Utterance Mattering the Wor(l)d: An OS [re:con]versation with HOAX’s Joey De Jesus

Elæ Moss
18 min readFeb 9, 2022

Editor’s note: It’s with great excitement, as we near the long-awaited release of the HOAX box set that we share with you this intimate exchange with project creator Joey De Jesus as part of our long-running [re:con]versations series. This archival dialogue also appears in the back-matter of the HOAX book. Preorder this genre-shattering, transformative project today, and help us produce more copies for archives, schools, and libraries! Please also let us know if you’d like to help to further support the production of this project with a donation or bookstore / archive / institutional / organizational order.

Can you introduce yourself, in a way that you would choose?

via combusta-torqued

opia sluice

of frog island’s far side

amniosis in the gourd

My name is an anglicized adaptation of my father’s, José, Joseph, his chosen name, and the Father’s, so I’ve just gone by Joey. I was born and raised in Soundview, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, and later, Yonkers, New York, by Puerto Rican parents and my extended family that lived in the immediate area. I attended Fieldston, a private school in Riverdale, alongside my cousin, Stephen from kindergarten through high school. In middle school, Lauren Nicole Martinez, Stephen’s elder sister, a recent alum of Fieldston, perished from cancer. Lauren was a poet, and it was after her passing that she gifted me the love and practice of poetry.

I was blessed with mentors who nurtured my compulsions to write from a young age, especially Michael Morse and Shelby Stokes, and parental encouragement to study away from home as frequently as possible. At the Mountain School, Jack Cruse, Susie Rinehart and the TMS community exposed me to radical outdoor approaches to studying literature and environmentalism. Michael connected me with poet and editor Kazim Ali, who became like another mother to me at Oberlin College. As an undergraduate, while I loved and studied poetry, I too felt great passion for my studies in post-colonial literature, human-wildlife conflict, ecology and land use abroad. Many of the images in this book and ideas I’ve partly-formed around socialized land, community land trusts, social and civic life draw from my experiences living and studying in Kenya and Botswana.

My mother, an educator in the Yonkers Public School system, and my mentors inspired me to teach. I completed my M.F.A. in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College where I directed the annual 3-day poetry festival and filmmaker Robin Starbuck mentored me in video and installation art then began teaching as an Adjunct Lecturer in New York City. After completing a M.A. as a fully-funded fellow in New York University’s Performance Studies program and being rejected by their Ph.D. program, I returned to teaching.

After losing my queer baby cousin Krystal Ruiz to what I call carceral shame — her character assassinated by the state and media — I ran a competitive campaign for New York State Assembly District 38 in 2020 as an openly Queer Abolitionist poet on the premise that poetry belongs in the People’s House, and that “we animate the dream” — that we must act to realize another way of living in the aftermath of this world. I campaigned for universal healthcare, housing and suffrage, tuition-free public education, fare-free public transit, decarceration and decriminalization of sex work, repealing police protections, legalizing cannabis, measures to decommodify and democratize utilities and the land and to close the prisons, which only affront dignity and life.

I am otherwise an anti-capitalist, anti-settler-colonial, abolitionist poet, editor, educator, artist and activist living on occupied Lenape land.

When did you decide you were a poet/writer/artist (and/or: do you feel comfortable calling yourself a poet/writer/artist, what other titles or affiliations do you prefer/feel are more accurate)?

The last time I saw Lauren alive, I left her wheelchair-bound, face-down in a pillow and connected to an oxygen tank, to die in her mother’s arms in their University Heights apartment. Seeing Lauren in that condition broke my mind and heart. My poem “The Wild Iris” is an obvious appropriation of Louise Gluck’s titular book and poem. I wrote this poem grieving Lauren some years after her death, just after first reading Gluck’s book for my High School poetry class — around that time I thought that in all my longing for her presence, Lauren existed where language fails, and that poetry can be a place for play in what is otherwise devastation. To house Lauren in my heart meant doing the same for poetry. It meant adopting practices, learning to celebrate diversity, and straddling separate paths of disparate wills to reconcile with reality and negotiate conflicting truths. Poets have practices. Poets practice. And Lauren was good, gentle, thoughtful, patient, righteous and kind. She was critical of the World and proudly Afro-Boricua. I, unlike her, raged belligerently at the limits of my spoken and written language and what my language could do; I raged in my actions, writing and speaking in spite of a World that would take her and move swiftly along. While writing may have emerged from a place of love, I was toxic in my practice of it, because I wrote from a place of disdain for my inadequacy to restore a life, a people, through language.

