2023 COURAGE to WRITE Awardee Feature of the Week:
Ja’net Danielo, Migration (Poetry), Long Beach, CA
Migration grapples with what it means not just to survive cancer but to be truly alive.
“I hope these poems help others find solace in the interconnectedness of all living things and embrace the impermanence that comes with being alive.”
“Informed by an extensive family history of breast cancer and my own breast cancer and autoimmune disease diagnoses at the age of 42, my poetry centers the sick, disabled, aging female body—its limitations and possibilities, its transformation. Specifically, my work is concerned with exploring the liminal spaces of shifting identity that come with disease diagnosis as well as the relationship between the individual body and the larger ecology of the natural world. Between my diagnoses, the current climate crisis, and the steady erasure of women and women’s rights in this country, this focus on the interconnectedness of all living things and the beauty in the fragility of life has become a necessity for me, more than a survival skill but a way to thrive in a body, in a world, that seem increasingly out of my control. And while I seek to bring visibility to the reality of illness—how it wreaks havoc on a family, a body, one’s very perception of self—I also hope to convey that illness, disability, and grief are evolving conditions that we hold within our bodies and that we evolve with them, meaning our capacity for empathy and wonder can also grow. I want my work to challenge readers, particularly women afflicted with illness or grappling with its aftermath, to see themselves as part of a larger ecology and to embrace the impermanence that comes with being alive. It, like all writing, is really a reaching toward another, a way of not just being seen but seeing—past tragedy and grief—and finding solace in connection.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with science. My childhood was filled with microscopes, chemistry sets, telescopes, and space books. And while the Challenger explosion dashed my dreams of ever becoming an astronaut, my love of science has remained, which is to say that my curiosity and sense of wonder have remained. I am a student of my surroundings—both the observable and not—and am often inspired by random science articles I stumble upon online, word origins that take my brain in unexpected directions, nature documentaries, and pop culture. Finding connections between disparate ideas has given me a vocabulary to articulate my cancer experience and my relationship to a body that is at once me and seemingly other, leading to poems in which the body becomes murder hornets, 2001: A Space Odyssey’s homicidal A.I., HAL 9000, redbuds, and stars, among other things.
My primary goal is to complete a full-length collection of poems within the next year that explores the relationship between the individual body and the larger cultural and natural ecologies to which it belongs. This focus on the interconnectedness of all living things comes on the heels of my cousin’s recent death from breast cancer. As I grapple with what it means to not just survive cancer but to be truly alive in the world, I want my book to reflect the gratitude and awe that comes with such revelations. While my poems do draw from the sciences, I currently rely on rudimentary internet research for the majority of the scientific facts that make their way into my poems. So I would like to develop my scientific understanding as I work through this book, building the vocabulary necessary to make the connections between the body and its surroundings more explicit. Ultimately, I hope that my work helps women living with illness or its effects embrace the idea that we are so much more than the limitations of our bodies; we share DNA with plants, animals, planets, and stars. And everything is impermanent; everything ends. Facing this fact with grace requires finding the cracks in our dark experiences and leaning into the light.”