SHERRY: James! Happy Birthday! There is a glittering tree in this photo, but I thought it looked festive, so we'll just call it your birthday tree!
Tell us about your childhood in Pago Pago, James. It looks like such an amazingly beautiful place. Is there someone from those days you feel had a significant impact on who you are today?
Pago Pago Harbor
James: My childhood in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, was magical. It was magical in the sense that there were forests and beaches, mountains and myths, cultural arts festivals and entertainment, plus my own maternal grandparents had been Catholic catechists, so I was exposed to Catholic books a lot.
Pago Pago-American Samoa
In addition to that, I sought refuge in my brother Johnny’s numerous middle grade level books that he would order from Scholastic book clubs in the 80’s. There were the Encyclopedia Brown books, the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and Troll-at-home books, just to name a few.
James as a child
I guess these are the reasons why I write island and spiritual-themed poems in a childlike and colorful way. Oh! And then there was the music! My father, before he divorced my mom, would play lots of ABBA, Michael Jackson, BeeGees, and Madonna music in the house. He was the reason why I got interested in Michael and Madonna’s music. It was the early 80s, and I still remember the first time I had watched the Thriller video and heard the song, “Material Girl” being played on his loud speakers.
I want to acknowledge my maternal grandparents, Nikolao and Kolotita Filipo, for their words of wisdom and their hard work in aiding me and my siblings spiritually and financially. They would stress to us the importance of having faith in the Lord, hard work, and the value of education.
My grandparents and my parents
Sherry: It sounds like a wonderful childhood, James. You were blessed. Tell us about your life today. What do you love about where you live, and about your work? Your positive demeanor must be so appreciated in the workplace.
James: My life at the moment is meditative, quiet, and spent mostly at home. It is due to my blog’s current themes of self-introspection, spirituality and inner peace that this has come about. I am currently a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland (USA). I am pursuing my Bachelor of Arts in English language and literature from Southern New Hampshire University online. Also, I am a File Clerk intern at my county’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Pre-trial division.
I just love the multicultural aspect of the whole Washington, DC metropolitan area. There are various, different ethnicities here and each of them has something beautiful and unique to bring to the table. There are lots of festivals, events, restaurants, churches, and museums to take part in. It’s just a melting pot of Americans, Europeans, Caribbean, Asians, Hispanics, and Africans.
My job duties are administrative, but before this internship, I had been a newspaper reporter, a fast food worker, and a thrift store team member. And you’re right, my positive demeanor has been my talent in the workforce for always. That’s the main reason I get hired by all my past and current employers; it is because of my positivity. During one of my interviews for a job, the manager of that institution commented on my constant smiling as a way to welcome and invite customers to buy their products and merchandise.
Sherry: I have no doubt of that! You shine! How long have you lived in the USA, and are you happily at home here now?
James: Well, I have lived in the continental USA for 11 and a half years now and I guess I can say that I have had my high and my low moments through it all. I, however, miss American Samoa so much and hopefully will get to visit her in the near future.
Sherry: I hope you do, James. There’s no place like home! Have you always been a poet? What made you choose poetry as your means of creative expression?
James: Sherry, I have always been a poet, ever since my senior year in high school. I was chosen by a classmate (who was the editor) to be her secretary for the yearbook staff, and it was then that I developed my forte for writing lyrical poetry. I wanted to establish my writing career but I did not know what form of writing that I should jump-start it with. So being chosen to be a part of the yearbook made my creative juices flow, resulting in my decision to write a song for my graduating class and to publish its lyrics and make it the theme of that school year’s yearbook. The song/poem was called, “Legends of the Sea,” and it became my second published piece of writing in my whole writing career.
Just to mention, my first published piece was an essay inspired by the Madonna song, “Secret Garden”, in my elementary years. I never knew the symbolism of that song, as I thought it was an innocent song about “gardens.”
Sherry: You published very young! What do you love about poetry? What keeps you writing it?
James: Poetry is like music. It is an outlet for my inner muse to fulfill its greatest passions, to be expressive and to be multi-faceted. You would see this in my works because most of their narrators are not me but of alter egos and personalities hidden within that cannot be released through action and behavior. Also, when I feel like crying from frustration, or just acting out on issues that need to be voiced, I just simply pick up a pen or, more recently, start Microsoft Word and let myself go. I love poetry, and my favorites are from Langston Hughes, Anne Sexton, Mariah Carey’s song lyrics, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. I also enjoy the Biblical book of Psalms.
Sherry: An eclectic mix! Yay! How did you come to blogging? How has it impacted your work?