What’s a “poet” (or “writer” or “artist”) anyway?

I can’t define what a poet is, but I think poets work with text and go by many names and perform their work in many ways across cultures and time. Graffiti artists, weavers, storytellers, singers, healers, poetry is practice of witness, abstraction, sound, movement — at what volume and duration do my houseplants language — or the stones? I think poets call into relation, and that poetry reminds me my audience and actions extend beyond the living. In that regard I hope this book, and my life, somehow contribute to preventing the “Marsification” of the Earth by the billionaire class.

What do you see as your cultural and social role (in the literary / artistic / creative community and beyond)?

I have enjoyed the privileges of a “prestigious” settler-colonial education. Agents within that system attuned me to the fight for reparations and decolonization. I have faltered, but I commit to distributing the tools I learn and devise and the resources I acquire. This shapes my pedagogy and my approaches to editing. I have been a long-time co-editor at Apogee Journal, a literary organization where we celebrate writers at the margins of visibility within the literary sphere. My role as an editor is in service to contributors and the readership. It is also to criticize industry idioms and approaches to the work, for instance, the racial undertones and biases that inform words like “slush”, “submission,” “acceptance/rejection” and meritocracy. I am also a board member at No, Dear Magazine, an amazing women-led literary magazine and chapbook press local to New York City; each issue is hand-stitched and truly exquisite. I’m a member of the collective RAGGA, led by Chris “NEON” Udamezue. As a poet, I am committed my communities, for we all wage in the war to recuperate a livable present from capitalistic forces that seek to render the surface of earth like that of the planet Mars. RAGGA, these literary journals’ staff, these are chosen family and we show up for and inspire each other. To isolate from my communities, my impulses to, like some mythological hermit, I fear, contribute toward this global doom, so I resist.

While teaching, I ran my campaign on the premise that poetry belongs in the People’s House, a colloquialism for the Assembly chambers. I raised $20,000 to run against two opponents with a combined half million. Despite losing, I revealed the corporate and international interests at play in our local politics, organized over 100 volunteers, tied the 11-year incumbent, and contributed to the re-enfranchisement of thousands of absentee voters despite falling ill for five weeks with Covid-19 at the outset of the pandemic. I wanted to demonstrate that a life of poetry is not limited to or by the academy or the publishing industry, which, like electoral politics, are too implicated in the settler-colonial project. Thanks to my experience reading, writing, reciting, and teaching poetry, I took readily to oration and public speech. I do at times think of the campaign as a durational performance to blossom me into a new practice of being — and it did, though not as I had hoped. Regardless, we ran a competitive campaign and I remain a haunting thought in the minds of politically powerful people across this state, and I have demands: reparations, abolition and decommodification of land and utilities.

Talk about the process or instinct to move these poems (or your work in general) as independent entities into a body of work. How and why did this happen? Have you had this intention for a while? What encouraged and/or confounded this (or a book, in general) coming together? Was it a struggle?

I’ve been composing this work for over a decade, but I needed all this time — the sheer volume. It’s humongous and I could spend my life reworking, rewriting, or writing over it. If anything confounded the publication of this book it would be the material limitations on producing its four bodies, my commitment to revision and my resolve to run for public office while partly-employed and freelancing, which pulled focus from completing the work. Was it a struggle? Absolutely.

Did you envision this collection as a collection or understand your process as writing or making specifically around a theme while the poems themselves were being written / the work was being made? How or how not?

I decided on the title, HOAX, in 2011 while working on my thesis at Sarah Lawrence College. I’d been interested in Caribbean faith practices, Tainoan cemiism, mysticism, and non-Western faith, healing, and magical practices since childhood, but took a newfound interest in 2009, after a week of extremely vivid dream visitations, shadows which impressed upon me strange insights. I write about several of my dream visitations in “VANTABLACK”, which in every instance pan true. I wasn’t sure then the way the book would unfold or what form it would take, but I knew then it would contain incantations, and I knew that I’d disregard conventional length of a debut collection of poetry in favor of producing my tome — my tomb.

I found encouragement from several professors at Sarah Lawrence College. I’d been interested in concrete and visual poetry for many years and was interested too in experimental video and performance. I knew this book would be multi-modal and mixed-media — its components emerged through experimentation. Since graduate school, I’ve used software such as Max/MSP to create interactive video projections of poems and incorporated live-sound technologies (a TC-Helicon Vocal Live-2, a loop station, etc… and instruments) into my performances of the work. Once, for instance, I brought a fog machine into Marie Howe’s poetry workshop and projected poems into the fog while leading incantations with Janelle Vega and Mya Green.

