The artist who goes by the name of MrJeffDess fits the template perfectly for what a spoken-word artist ought to be. Professorship—check. Some background in literature—Dess received a BA and and an MA in English Literature from St. John’s University—check. Handy with words—check. MrJeffDess is going to be the headline poet at Kreyol Corner, a collaboration between the poet and hip Brooklyn eatery La Caye Restaurant.
Dess has been experimenting with a plethora of literary genres since college. Thus far, the Queens-born son of Haitian parents has published four books of poetry. His multi-faceted platform has taken him to universities and institutions around the nation. In his role as the Assistant Director of Campus Life at New Jersey City University, he regularly implements poetry and literature in student activities and, in his own words, “keeps it funky”.
Kreyolicious: Who introduced you to poetry?
I was introduced to poetry through hip-hop. The first poem I ever wrote was a rap verse. It wasn’t until college that I began to study and write various other types of poetry.
Kreyolicious: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost was first introduced to me in elementary school. As I grew older, it became more meaningful to me. Do you ever think of what your life would be like, had you not been on the path that you’re on currently—had you chosen another career route?
My career revolves around education, creativity and expression. I’ve worked as a college professor, a college administrator, a residence hall director, a public speaker, a rapper, a poet and somehow, some way I’ve found myself aligned with those key principles. I’m still not 100% certain about the path that I am on and where it will take me, but I am fully convinced that those ideals will dictate my travels.
Kreyolicious: Let’s talk about poetry versus text messages. Do you think that poetry is an art form that will go bye-bye? Text messages are abrupt, usually composed in a hurry, and under red lights, void a lot of times of the gentleness that we’ve come to expect of poetry, but compared to the 19th Century days when Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning would woo each other with long, fluid poems, this generation and generations to come are investing in text.
Kreyolicious: Each generation has their own ways of communicating and I don’t think poetry gets affected by that.
I think memes on social media is poetry. I think effective use of text emoticons is poetry. Tweets can be poetic. I am a writer of haiku poems and in their ancient nature; they’ve always been short and abrupt. The beauty of poetry is its fluidity. You never know what shape or form it comes in, but it will always be present.
Kreyolicious: How did the idea for the Kreyol Corner poetry series come about?
I used to live right down the block from La Caye Restaurant and became friendly with one of the owners. I had been working on some new projects and was looking for an opportunity to collaborate. We spoke and eventually we came together to create this idea. It’s been a great success and a lot of fun.
Kreyolicious: What have you learned from the other editions?
I’ve learned that are so many talented Haitian and Haitian American poets around the New York City area. At Kreyol Korner we have seen some first time poets hit the stage and getting to see that is always an invigorating experience.
Kreyolicious: When you’re standing on stage performing, you can see things people in the audience may not see. What do you usually see in terms of how people react to spoken word poetry? What seems to move them?
It varies with each audience. I prefer my words to impact more than my performance. At the end of the day understanding your audience is important. Knowing what will move, excite and teach your audience is important. I like to interact with my audience beforehand if possible to help gauge what will work best with them.
Kreyolicious: And going back to performance, let’s talk about pre-performance. How do you get ready to hit the stage?
I don’t do much preparation. I get this tingle in my fingers that happens literally every time I perform and that’s when I know it’s time for the show.
Kreyolicious: Dude, when was the last time you went to Haiti? This is a staple question around here, by the way. [Smiles]
I always surprise people with this answer and I’m not the proudest of it, but I have never been. I’ll be working on that though. I have plans to go in 2015.
Kreyolicious: And what does MrJeffDess have in store for those who are following his career, and those who’ve just discovered him?
My latest book Deconstructing Ratchet is currently available. I have two one-man shows coming up soon and I’m also working on a new book of comedic short stories about dating in the black community. I’m always working on projects and you can find out more about them by following my social media outlets and checking out my website.