James: I got into blogging because it was the trend of the moment with my friends who were already running successful blogs about their nail polish and Etsy jewelry personal businesses. I researched it and found out that blogspot.com was the ideal website out there for me so I signed up and boom! Here I am, the poet Jamztoma, with a published book of poems about the Pacific islands (The Pasefika Beat) and, more recently, poems that are confessional, meditative, and spiritual. Therefore, I am always thankful to blogspot.com for enabling me to share my talent with the world, absolutely free of charge.
Sherry: I feel the same way, James. I love your poem Every Summer, and would like to include it here.
when the sun rules the days
I'd wake up from my slumber
to go outside and play
And it all feels like
I'm a moth
attracted to this light
from my lord God
And I'm airborne
in faith and spirit
no longer forlorn
I'd ponder on the moon
wishing for a good life
and a miracle soon
And it all seems like
I'm a moth
in love with the moonlight
for I'm on top
And I am inspired
to tell the world
of my desire
to spread God's word
on Love and Peace
Sherry: I can see the beauty of your childhood in Pago Pago in this poem, James. Do you have another poem you are especially pleased with that you would like to include? Or one that you feel best expresses who you are?
James: Yes, Sherry, I have a couple that I would love to share with Poets United. Aside from Every Summer, there’s this piece called Magical, which won me an Editor’s Award from the Poetry.com society. I wrote it inspired by my mom, Pacific Island women, and get this—Mariah Carey’s image at her Butterfly concert that was held in Hawaii in the late 90s.
I had just become fond of her, by then, and was impressed with her wearing a flower in her ear, as that is what my mom and all Pacific island women would do to make themselves look presentable for occasions like weddings, church, funerals, etc.
Magical -- first written in 2001, it won the Editor's Award from Poetry.com and was published in their anthology: By the Light of the Moon. Later in 2012, I revisited it and added the 5th stanza that begins with "Are you a Venus from beyond." The version below is published in my “The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma” book.
Are you as magical as you seem?
A princess from my dreams
Must you keep me enchanted?
And take my true love for granted
Magical is how you got me spellbound
nowhere else can your beauty be found
Are you a chime like you sound?
a dame on a throne wearing a crown
Do you have to freeze me in place?
and shy away from my embrace
Magical is how you got me weak in the knees
with your beauty invading my dreams
Are you a Venus from beyond?
a product of God's wand
do you believe in you and me?
to be one for eternity
Magical is how you got me saying 'I do'
with my love so perfect as well as true
And all the lads and lasses dance
and the mer people in a trance
as they celebrate our fairy-tale romance:
You are magical when you have natural beauty.
James: I also have these three poems that have not been published yet that I feel would best convey my writing style and my personality when I am truly happy:
Nod Your Heads -- this one shows my love for songs of praise and Gospel music. My favorite gospel album of all time is Whitney Houston’s The Preacher’s Wife Soundtrack. That album made a huge impact in my life back in 1997. It helped me cope with teenage and domestic issues which resulted with me pursuing greater opportunities in academia. Two of these blessings were: 1) being inducted into Samoana High school’s National Honor society and 2) attending Junior Statesmen of America summer school at Stanford University in Stanford, CA. The latter was my first time ever to ride an airplane.
Mr. Preacher, in his lecture
said a prayer to the Savior
then told the people
to stay away from evil:
All you believers
Know your Redeemer
Nod your heads
Cause you are blessed!
Miss Penitent, she confessed
She was a heathen, she was a mess
Then told the people
To sing the recital:
All you sinners
Prove you’re winners
Nod your heads
You’ve passed the test!
Young children hug their parents
While cherubs sing joyous hymns
And God who loves the world
says to each boy, girl, and angel
All my children
On Earth and in heaven
Nod your heads
My love for you never ends.
Sherry: I love the message in this poem, James. A strong message of faith and love - and of being comfortable in who you are, with your faith.
My mom and her siblings
James: The Sunshine Attitude was influenced by my happy moments while living in Lakewood, WA. The blessings at that time were being awarded with a grant from Pierce College-Fort Steilacoom to finance my education for two more terms, and my spiritual relationship with the deceased Father Oliver Lee Hightower of St. John Bosco Church in Lakewood, WA. Also, I wish to acknowledge Karen and Morcia Brotherton, for their kindness and support.