What formal structures or other constrictive practices (if any) do you use in the creation of your work? Have certain teachers, environments, readings, or works of other people informed the way you work/write?

In January, 2012, I survived a violent home invasion in which my roommate and I were nearly murdered by four armed children who’d broke in through the roof and sexually victimized us in the middle of a Monday. I was physically tortured with a machete and a gun for several hours. During this experience, when I’d resolved myself for death, I heard a voice promising me retribution and vindication. I initially thought of “VANTABLACK” as a “pecha kucha,” a Japanese business presentation-form which shares 20 slides for 20 seconds each, after reading Terrence Hayes’ Lighthead, but I abandoned the 20-second limit, to write serially and without restraint about my narrow survival, my gratitude for my would be-murderers, the prison-industrial complex, institutional racism and my journey to abolitionism.

In a previous interview with poet Natalie Eilbert, I explain: I began redacting NOCT- The Threshold of Madness in 2014. The week following Michael Brown’s death, I spotted a “how-to” book in conducting “black magic” atop a stack of donations on a Brooklyn stoop. I suppose I was drawn initially to the sigils on its cover. As I flipped through, I kept noticing deeply anti-Black formulations in which the author exhausts cliché associations between blackness, devilry and demonism. I thought the book presented me a psychological portrait of the white occultist and could not help but imagine invisible operations of white wickedness in our world. I abruptly took the book, curious about the occultist’s ability to forge power out of nothing.

In the following month, September, I recall encountering the testimony of Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Michael Brown. Wilson testified to the Grand Jury, “It looked like a demon” referring to Michael Brown’s face. This comment affected me deeply because I saw and see myself in it. It’s a peculiarly hateful thing to say, this death sentence. Here, Wilson’s use of the pronoun “it” reveals he believed Brown to be less-than-human, while simultaneously, the “demon” signifies a belief that somehow Brown (in his size) possessed supernatural or more-than-human ability. Wilson’s hate triggers a series of synaptic operations that prevents him from recognizing Brown’s humanity. And I thought to begin redacting this book into a chronicle of identity disrepair beginning with the face because I too am implicated in this violence as Boricua living a sort of exile conferred with certain light-skin Latinx privileges.

I have a hard time using the word “inspired” to describe my relationship to the work because I believe the problem of it central to unanswered questions of the book; I am not inspired by Black death. But there is something to the word, -spirare, from Latin, to breathe. I still breathe. When our loved ones draw their last breaths, what breathes into us? How might I breathe into life a thing, a book, a body? According to the OED, the word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, a spirit, that imparts a truth or an idea. Perhaps, I was trying to diss inspiration. I looked for language to speak to internalizations of external anti-Black forces as they play out in my being, in an attempt at adapting an adept’s language to conjure power otherwise. I failed, but I suppose you could say I failed up.

In 2017, I began writing a series of poems for HOAX, initially titled “Materia”. These were ekphrastic poems that drew inspiration from Japanese animator and illustrator Yoshitaka Amano’s tarot deck. Several of these poems would serve as foundational material for my 108 Considerations, the notes I took and poems I composed in this time also served as the material for the scroll. I was enrolled at NYU at the time, and had lost the favor of the faculty, who’d unfortunately come to think of me as destructive and wicked. To disprove them, I solicited my cohort for the work they’d produced throughout the program and, along with my friends and performance collaborators Sammy (who’d been enrolled in our program) and Matt Roth, printed a larger, beautiful scroll of student work for the program — it featured the ultrasound of forthcoming twins, a contribution from another peer, writing, images and the whole of it was gorgeous. HOAX / SCROLL is, in essence, what I contributed textually to this larger piece and what I produced in response to a commission I’d received from the New Museum for the 2017 show “RAGGA NYC: All the threatened and delicious things joining one another.” I had been inspired by Anne Carson’s Nox, which accordions open, religious scrolls, and “scrolling online”, or the experience of reading without turning the page. And I was eagerly producing poetic scrolls myself, first on paper, then, through a process of laser-cutting lyric, concrete and rota-poems onto 25” x 44” suede leather scrolls — writing with fire on a carcass I’d sourced from Mood. I produced four scrolls before retiring the practice, which I regret for its wastefulness and violence. I do, however, cherish these scrolls, which are otherwise sealed away, and read from them pre-pandemic in public performances like the one referenced in “Plethora” alongside dancer Sammy Roth and vocalist Brittany “B” Taylor.

