Bad Ass Babes: Jen Harris
By Kelcie McKenney
Poet Jen Harris is unapologetic about telling her truth, and she wants readers of her new book Unconfirmed Certainties to feel the same.
The Kansas City poet and spoken word artist has earned her place at the center of KC’s poetry scene: She has both a Drugstore and Charlotte Street residency under her belt, gave a TED talk called “Spoken Word Poetry Saved My Life,” had a guest spot on season three of Queer Eye, founded the Kansas City Poetry Slam (aptly named because she “believes in SEO ratings”), and published two books, with her third to be released on Sunday. Harris isn’t stopping any time soon.
Her new book, Unconfirmed Certainties, is a collection of poetry and stories about the ending of Harris’s past relationship. It chronicles the process of a breakup—including all the anger, suffering, and growth that comes with it.
“I struggled really hard with how to define Unconfirmed Certainties,” Harris said, “because when I came up with that phrase, it’s the suspicion, right? And so the suspicion was that I was being cheated on. I had proof, but I didn’t have definitive proof, and it’s that lingering acknowledgement. So I called it the intersection of suspicion and intuition, because that’s exactly what it is.”
Harris wrote consecutively for 90 days after her fiancée cheated on her, creating what would later become her upcoming book.
“I was outright suicidal after the breakup,” Harris recalled.
The KC poet has always been outspoken about her mental health, using spoken word as a form of mental health advocacy. Earlier this year Harris received a Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis. She started having flashbacks to moments when she knew she was being cheated on but adamantly denied it. Then she got flashbacks from her childhood, and then from her rape.
“I could not escape the fact that I had not dealt with any of my trauma, and my mind and my brain and my body were just like, ‘We’re gonna break’” Harris said.
Harris received treatment, and channeled everything she went through into her poetry.
“It’s kind of like a beware, in a way that it’s like, don’t fuck with me,” Harris says of Unconfirmed Certainties. “I want people to know I’m fucking serious about telling the truth, and I will be as loud as necessary to get the justice that I believe is necessary on any platform. And, also, nobody’s going to die just because you tell your truth.”
Telling your truth is one of Harris’s biggest mantras of late, from her own work to The Writing Workshop KC she hosts every Tuesday at Our Daily Nada. The workshop is only $5 and it gives attendees the chance to practice their writing skills and performance skills. One of the biggest things that comes up in the workshop is that you can’t keep all of that truth inside of you. Unconfirmed Certainties is letting it all out.
“I hope that the reader see it and they feel empowered to tell their own truth and be unapologetic,” Harris said.
Unapologetic, being the key for Harris. Especially as a woman.
“Here’s the deal. People bitch at women about having feelings, about having periods, about having kids, about not having kids, about having bodies, about having minds, about having opinions, you can’t win as a woman,” Harris said. “I have a lot of frustration with the popular media culture in Kansas City because I am a short, fat, white, queer woman. I don’t fit the super femme bill. I don’t fit the androgynous, skinny, lesbian boy look. I’m not the Bieber type. I am an in-between. I look like a fucking Midwest housewife with the exception, generally, of my hair color. And I take great comfort in that I can go to the pool and I’m out there in like swim trunks and a sports bra and I’m like, you don’t like these stretch marks? Don’t look at them. I’m old enough to be somebody’s mother. You don’t need to know that I’m not, I don’t give a fuck. But I cared a lot. Five years ago I cared a lot.”
Sharing your truth is a journey, and one Harris is open to be candid about.
Sunday’s book release show will include readings by Harris from Unconfirmed Certainties—styled with music accompaniment by, what Harris adoringly calls, “The Fellas.” With Take Five Music Productions—who is helping put on the event—Harris brought together Eddie Moore on keys, Jason Emmond on bass, and Brian Steever on drums to set the mood for Harris’s poetry.
“These guys got together and they created magic. They created magic of their own accord together. And then they listened to me,” Harris said. “I think this show is an example of what collaboration truly is. And I think it brings together everybody being the truest version of themselves.”
Poet Jen Harris, telling her truth through the end.
Poet Jen Harris & The Fellas
Unconfirmed Certainties Book Release
Sunday, Sept. 22 7-9p.m. at Ça Va
Kelcie McKenney is a writer, editor, and artist who is passionate about feminism. She currently works as Digital Editor at The Pitch , where she writes and edits for Kansas City’s alternative magazine. You can find Kelcie on Instagram with #kcdaddy, where she talks about her three-legged cat Luna, dank memes, and ways to overthrow the patriarchy.
Justina Kellner is a Kansas City portrait and wedding photographer with a passion for creativity. You’ll find her hands in every possible medium of the arts including digital and film photography, painting, drawing, music, and even a touch of ballet. As a well grounded Capricorn, she also manages an online closet of upcycled trendy clothing, because everything should be recycled – change her mind.