BY: Q. VERGARA
Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, T.J. Love brings much more to the table than the Speaking In Tongues: Languages of Love poetry book he released on January 6, 2017. As we spoke, he made it very clear how versatile he is for all things literature. He also touched on a variety of subjects like how his grandma influenced his way of writing through math, his ninth spoken word album, and how he marched himself into Universal Records to meet Jay-Z.
Q: So tell us about your Speaking In Tongues project.
T: It's my very first publication. I've had work published online or in print for an anthology back in high school, but this is my very first standalone collection of poetry published and I'm pretty hype about it honestly. Speaking In Tongues is based on the premise of The Five Love Languages concepts of how people express love and need their love expressed, based on what their personality is. I need 'Quality Time' and 'Physical Touch.' Those are definitely my love languages and why there is a bit of a slant towards Physical Touch.
Q: Oh wow, it sounds like there's more to this collection than meets the eye. So when you wrote the first poem to this collection, were you aware of the direction or did everything kind of just happen and fit together?
T: I wanted there to be an underlying theme and my poetry tends to cover a lot of ground, from political to introspective, and obviously, love. I wanted there to be cohesion, so I decided that I would tie my work together with the love languages because to me it made sense. I was, in a way, exploring my own love languages and how I needed to receive love, and past relationships and stuff like that, in gathering all this work together. So it was definitely pre-planned.
Q: Oh wow, I feel like that's even more brilliant because it shows this meticulous planning while still being able to explore such an unpredictable topic. Now I'm familiar with some of your political poems which are poignantly written. How would you describe your style of writing? And further more, do you find yourself having to drastically change gears going back and forth between topics? Or is it, more or less, all coming from the same place so it's hand in hand? How did you develop that versatility?
T: Thank you for that. It's definitely appreciated. My writing style is something I'd like to think as unique. My grandmother used to say that math only has one finite way of reaching a solution. So I always subconsciously internalized that and made my poetry the complete opposite: let me arrive at this destination in a million ways. In infinite ways. Whatever you take from it is what I was trying to say. I try to write in an abstract way without being oversaturated and talking OVER your head as opposed to at you. Whatever is extrapolated is the goal. I know what I was writing, but the result for you can have a universe of possibilities. I do love wordplay, hence the Wordsmith moniker. I love taking ordinary concepts and twisting them into different meanings and appearances to create a whole new point that you, hopefully, never considered before. I see myself writing from the same place honestly. Whether it's a need to be heard by a lover, an ex, a politician, a social construct, it's a need to be heard. That stems from growing up feeling stifled and subdued, being convinced that I didn't have a voice and using my poetry as my outlet. So I guess that's where the versatility comes from, one place of still feeling the need to be heard, to communicate things that even as an adult, I still feel like I can't do verbally.
Q: That's so incredibly amazing. Is poetry your “go-to” form of writing or just what you've been focused on as of late? Do you write short stories or anything?
T: It's funny, people have asked me that so much, I might have to start writing them. Other than a college flash fiction assignment, I haven't written a short story since I was a kid, but I used to write them all the time. I would make my own Sonic The Hedgehog comic books and then create my own bastardized versions of characters. Instead of Sonic, I had Rapid Rabbit. Instead of Batman, I had Ratman and Acrobatman, instead of Spiderman I had Silverman, who had mercury for blood. [Laughs] I lived life very high above copyright laws as a kid. So poetry is definitely the main writing form for me.
Q: Do you think you can still find your old comic books? I bet they'll bring back some amazing memories and maybe a few chuckles. My old stories always make me laugh because of my naivety or logic from that age. So, you have a whole year of opportunities in front of you. Any projects you already have lined up for 2017?
T: Oh nah, those comics are completely dissipated into the ether. All I have now are my memories, like Rose at the end of Titanic. I wish I did though. Whenever I look at old stuff, it makes me cringe though, so that would be a Netflix-esque emotional rollercoaster. As far as 2017 is concerned, the book released January 6th. I'm working on my ninth spoken word album, or my first one, depending on which angle you're viewing it from. This one will have original production as opposed to the acapella or sampled beats on my previous albums. Once I get hooked up with some of my producer friends, "Analog Man x Digital Age" will finally see the light of day. Also I've been asked to feature on my buddy's mixtape, so keep your ear out for Con Rome. Then it's off to visualize the next book.
