By Jamari Jordan
Over the next few weeks, I will be interviewing a group of people who I find to be inspiring, passionate about what they do, and dream-chasers. This series will be called L5. It will be a written profile piece with a podcast accompanying the feature. The first installment will feature writer and poet John Wood.
Listen to my full interview with John Wood below:
My first taste of a college campus was when I arrived to the University of Georgia for Georgia Daze, a minority recruitment organization geared toward acclimating newly admitted minority students with the college lifestyle. After a long day of lectures and campus tours, I was tired. But, we had one more event before we could take a break, the Kappa Alpha Psi barbecue.
After we enjoyed the “blackened” hotdogs and hamburgers (the textbook recipe for every black BBQ), we headed inside for the last presentation. One Kappa stood up and told us about the college experience, but he was different from the other speakers throughout the day. He didn’t talk down to us, but with us. He didn’t tell us do’s/dont’s, rather he told us it was okay to make mistakes.
That was the first time I met John Wood. I left really impressed because he was the first person that told us the truth about college. You’re going to fall down, over and over again, but every time you got to get back up. That wasn’t just any random piece of advice, but a journey John experienced himself.
John, a native of Southwest Atlanta, had his first experience writing in the church and in private school. Like most private school students can relate, there are endless programs that you have to speak at and/or perform. John participated in his fair share, and by the age of 13, he was writing his first poems. He would continue his poetry throughout high school, but when it came time to go to college at UGA, he wouldn’t major in English, rather business instead.
“I think I saw Terry [UGA’s school of Business] as a way to make good money,” said Wood. “I was always kind of techy as a kid, but writing was what I loved.”
John’s story is one that is all too familiar. Today, millennials are faced with the arduous task of choosing between what they love or what will provide financial security. School systems, especially those in Southwest Atlanta, place a premium on achieving the paycheck instead of the passion behind doing the job. When you couple that with the recession that took place before John entered college, majoring is business seemed like the smart move, in fact, the only move.
Even though John chose to do the “smart” thing, writing remained pivotal in his college career. In college, John discovered an abundance of new, fresh material to write on. Whether it was his times in the dorms, the epic parties at New Earth nightclub, or the always interesting college dating scene, John found himself with pen and paper in his hand detailing his experiences, experiences that were all too relatable to his peers.
John’s first real performance of poetry came at a Kappa event early in college, a fraternity he would later pledge. Needless to say, the nerves had a front row seat to his performance. For the days leading up to his performance, John had his group of friends review his poem, “Matters of the Heart.” He would go on to perform the selection on top of Musiq Soulchild’s “So Beautiful.” John’s performance was met with rave reviews and he took a major step towards getting his poetry out there.
A piece from “Matters of the Heart”:
“Excuse the fact that this artistic expression is slightly emotional and nothing less than real because I have learned that my writing is always a product of how I subconsciously feel.
I would usually plead the fifth, but I do remember when I believed that love was a myth
and that relationships were nothing but long, unhappy trips.”
John attributes his friends’ feedback and support to him finally performing his poetry, and performing it well. Initially, John feared criticism. Like most creatives and artists, he was sensitive about his work. If someone said they didn’t like one of his poems, he took it as they didn’t like him either as his poems were a reflection of his thoughts and experiences.
John had to learn to get out of his own way. Eventually, he sought out their help and didn’t shy away anymore from their criticisms. Instead, he embraced them realizing that if he wasn’t able to take constructive criticism, his writing would never really improve.
“The tallest structures in the world, they wouldn’t have stood so long for thousands and thousands of years without that support, said Wood. “Those beams that hold them up. You need people in your arena that can tell you whether something is good or not.”
From there, John would continue his poetry and would occasionally perform them at various campus events when the opportunity presented itself. In particular, Cafe’ Soul, thrown by the Black Affairs Council, would be an annual place for John to perform his poetry. In 2014, he had what he and many of his peers consider his break out moment as he performed his now staple piece, “Butterflies No More.”
An excerpt from “Butterflies No More”:
“I wonder If I’ll ever see the maturity of the things that I thought was so sure to be..
Looking back, I was naive to believe that this was as easy to retrieve
as the stories that read in books and saw on TV.
I had to realize that there is no indentation for different relations
when the sole purpose of our conversation was for penetration .
How we gone form trust on foundations of lust??”
That night, I was at Cafe’ Soul. I was covering the event for ELITE and interviewed various performers for a story I was working on. I had my camera in my hand standing toward the door when John took the stage. I was looking down at my camera scrolling through pictures of the night as John began his piece. A few moments into the piece, my head popped up.
The above passage not only caught my attention, but the entire audience as John was greeted with cheers after he finished. John put a lot of his poems online on FaceBook, but this one was different. It resonated with so many in the audience. Later, John would post a link of his performance online and his SpokenWood brand was ushered in.
“The response was just crazy,” said Wood. “Once I saw that, I was like, ‘yeah, I can really do this.’ It was that extra set of motivation.”
Now, John is just over a week away from the release from his first book, Things I Lost Along the Way. The book will be a collection of poems from his reserve, old and even a few new ones for readers to enjoy. As John continues to write, he has developed his own flow, a flow he has perfected and will be on showcase in TILATW. Because John embraced the criticisms and feedback of his friends, this book is much different from the initial draft he wrote in December.
Black culture is the most popular culture. Look no further than the latest BlackTwitter trend, latest Migos song, or film and TV like Moonlight and Black-ish. TILATW, much like so much of John’s work, is the language for millennials, the black community, and especially young black men. Five years ago, John didn’t put his writing first, but today, he has made the most out of all his experiences and learned a lot along his way.
“Even if this isn’t my career path that I’m in right now, whatever I’m learning here can serve me when God appoints me to where I’m supposed to be,” said Wood.
Things I Lost Along the Way releases 4.1.17.
You can visit spokenwoodpoetry.com to get your pre-order and check out John’s upcoming events.
You can follow John Wood on Twitter at @_spokenwood