My Day with Jamaal May

by Camryn Parsons

Since I came to HB, the writer’s festival has been one of my favorite times of the year, and each year, it just seems to get better and better. In years past I have worked on playwriting, spent a day with Sarah Kay, Alexandra Fuller, and more. The most recent workshop I did was with one of my all time favorite poets: Jamaal May. He is by far one of the smartest and kindest person I have ever met. Jamaal May is filled with energy and smiles, and of course, beautiful poetry.

However, not only is Jamaal May an expert in the poetry world, in my eyes, he is also an expert on his vast theories and explanations. His ideas have constantly developed throughout the years, increasing with his life experiences. For example, he has mastered lucid dreaming, which is the awareness that you are dreaming and the ability to control your dreams and what you are able to do – for example, flying. Another one of my favorite of his ideas had to do with déjà vu. Déjà vu is one of the weirdest feelings, one that has always freaked me out and one I’ve found rather unexplainable. I think that a lot of people have thought about déjà vu as the short term and long term memory getting mixed up, but I am a lot more compelled by Jamaal’s possible explanation of it. He thinks that déjà vu can be explained by parallel universes. What if, when you have déjà vu, that moment you think you have experienced before has happened to you in other life, or in other universe, and you don’t realize it or feel it or remember it until it happens to you again? I guess you could say this had me pretty shook. I’m so interested in this idea I’ve told all my friends, and haven’t always gotten the reaction I’ve been looking for (not everyone has been as amazed by it as me).

We talked a lot about this idea of parallel universes – what if there is another version of me, or hundreds of other versions of me, living different lives and making different decisions? What if every dream we have is taking us to another life, one that another us is experiencing right now? (I think this is sort of disturbing, considering how weird and crazy some of our dreams are. But then again, what would compel our minds to just think up these things when we are unconscious? Weird stuff, but I strongly suggest researching this – it’s fascinating and there’s some never ending information!)

Simply talking about all these complexities of our universe made the two days I worked with Jamaal May absolutely wonderful and new, like nothing I have ever experienced. Even though we spent lots of time talking and exploring, we still were able to work some poetry in. My favorite prompt we had was a definition poem. Basically, we were given a word and had to write a definition of it in the form of a poem. Here is mine: (definition of determined)

To be determined is to rise in a world

With a gruesome grudge against you

Since the rainy day you were born.

One that has hated you since the second

You escaped your mother’s womb

To your very last moment, carried to your tomb.

Determined was your heart,

Despite all the people that tried to tear it apart.

Determined was your mind,

Whom always smiled,

Was always kind.

Determined were your eyes,

That saw too much

And cried too little