade Literary Arts, Blood Orange Review, and Honey Literary. Her work was chosen by Khadijah Queen as a finalist for the 2020 Sublingua Prize for Poetry.
She is an MFA candidate in Poetry at UW–Madison as well as the Inaugural 2019–2020 Kemper K. Knapp University Fellowship recipient. She splits her time between Southern California and New York.
“It was a goal of mine to have my chapbook accepted before I graduated, and I am immensely grateful to have been awarded the Kemper K. Knapp Fellowship in my first year at UW-Madison, which bought me invaluable time to dream and conceive of this chapbook,” Jones told Open Country Mag. “I’m grateful to my editor, Lev Keltner, and to Newfound for selecting this manuscript. I’m happy to, at last, put this little book down and move on to other things.”
Pre-order for I.S. Jones’ Spells of My Name begins September 30. The chapbook will be published in November.