Q: Ok wait wait wait, hold on... so what all do you do creatively? You do spoken word? So you have albums with different tracks and what not? Tell me more about this. I feel so blindsided by this new information.
T: Yes ma'am! I have eight spoken word albums, available for free download on my purevolume account. It's super outdated, but they're all there.
Q: Oh wow. Can people expect to see you performing live? How long have you been doing spoken word? How did you get into that?
T: If they live in the Phoenix area, yes. I haven't performed since the summer, but I intend to get back to my open mic regimen in 2017. I've been performing since I was 17, so about 11 years or so now. Definitely a process with that, for sure. I went from a stage fright-ridden, spit my verses too fast because I was nervous to a less stage fright-ridden chill dude who can finesse his way through an intro with a cocksure Brooklyn accent. I started out of pure luck honestly. My former mentor saw that I used to rap and said I should try performing my poetry, which I had no idea was a thing. He read me some of his work and I was floored and immediately became enamored with it.
Q: Wait hold on... You used to rap?
T: [Laughs] Way back in the day.
Q: I refuse to acknowledge your badassery until I get all the facts. How old were you? Why did you stop?
T: I still freestyle from time to time.
Q: You are honestly full of surprises.
T: I don't know when I officially started. It was always something I did for fun as a kid, but I guess the seeds were planted freshman year of high school. My friends and I used to joke on each other in battle rap form. That's where I first explored my love for wordplay. It's how I combated bullying and made it into my own weapon. After my adversaries became allies, we formed a little rap group and shot music videos and stuff. The pinnacle of that was my buddy and I taking our "artists' package" to Universal in Midtown Manhattan where Roc-A-Fella Records was and shopping ourselves for an audience with Jay-Z. It was unannounced and kind of a "piss in the wind, see what sticks" kind of thing. Of course, we got the old "Mr. Carter was out of the country" message from the nice receptionist lady who kindly dashed our teenage dreams. What's funny is that if all the tools, like social media and being able to DIY everything, was available then like it is now, I have no doubt in my mind we could've been the next Rae Sremmurd, but ummmm... better. That was like 2004 though [Laughs].
Q: That's such a great story. I bet when you blow up, you and Jay Z will sit down and you can tell him he played himself.
T: We didn't know how to market and project ourselves. We were literally just like "Yooooo we are dope as fuck, Roc-A-Fella would be stupid not to sign us!"
Q: It's really amazing what marketing can do.
T: Being able to extend yourself to people's comfort levels is something a lot of poets are unable to accomplish, so you have VERY FEW mainstream spoken word artists. People like Saul Williams, Floetry and Warsan Shire have somehow cracked the code, but even they are pigeonholed into niche markets. Warsan Shire only blew up on a more universal level this year because of her work for Beyonce.
Q: It's funny you mention Floetry because they're my shit. I love those two women.
T: Same. They were my first unconscious introduction to spoken word. And Marsha Ambrosius has parlayed her time in Floetry into a successful solo career. But I think it would be incredible if a more mainstream market for spoken word artists opened up.
Q: Do you hope to launch into a mainstream spoken word career?
T: Honestly, nah. Maybe in my younger days if there was a bigger demand for spoken word art then. But now, there's a lot that goes into it that I'm not completely down to commit myself to, like memorizing my work and performing it a million times at different venues. I'd rather hit up an open mic, ply my craft, get some snaps and claps and sit my self-accomplished ass down.
Q: That's a great way to put it. You're definitely a hidden gem I wish I was put on to sooner.
T: Story of my life [Laughs]. Nah, thank you.
As we wrapped up the interview, it felt as though I was saying goodbye to an old friend. Our entire conversation felt like a reunion of sorts as we reminisced on memories that were brand new to me. You can purchase T.J. Love's first collection of poetry Speaking in Tongues: Love In Five Languages here.
Q. Vergara is a foul-mouthed author and editor that vicariously takes pleasure in the success of her Vital Narrative team. She’s been with Vital Narrative since December 2014 and has enjoyed the opportunity to meet new and upcoming authors while being given the opportunity to take sneak peaks at their work. She claims it to be inspiring. She’s excited to conduct more interviews in the future.