HOAX / MAP is a large-scale rota-poem of a hundred and eight sigil-poems or “light titles” arranged in loose alignment with specific stars in the sky. It may be used to configure the reading of HOAX / DECK, which consists of a hundred and eight poems, poems inspired by my readings, experiences and visitations.

With regard to the second part of your question, yes, I read an enormous deal in advance of and while writing this book. Including from the work of poets I thank in my acknowledgements and include as epigraphs, some of my favorite readings of poetry include books by Zubair Ahmed, Agha Shahid Ali, Kazim Ali, manuel abreu arturo, Kofi Awoonor, Aase Berg (trans. Johannes Gorannson), Caroline Bergvall, Marina Blitshteyn, Kamau Brathwaite, Heather Christle, Lucille Clifton, CA Conrad, Oquendo de Amat, Julia de Burgos, Mahmoud Darwish, Caridad “La Bruja” De La Luz, Natalie Diaz, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Martín Espada, Betsy Fagin, Nikky Finney, Tonya Foster, Vievee Francis, John Furnival, Aracelis Girmay, Louise Gluck, S*an D. Henry-Smith, Marie Hinson, Ava Hoffman, Cathy Park Hong, Jay Hopler, Marie Howe, Juliana Huxtable, Tyehimba Jess, Douglas Kearney, Myung Mi Kim, Ferdinand Kriwet, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Muriel Leung, Zefyr Lisowski, Jackson Mac Low, Audre Lorde, Dawn Lundy Martin, Joyelle McSweeney, Roberto Montes, Saretta Morgan, Fred Moten, Hoa Nguyen, Diana Khoi Nguyen, Urayoan Noel, Dennis Nurkse, dg nanouk okpik, Kiki Petrosino, Tom Phillips, D.A. Powell, Claudia Rankine, Srikanth Reddy, Spencer Reece, Ted Rees, Patrick Rosal, Rainer Maria Rilke, Raquel Salas Rivera, Patricia Smith, Gertrude Stein, Sarah Jane Stoner, Matthias Svalina, Terese Svoboda, Jennifer Tamayo, Natasha Tretheway, Derek Walcott, and Nikki Wallschlaeger.

I drew inspiration from Shi Nai’an’s Water Margin, José R. Oliver’s Caciques and Cemí Idols: The Web Spun by Taíno Rulers Between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, Fray Ramón Pané’s An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians, The Xenofeminist Manifesto, Technicians of the Sacred edited by Jerome Rothenberg, and Situational Diagram edited by Karin Schneider and Begum Yasar. Video games including Shining Force, Suikoden, and Final Fantasy surely influence this work, as does The Goetia, The Lesser Key of Solomon, The Picatrix, The Oneirocriticon of Achmet, texts on spirituality and faith, especially those which featured numerologies of 108.

Speaking of monikers, what does your title represent? How was it generated? Talk about the way you titled the book, and how your process of naming (individual pieces, sections, etc) influences you and/or colors your work specifically.

HOAX is a book of magic. Can you believe?

I will say this, I vectorized scans of the sigils I wrote by hand for each of the 108 considerations; vectorization is the calculation of average geometry into shapes that may be rescaled without being deformed — I was able, in this way, to preserve the quality of the image (a spirit of/in time) while subjecting it to duress.

What does this particular work represent to you as indicative of your practice, history or intentions?

I want my work to literally demonstrate, in the etymological valence of ‘pointing out’ ‘monstrous’ intentions of power, (from proto-Indo-European, *men-, to think, manna, matih, mind and spirit) reifying my faith in mystical (Black/Indigenous) potencies of poetry). HOAX speculates cosmologies to predicate and predict the world I hope to realize. Édouard Glissant identifies this potency as “poetry’s earlier ambition to establish itself as knowledge,” that it is not simply representational but ambitious, from the Latin ‘ambire’ meaning “to go around (canvassing for votes)”, “calling into relation,” poesis as gathering and gathered. Poetry matters, insofar as utterances literally matter the world.

