Writer and educator Biankah Bailey, 38, hails from Kingston, Jamaica, and came to Japan in 2007. Along with artist and educator Marcellus Nealy, she has compiled and edited “Umoja, The Black Diaspora Edition,” a special issue of the Tokyo Poetry Journal’s “Excursions” publication.
1. When did you get into poetry? The first poem I wrote was for a class in high school. I loved how shutting out the world to write made me feel, and I have been doing it since then.
2. Was the “Umoja” anthology your idea? It was the idea of one of Tokyo Poetry Journal’s founding editors, Jeffrey Johnson. He tapped Marcellus Nealy to put it together, and then Marcellus brought me on board.
3. What was the biggest challenge in putting it together? When we put out our call for submissions, we were inundated with creative talent in response. The challenge became deciding what not to include — not for reasons having to do with creativity, but to create a general flow of the book. We were fortunate enough to have the help of Tokyo Poetry Journal’s editorial board and our wonderful copy editor Joy Waller.
4. What needs to happen to make poetry more popular? Is poetry not popular anymore? I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in poetry. It is a language that speaks to the heart of society as it exists from moment to moment.
5. Do you believe in aliens? I believe it’s possible we’re not alone out here.
6. What do you miss most about Jamaica? My family, my mother especially. Jamaica will always be home to me, so there will always be a place for me to return to.
7. Do you think other countries are siphoning off too many of Jamaica’s best and brightest? The question of a brain drain cannot be sufficiently answered in this space. I will say two things about Jamaican migration, though: First, a brain drain is an unfortunate economic reality that affects Jamaica and all the other poorer nations that make up the Global South. Second, the fact there are Jamaican expats everywhere points to the notion that, culturally, we are very curious about the world outside our borders.
8. What makes Jamaicans so curious? I believe it is in part due to our being exposed to media from many countries. I also believe that it comes from the success of our education system in instilling a genuine curiosity about the world in young Jamaicans.
9. Was curiosity what brought you here? Yes, a desire to see somewhere different from where I was raised and the possibility of travel to destinations beyond where I had ever imagined possible.
10. What do you like least and most about Japan? What I like most about Japan? The general safety level. The least? Office culture.
11. I read a story about Jamaicans seeking reparations from England for the slave trade. Do you think reparations are due? Reparations are definitely due. Things like dismantling the Commonwealth, paying reparations to the tune of the value of the labor done by enslaved Africans to former colonies and dismantling institutional racism in Britain would be a start.
12. If you had $100 billion with which to make a better world, how would you spend it? First of all, I believe it is immoral for anyone to have that much wealth. If I had that, I would put it into environmentally sustainable initiatives that would employ citizens of poorer nations like Jamaica at livable wages. The question of making the world better is far too complex for any ideas I could come up with myself, of course.
13. What is your day job? I teach 3- to 5-year-olds at Japanese kindergartens in the morning and then after-school lessons for elementary school students up to sixth grade.
14. What other projects are you working on? I am working on a sci-fi short fiction series that I have been posting in parts on (the online platform) Ko-fi. I am also writing a sci-fi novel that I hope to have finished by the end of this year.
15. What media are you consuming at the moment? “The Expanse,” it’s the best original sci-fi series in years.
16. Who is your favorite author? I have always hated this question because I could never choose a favorite. Here’s a short list of authors whose works I love: Salman Rushdie, Roxane Gay, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Brit Bennett and Arundhati Roy.
17. Do you have a list like that for the poets you love? Yes: Derek Walcott, Louise Bennett-Coverley and Warsan Shire.
18. If a person is new to poetry, where should they start? Anyone can get into poetry because what’s out there is so diverse. I suggest people start out by reading poetry on themes that they personally relate to.
19. What can we expect at the “Umoja” launch party on Feb. 12? It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, after all. Live poetry, music, drumming and just a good time communing with artists who love what they do. Great for a date night.
20. What are your plans for 2022? Get through it.
The launch party for “Umoja, The Black Diaspora Edition” will take place as a masked event at Haretara Sora ni Mame Maite from 6 p.m. on Feb. 12. Admission is ¥3,500, which includes a copy of the book. The venue is located at Mon Cherie Daikanyama B2, 20-20 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya Ward. Fore more information, visit haremame.com/schedule/72200.
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