“I feel seen… I’ve pulled all of my stories from different parts of myself and, now, people are going to read these stories, listen to these stories, tell these stories. All my high-pitched ‘oh my gods’ aside, I feel, most of all, seen.”–Tara Downs.
Expressing one’s self isn’t quite easy, especially when you have to be mindful of what you say, how you say it, and to whom you say it. After all, the spoken word is something a person can never erase once it has escaped. There are writers who are aware of the opinions of others and stifle their growth and engulf their creativity in the compliments, criticisms and slurs of reader feedback. On the other hand, there are writers who are unapologetically real and find solace in their creativity and honesty even if they have to ‘ruffle a few feathers’ of their audience.
One such firecracker who has confidently stood in her truth is Tara-Elizabeth Downs, who debuted her first (of many) books. Spending six months to a year conceptualizing the collection of poems and actually putting pen to paper was no easy task, but the road to publishing and launching her book was more taxing than the writing itself.
“I would whine to my friends ‘omg, guys, this is never gonna happen’ and they would just remind me to be patient. Most definitely, I have grown and changed. When the book was finally ready and I received the proof copy, I was almost a little ashamed because I realized I’m not really here anymore, but it still felt necessary to have been where I was, and that knowing motivated me to carry on and pull through with the launch.” –Tara Downs.
In all honesty, she did not anticipate that the process of publishing would be more than just “whip, dip and I’m out”. She was recommended to Bookman Express by a fellow Bookman Express published author, Gladstone Taylor.
“I was just about wrapping up the book so I was thinking about [a] publisher. I shared my work with Dutty, and they decided to publish me, so I didn’t necessarily choose them, they chose me.” –Tara Downs.
Bookman Express, LLC is a publishing house platform – founded by Dutty and Sasha Bookman – which is the hub for aspiring authors with the drive to experiment with Caribbean and African Diaspora literature and in turn unlock their creativity.
[Tara] does not summon her poems. They summon her. Tara is but a messenger for stanzas determined to exist. Sweet Thorns celebrates the beauty and pain of self-reflection, love, and blossoming into one’s true self. Her sharp words, once consumed, will prick at your throat like thorns. Then they will sweet you as you digest them.” –Bookman Express, LLC.
Tara vividly recalls that the first draft got lost in the depths of her publisher’s email, but once editing commenced, it was an immensely tedious undertaking that had her drawing on all levels of patience and commitment to the process. Regardless, her amazing editing team was keen on how she was as a person and more importantly a writer who had a vision and that made the process a tad more tolerable.
“We finally started editing; I changed almost all of the original work I had. Added new stuff, changed that, then changed and changed until it was something I could read aloud… The whole process was long and tiring, but I learned an awful lot, so I can say now, it was all worth the wait.”
The twenty-one-year-old also found a bump in her journey with outsourcing an artist to design the cover and deciding what to actually put on the cover. Twenty different designs held her creativity at ransom, but she pushed through and the rendition of the piece by Deun Ivory, an American creative, graced the cover of her first paperback accomplishment.
“I wanted something that spells me. So, a bingo-draws-wearing woman with flowers on her head spells me very well… It is also a rendition of the mother earth tattoo I have on my back, but that wasn’t intentional.”
Overall, the B.A. in Literatures in English recipient credited the completion of the book to the simple, yet powerful, four-letter word—time—and revealed that not being eager to publish immediately after, aided in the final decision.
“Give it at least six months to sit and marinate, then go back to it, read and ask yourself if this is how you want to tell your story. Is it feeling the way you want it to, does this body of writing represent me well? It won’t be perfect, but time alone allows you to answer these questions honestly.”
About Sweet Thorns
“[Completing Sweet Thorns is] like releasing a long sigh. Have you ever gathered or carried dirt in your hands, then when you’ve finally let go, you sort of brush your hands off on your clothes? Yes. That’s it.” –Tara Downs.
Dedicated to her grandmother who taught her the most about art, Sweet Thorns has found solace for many readers as they journey through her poems. The conceptualization of the book stemmed from working with a publisher in 2016 from which she gained much valuable experience.