Smile my child
Live the life you were born to live
Whether it be soft or to be wild
You are quite impressive
Share your love, my dear
Share it with those who need it
Show them the beauty of kindness
And make them feel bliss
Walk tall, love
All the world celebrates you
You’re unique as an island
You’re a flower necklace
And you’re never in gloom
You got sunshine attitude baby
You glow ever so brightly
You don’t have a care for negatives
Your greatness is your personality
Like a luminous mystery
You are a jeweled presence
Your good deeds are contagious
And they have made you famous
You know the sunshine attitude
It’s in your blood, your name
You’re the pearl of the Atlantic
And loving is your game
That’s why the spotlight’s on you
Cause you have the sunshine attitude
You’re humble that’s true
God bless you.
Sherry: This poem is very moving, James. It seems, to me, to be your mentor, Father Hightower, speaking to you, encouraging you to let your light shine. You do shine brightly, my friend! You stand out, as positive people always do.
James: My blessings right now are your sense of reciprocity and hospitality. Thank you. Eyes of Knowing was written initially for my THE PSALMS OF JAMZTOMA blog, but I decided to share it with you all on here instead. It is a mix of secular and spiritual thoughts and was inspired by a Coke ad I saw on facebook.com.
You look at me with eyes of loving
That strips me of my clothes
And go right into my soul
I am touched by their glowing
I look at you with eyes of knowing
But my collar stops the magic
And you’re making a mistake
You’re so sad by this happening
So you move on hoping
To find someone unattached
Your best match
Good luck searching
And I move on praying
To find peace and love
From my Lord above
My joy everlasting
Sherry: James, this is a lovely poem. I especially like “I look at you with eyes of knowing”. Sometimes people are not ready for that level of trust and knowing, and they walk on. This is a meaningful poem, and also a commentary on our society as filtered through the advertising industry (smiles).
James: Oh my art, haha. Well, I do digital drawings through MS Paint. I consider myself an amateur but throughout my whole life I’ve won just one award for my visual art talent, and it was placing third at American Samoa’s Island-wide Art Contest back in 1994.
Then just recently, I was given a chance to showcase two of my artworks at a museum here in Bethesda, called the Dennis and Philip Ratner museum.
Then just recently, I was given a chance to showcase two of my artworks at a museum here in Bethesda, called the Dennis and Philip Ratner museum.
Like I said, I’m just a beginner, not a professional. Above are the two: Queen Salote and Successful. And I want to include these other two drawings from my book, The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma called “Tausala” and “Rata.”
Sherry: Colorful and striking art, James. I love the cultural context. What does music mean to you?
James: Music. I love all sorts of music that have a pleasant beat and especially the ones that make the Itunes Top 100 chart. (I’m very sorry to all musicians who don’t break the Top 100, I just go with what sells and what’s popular in America.) Randomly naming some of them: Katy Perry, John Legend, Carrie Underwood, Sam Smith, and Bruno Mars.
Sherry: Cool, James. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself that I don’t know you well enough to ask?
James: Certainly. I am a children’s series book collector. I collect Fear Street books, Sweet Valley High books, Nancy Drew Files books, Hardy Boys Casefiles books, Goosebumps books, and The Baby-sitters Club books. If you ever wonder why? It has always been my dream as a child back in Pago Pago to read all of the books in those series, but I had no access to them because they were not carried by bookstores and libraries down there.
James: And I guess this is the best way to get the word out there about my book of Pacific Island/Spiritual/Personal-themed poems called The PASEFIKA Beat: Poems and Art From the Island of Jamztoma, being sold everywhere online. I have a facebook page created especially to promote it at: www.facebook.com/thepasefikabeat.
Sherry: That is wonderful, James. Good luck with your book. May it sell widely, to help spread your sunshine. Anything you would like to say to Poets United?
James: The usuals. Keep writing and keep aiming high. If you are writing for the fun of it then don’t ever stop. If you are looking to be noticed or to be published, well, there’s nothing holding you back but yourself. Do your homework and research the Poetry market, go to poetry readings, and take a class in Creative Writing.
If you need inspiration, try listening to all sorts of music and pay attention to their lyrics. And thank you so much for the warm and welcoming atmosphere you have on here. I have come home.
Sherry: And we are happy to have you here, James. You brighten up the blogosphere. Thank you for shining your warmth, kindness, faith and happiness our way.
Now, blow the candles out, and you get the first big piece of cake!
I enjoyed this birthday party for Mr. Sunshine, didn't you, kids? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!