I think of the 108 Considerations as examples of “free or natural poetics”, what Glissant defines as “any collective yearning for expression that is not opposed to itself either at the level of what it wishes to express or at the level of the language that puts into practice” insofar as how the individual poems found their way into composition, and “forced or constrained poetics” or “any collective desire for expression, that when it manifests itself, is negated at the same level because of the deficiency that stifles it, not at the level of desire, which never ceases, but at the level of expression, which is never realized.” I think of HOAX in these terms too; if the night sky is a black body, HOAX / MAP demonstrates its division, its segmentation; it offers a device for divination — a rudimentary predictive schema, which poses a danger, for predictive analysis is implicated in the ongoing, algorithmic incarceration and brutalization of Black and Indigenous life. HOAX demonstrates that anti-Blackness is cosmological and that redress requires coming to other understandings about oneself as amalgamation and receptacle for disparate will and spirit. Ultimately, I hope HOAX elucidates paths while obfuscating our tracks on this journey toward recuperating a livable present, and I hope it sets wheels in motion toward challenging established Order. HOAX represents my efforts to demonstrate a speculative poetics that I hope honors my predecessors.

What does this book DO (as much as what it says or contains)?

Well, the book opens and unfolds; it might spill —

I like to imagine what readers might do with the book, however. I encourage readers to adopt their own practices of reading HOAX / MAP and the 108 corresponding considerations. The map is my tool for divination, each poem a prompt for thought, speech or writing. I encourage readers to develop their own practices for reading the map. I might use a planchette if reading with others, or toss rodent bones, precious stones and shark’s teeth and read corresponding poems that way. Or, I might read from the 108 Considerations based on the locations of celestial objects. I might ask a friend to draw five cards — and that’s their reading. I hope this book encourages uncanny engagements with chance, reading for the vitality and languages of things, reading with others, and imagining what it might mean to live-constellate a decolonized sky.

What would be the best possible outcome for this book? How will its presence as an object facilitate your creative role in your community and beyond? What are your hopes for this book, and for your practice?

In one regard, the best possible outcome for this book already occurred insofar as it was installed in perpetuity, virtually, at BRIC. HOAX was selected for the BRIC Art/FP 2019–2020 Project Room Commission. I had the amazing opportunity to install, perform and walkthrough the works, which, with the publication and digital accessibility of this book, can now be reinstalled or replicated anywhere. BRIC honored their commitment to my work despite the cataclysm of Covid-19 and I am extremely grateful to Elizabeth Ferrer, Jennifer Gerow, Dennis Witkin, Sol Nova and the entire staff.

Installation West-facing shot of the interactive HOAX Virtual Exhibit as presented by BRIC, 2020.

In another regard, and this is in the spirit of my answer to an earlier question about what the book does, I hope, that should I encounter this work in another life, I’d recognize my sameness and differences, and in doing so imagine access to forgotten memories and wisdoms. Otherwise, I hope the book is received well and I look forward to working on new material, poetry and fiction.

I’d be curious to hear some of your thoughts on the challenges we face in speaking and publishing across lines of race, age, ability, class, privilege, social/cultural background, gender, sexuality (and other identifiers) within the community as well as creating and maintaining safe spaces, vs. the dangers of remaining and producing in isolated “silos” and/or disciplinary and/or institutional bounds?

I am extremely grateful to Elæ and The Operating System for producing HOAX, in its many parts, a feat no other press would ever think to undertake for a debut collection, and making it available online via its open-source archive. Intellectual property is a barrier to knowledge and method of plunder to the detriment of Black life. Otherwise, I don’t know what to say except the Academy and publishing are each deeply invested in white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and the propagandizing of ideas that sanction the existence of each, and therefore, writers of marginalized demographics, namely Black, Indigenous and Trans, are not celebrated for their centrality to cultural production despite this ableist, senicidal, white supremacist, settler-colonial nation.

With regard to “safe spaces”, is this not a dream? I am a victim of a home invasion. That experience taught me that home is a myth one upholds, its sanctity, too, a myth. The safe space is a foundational lie we tell ourselves, but, we need it — why? To stave or measure a life of (hyper-)vigilance? I haven’t quite reconciled these thoughts.

Joey De Jesus is the author of NOCT: The Threshold of Madness (The Atlas Review, 2019) and co-author of Writing Voice into the Archive (UC Berkeley Center for Race & Gender, 2019) alongside Jakob Holden, organized and edited by Jennifer Tamayo. Joey edits poetry for Apogee Journal, received the 2017 NYFA/NYSCA Fellowship in Poetry and lives in Queens, New York. Poems have appeared in Assaracus, Barrow Street, Beloit Poetry Journal, Bettering American Poetry, Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Devil’s Lake, Guernica, the Academy of American Poets’ POEM-A-DAY feature and elsewhere. Poems have been performed and/or installed in Artists Space, The New Museum, Basilica Hudson and elsewhere.

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Elæ Moss

is a multimodal creative researcher and social practitioner, curator, and educator. Designer @The Operating System. Faculty @ Pratt & Bennington [they/them]