“Gripping the sweet, soft things beneath the tongue and molding the sharp, wild things in the belly, whilst finding beauty in everything that soothes and sways. These are lessons on how to hold all the wildness inside ourselves. These are lessons on how to survive as a sweet thorn.” –Bookman Express, LLC.
Tara divided the book into three sections—Spine, Prickle, and Thorn. She opted to not use a table of contents purposely as she wanted to make the journey through the book deliberate. She intended to transition easily into and incorporate prose poetry into the book and sought organization in having the different chapters; each chapter demanded its own tone, community, and dimensions in itself.
“There are different kinds of thorns, so prickle is one kind and the spine is one kind. So that’s where the name for the chapters came from. Spine is like a whole different community, different tone; Prickle is a different place, and Thorn is a whole other dimension. So, Sweet Thorns is a journey where you travel through different seasons, different feelings and places to get to where you’re going, in a way.” –Tara Downs.
Sweet Thorns launched at Bookophilia on December 17th, 2017 in Kingston, Jamaica with a plethora of different art forms in attendance. Her Poetry Society of Jamaica family, her Hummingbirds family, Yashika Graham, M’bala and Tommy Ricketts, and all her friends came to support wholeheartedly.
“The launch was an incredibly amazing experience. We kicked things off with drumming, then we shared one true thing and one thing that made us all grateful. It was beautiful. The dialogue the book stirred was interesting. Then there was more drumming and sharing and reading from the book. It was something to have been at.” – Tara Downs.
The paperback version launched on Amazon.com for order in November 2017. The fifty-six-page manuscript is ranked #221 in the Caribbean and Latin American Poetry section.
Tara is grateful for the positive reception. Since the launch readers have been purchasing the book and sharing their feedback on their social media platforms and with her. Readers have even been disclosing their shed tears after reading the book in its entirety, which has just increased the level of appreciation in the published author.
“Sue, at Bookophilia, told me how this lady, upon seeing the books, said ‘da gyal yah look like she mad,’ and she bought two copies. I felt so seen and attacked at the same time. Saying this to say that the cover sort of tells my story before you start reading and that was my aim.” –Tara Downs.
What the Future Holds…
When asked what the future holds with respect to publishing another book, she revealed that she does not have any intention of writing another book at the moment, but if she decides to, it would continue on the straight and narrow of poetry.
With the artistic talent, her admirable self-awareness of her feelings, and how to put them into words, she is destined to travel far on her own journey and inspire anyone who decides to travel with her.
Excerpts from Sweet Thorns
Excerpt from Spine
Tara revealed that Temporary was inspired by the unexpected departure of her Ex (past partner); after promises, her investment of time and energy, she just up and left. After the breakup, she gathered her pieces and adopted a new mindset: “you better learn to travel with your bag on your back or on your shoulders because you never know what to expect, you need to be ready to run if it comes to it, or when it comes to it.”
I cannot move in.
I have to continue living
On the edge of love
On the edge of life
With my bags packed.
Life is a glass table.
Excerpt from Prickle
Strength was the offspring of her emotional episodes; the conjuring of her grandma’s passing and the breakup of a close relationship. However, months after, she found that she was still breathing and she didn’t die amidst the lingering wounds and pain.
There have been days
When there were no colours
No light in my cheeks
No spunk in my eyes
No laughter in my belly.
There have been days
Rainy. Wet. Cold. Dark.
My voice cracks
And Earth is mean.
Walls are closing in
And the sky is angry.
There have been such days
But here I am
Black and alive.
Here I am
With oil betwixt my lips
Honey on my teeth.
Here I am, shivering, smiling.
I have survived the storm.
Excerpt from Thorn
Flashback is a brief description of what she remembered of her parents, her as a child, and her now dancing to the tune of adulthood and how some things never really change.
My mother is the parched yellow skin woman with the long, red nail-polished fingers. My father is the thick, short, dark brown, briefcase gentleman who dashed past me at 8 o’clock this morning, with spectacles bouncing off the edge of his nose.
And me, I’m still that twelve-year-old with the chiney bumps and dodo plaits dangling from my head. Too lonely for love. Too lost for myself and still waiting on salvation from the sun.
By Alexandra Daley