Moore and More
From poetry to rocking to motherhood, jessica Care moore is a creative force
Published: January 9, 2013
Back in September 2008, poet-performer jessica Care moore (the unusual capitalization is deliberate) appeared on the cover of this very publication. At the time, she had just returned to her hometown of Detroit from Atlanta. Before that, she had been living in New York City and, during her 12 years away, moore earned her fair share of success. She found herself on the stage of the Apollo and saw her reputation as a shining star in modern American poetry blossom. She's published books of poetry by, among others, Def Poetry Jam co-founder Danny Simmons, NBA player Etan Thomas, and former Essence magazine editor AshaBendele. She's performed all over the world more than once, and now she's looking to conquer the music world.
Moore is twice divorced and the mother of a son, King, who is now 8. She moved back to Detroit to be closer to her family during the second divorce; at the time she was nursing 1-year-old King. However, moore is a tough woman, a strong, proud mother with an independent, though gloriously social, spirit. In conversation, she's a whirlwind. During this interview, she's asked perhaps six questions — the rest of the time, she's simply talking. And talking, and talking. That's not a criticism — moore is a captivating, enthusiastic speaker and it's impossible not to get carried away with her.
She's certainly enthusiastic about her home. Back in 2008, moore told MT writer Norene Cashen that, "A lot of my poems are informed by Detroit. Even when I wasn't living in Detroit. I can't help it. I really enjoy the stuff that's here. There are things I see that aren't here. But it's always been that way."
You should read that '08 interview. First, because it's fantastic and, second, because there's really little point re-treading old ground. Moore, ever the evolving artist, certainly doesn't want it that way, so we endeavor to keep things fresh. When we speak to her, Christmas is just a couple of days away, but the poet isn't a fan of Santa and his capitalist elves. "Not in a traditional sense, though there's a tree in my living room right now," she says. "I haven't [celebrated it] in years, since I was a grown-up. When I moved to New York, I felt like I'm not a Christian, so I'm not celebrating the birth of Jesus, and that's what it's supposed to be about. If you're not doing that, I'm in New York, I have no kids, then what am I doing? It's about the kids. I do like the holiday time, I like sharing and giving and all that good stuff. But the capitalism associated with it I don't like. Tony Medina, a really great poet, has these series of books about Santa from the perspective of young poor children. About kids, when they really truly believe in Santa Claus and how if they're naughty they don't get gifts, then what happens to these kids who think they aren't getting presents because they're bad, not because their mom and dad can't afford to buy them. For me, it became a political thing. I didn't want to participate in this super-capitalist holiday. I grew up with the west side of Detroit, but I had a different kind of thinking. I don't like to celebrate because Hallmark tells us to. I'm a humungous birthday person. I go all-out because that's an individual thing to celebrate. The capitalist thing gets on my nerves. I get into the Easter Bunny because it's old-school pagan. Our Christmas tree has butterflies attached to it, dream catchers and little voodoo dolls. You have to make it your own."
Fair enough. Something that is close to moore's heart at present is her Black Women Rock project. Founded in 2004, the 90-minute show is a tribute to pioneer rocker Betty Davis and features vocalists from across the country. In other words, it's a collaborative performance, a mega-jam featuring some of the most talented black female musicians in America and indeed the world.
"I've been wanting to talk about it more," moore says. "I still consider myself a poet first. That informs everything that I do. I always think of Patti Smith, because there weren't a lot of other people I could relate to who were doing what I was doing. I've always been interested in what poetry can do with music. Not many of us are doing that. I've also worked with drum 'n' bass and jungle. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do, and it's funny, because I was doing all this rock 'n' roll, funk and soul, and now I'm recording a jazz project. That's absolutely amazing. I have this incredible quartet. I've been recording over on Grand Boulevard, and it's like electric jazz. There are pieces dedicated to Etta James and Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and all these incredible women. Whitney Houston, who died so tragically young. I met her and she really was an amazing person. It's amazing, these women who die through broken hearts living tragic lives, but they inspire so many people while they're alive through their work and their voices. Looking at the things that I've been through and the heartbreaks that I've dealt with, I've dealt with a lot of pain as far as love is concerned, but I've remained joyful, healthy and drug-free, as corny as that sounds. I'm not shooting up, snorting up into my nose, getting drunk and high, and that's really important. That's a major issue for me. I have to remain healthy on every level — physically and spiritually. I'm in better shape now at 41 than I was at 21. I can run a 10k. I run hills outside with my partner and music friends. All of that is a part of me being a good mother, so that I can be aware, awake and clear. I can talk about what I've been through but not wallow in it and not let that be my story."
In fact, moore's adoration for Betty Davis, the second wife of Miles, has only increased while rocking with her Black Women. "When I was in Atlanta, I was missing the New York energy," she says. "I did a tribute to Betty Davis. Ahmir ["Questlove" Thompson] from the Roots told me that I smile like Betty Davis. I looked her up and found her, got introduced to her music and I was blown out of the water. Who is this woman? She's breathtakingly beautiful, she's sexy, and she has this amazing story about being married to Miles. I thought, why isn't everyone talking about this woman? So we did a celebration of Betty Davis. I wanted to bring light on the fact that women of color have trouble getting a deal. I want to show all these beautiful women on the planet and how we look with different shapes and colors and whatever. We don't all look like one thing. I saw that scene in New York, and there were all of these amazing women. It's amazing how we've been all over the world independently. You don't have to sign all of your publishing rights away and have someone tell you what you can wear. You can actually do this shit on your own, own the label and distribute your own music. We're definitely not the industry show. That's not my interest. My interest is the women who are famous in their own right. The Gil Scott-Heron kind of thing, the cult following. Betty Davis is a household name for us, but others would say, 'Huh? Who is that?' That's my life. I like to be in the middle so I can stay sane. The music helps me get to a different audience. Being a poet from Detroit, it was never about being in some café playing some damn poetry spot. It was always reaching as many people as possible."
> Email Brett Callwood