Sherry thank you for a beautiful interview. As usual you have done a great job:)ReplyDelete
Happy Birthday James..It's nice to meet you here in PU. I love your Pslams very much..they breathe love and peace just like your Pago Pago..
good luck to you on your book and your art work.:)
thank you Arathi. I appreciate your support very much. :)Delete
Thank you Sherry for this interesting chat...you've brought out the inner man here...I enjoy James' poetry...nice to know that he also plays with colors and brush...Happy Birthday James...glad to know you a bit more now...looking forward to more and more of your lines....shine and smile :)ReplyDelete
Hi Sumana. You are very kind and sweet. I too love your poetry and thank you for visiting me often. God bless.Delete
What a great interview, you really do shine. The positivity radiates off the screen. Good luck with the book.ReplyDelete
thank you Kathryn. I'm so touched by your words.Delete
A very happy birthday James... i loved your poem Magical... it was a treat for me,,, almost magical... your mother looks so pretty with that flower in her hair... maybe ill try that trick next time i go to a party... also i think Pago Pago is a beautiful place! i do hope you get to go back soon!! id love to visit such a pretty litle place!!ReplyDelete
Thank you sherry for sharing sucha "happy" "sunshine" poet with us today!!
hahaha...Sherry's been describing me as a sunny, happy person but yet I'm just a easygoing person. and I'm smiling that you wanna try the flower idea out. hehehe... I really appreciate your kindness Arushi and really love your poems too. best, jtDelete
It seems Google ate my comment. Doing this interview was such a pleasure. James, I hope your birthday is as magical as your poetry, and that it includes cake!ReplyDelete
Hi Sherry. I'm very impressed by your work. You overdid it Ma! thank you for your kind and outgoing personality!!!! :) you've made me a happy person today and forever.Delete
Now that makes ME happy, and is why I do the interviews. Your words truly warm my heart. I thought you'd like it, and only wish I could send you a cake and balloons for real. Pago Pago is BEAUTIFUL beyond belief. Do plan a visit home....you deserve it.Delete
Happy birthday, James. Your heart and soul shines through all of your poetry. I really enjoy reading your poetry, and now I have really enjoyed getting to know more about you through this interview. It does not surprise me that you are a visual artist as well. So many poets are. Looking forward to reading more from you, James!!ReplyDelete
Hi Mary, thank you for the love. I feel motivated just by your words. :) Have a great week!Delete
Happy birthday to you, Janes! I enjoy your honest poetry and the spiritual quest I can see in your words. I was glad to get to know you better thanks to Sherry's wonderful interview. Thanks to both of you!ReplyDelete
Hey Gabriella, reading your comments has strengthened my heart in continuing my spiritual quest as you put it. thank you from the bottom of my heart.Delete
Happy Birthday James, I enjoyed this interview and your poems are full of heart. I wanted to thank you for your visits to my blog and your kind comments. I have enjoyed reading your work as well. May your light always shine on...ReplyDelete
Hi Magical Truedessa! that's why I've always enjoyed your works. We both love those whimsical things. hehe...thank you so much for the nice comments. Have a beautiful week!Delete
Thanks for the post! It was fun to learn more about James. Sherry you are amazing!ReplyDelete
Hey Annell. thank you and have a lovely week! :)Delete
Wonderful interview of a bright spirit. I've been enjoying your poems, James. happy Birthday with many happy returns of the day.ReplyDelete
thank you Susan. that makes me feel proud of myself. you guys have made me feel so at home from day 1. I appreciate it all. :)Delete
Wonderful interview Sherry as always :) Many many happy returns of the day James, wish you a fantastic year ahead.ReplyDelete
It was fun to know about you. Didn't get a chance to visit you till now but will be visiting you soon. :)
thank you Ankita. Please do visit, I'd appreciate it much. :)Delete
Wonderful interview as usual. Wish you a very happy birthday James. Glad to know so much about you :)ReplyDelete
thank you for the nice comments. it was Sherry's idea. She deserves praise as well. but please stop by my blog. it can be depressing and preachy but I always end it with triumph. best!Delete
Happy Birthday James. Thanks for sharing your life with us.ReplyDelete
thank you R.K. It was a pleasure and thanks to Sherry as well. :)Delete
very cool to meet you a bit more james....what a beautiful place you grew up in....and where you live right now...i used to live like 30 minutes from there....ha...moved back to VA about 7-8 years ago though...hope you had a great birthday man.ReplyDelete
thanks Brian. I always look forward to your nice comments as you are a great person. God bless.Delete
Lovely to meet a person of such good cheer and open-heartedness — the "sunshine attitude", in fact! I really like the artworks too.ReplyDelete
and thank you as well Rosemary for making me feel special and all sunshiney... :)Delete