Oklahoma woman expresses herself through poetry
MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — Two things have long weighed on Jessica Steward’s heart — serving her country and sharing her emotions.
She said she had wanted to be in the military for as long as she could remember.
“This is my country, I’m supposed to defend it,” she told the Muskogee Phoenix .
Steward got involved in the ROTC her freshman year at Muskogee High School. She joined the Army National Guard after graduating from MHS.
She served twice in Iraq before she was discharged in 2009. She continues to help veterans by working at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Steward shares her feelings through her poetry.
She wrote her way through high school, then saw it as an outlet when she served in the Army.
She said poetry remains an outlet “when I’m frustrated, when I’m angry, sad.”
“You can just get rid of that anger at that moment,” she said.
Steward recalled a lot of tears, anger and hurt when she started writing.
“But as I grew into the woman that I am, there’s been more happiness,” she said. “I can tell where I grew at.”
She said her poetry has since matured. She earned a degree in English and creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
“A lot of things I write about are something I’ve been through, and I know somebody could actually get encouragement off of,” she said.
Steward said her poems come from her life, or from what she sees around her.
“There are times when you feel ‘I need a pen, I have these thoughts, I need to write them down’ because these words are just coming too fast for you to remember later,” she said. “My best poems are when it just hits me and I’m like, ‘I have to write this, hold on.’”
Steward said her first Iraq deployment, for one year, occurred when her daughter was 4.
“A part of me wanted to stay here and raise her,” she said “But then, I signed on that dotted line and it comes with the territory. It was a torn situation. Every time I had to leave my daughter, I would write a poem about her.”
She recalled doing convoy operations during her first deployment. As a result, she often found herself in harm’s way.
“I never knew you could have so many emotions,” Steward said. “There had been times we were shot at. And we only knew that because when we did a 360 check on our trucks, we had holes in them.”
Steward said she managed to call home between her convoys — when the phones weren’t down.
“We wrote a lot of letters, and when I got time to call them, I would call them,” she said.
She recalled seeing the relief on her parents’ faces when she came home in December 2005.
And seeing her daughter?
“There’s no other feeling,” she said. “Knowing you get to hold your daughter again, being around her.”
Steward said communicating with her family during her second deployment, 2007-08, was easier because they didn’t have to leave the post. Steward was honorably discharged in 2009.
Steward has been involved in the poetry group, Soul Searchers, a little over a year.
“It’s a group of great artists,” she said. “Everybody has something to bring to the table.”
The group meets the first Saturday of each month.
“We get there and we just do our spoken word,” she said “If somebody comes in and they want to get on the mic, we let them get on the mic because that’s what poetry is all about, is sharing those words with each other.”
Soul Searchers also has events at The Palace and each Tuesday night at the Downtown Lady.
Steward said each member has a unique style.
“That’s what is awesome,” she said. “We have people who do slam poetry, which I’m not brave enough to do yet.”
Steward said slam poetry is a contest in which poets read their work and the audience or judges vote on who goes to the next level.
“They pretty much battle it out with poetry,” she said.
Some Soul Searchers put musical lyrics into their poetry, she said. Some can do poetry off the top of their heads.
“There’s so much talent,” Steward said. “Another poet has his own beat, and he puts music behind his poetry. Another poet actually sings.”
Steward moved her love of poetry to a new level when she earned a degree online from Southern New Hampshire University.
“I don’t want to use the degree to really get paid, I want to use it for community efforts,” she said, adding that she’d like to be a tutor.
“And I don’t want to charge, I want to be like a nonprofit organization,” she said. “With the school systems and the budget cuts, I feel I can help out.”
She said it took about a year and a half to earn her degree. However, she said the study made her poetry stronger.
“It was pretty intense because it got into breaking down the words, where they come from, how a word is created,” she said. “There were things I didn’t realize go into poetry. Being with other poets in the class, critiquing each other’s work, we shared different concepts on how we can make our poetry become live.”
She said the curriculum broadened her mind. She is working on self-publishing a book of poetry under the name Poetic JD.
Steward has other big dreams — of world renown.
“Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan Poe — I want to be that face of poetry,” she said. “I can get there.”
Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com