Dr. Shamenaz in conversation with Zaneta Vernando Johns

Dr. Shamenaz is the Author, Editor & Translator of 44 international books which includes, short stories collections, poetry anthologies, literary articles & travelogues. She is the Founder & President of Progressive Literary & Cultural Society. She was Visiting Faculty in Fergana State University, Fergana Uzbekistan in October 2023. She is currently teaching English in Rajarshi Tandon Mahila Mahavidyalaya (A Constituent College of Allahabad University) and has a teaching experience of 21 years. She is an Orator and has delivered lectures in India and abroad (Online and in person).

Zaneta Vernando John

Zaneta Varnado Johns, aka Zan Johns, is an American poet, a Pushcart Nominee in Poetry and 4-time bestselling author of Poetic Forecast (2020), After the Rainbow (2022), and What Matters Journal (2023). Johns is a contributing author in the Women Speakers Association #1 international bestsellers Voices of the 21st Century (2021, 2022, 2023). Her poems are featured as the Dedication page in these collaborative books. Johns co-edited Social Justice Inks anthology (2022) with publisher and poet Lisa Tomey-Zonneveld. She serves as an editor for the Fine Lines Journal and administrator for the Passion of Poetry. Her poems appear in numerous anthologies and international literary publications. Johns is a retired human resources leader who spent her twenty-nine-year career at the University of Colorado. She was recognized in 2007 as one of the University of Colorado’s Women Who Make a Difference, Johns resides in Westminster, Colorado, USA. www.zanexpressions.com

Shamenaz: Tell me in detail about your book?

Zaneta: Encore: A Collection of Poetry by Zaneta Varnado Johns

(Foreword by Chyrel J. Jackson; Back Cover by Sarfraz Ahmed)

In response to the loud applause garnered by her two previous poetry collections, Zaneta Varnado Johns presents Encore: A Collection of Poetry. Featuring ninety-nine select poems, Encore is a gift from the author’s heart. In the book’s Dedication, Johns states, “For every relative, friend, poet, and organizational leader who pushed, prodded, nudged, and encouraged me: this one’s for you. I titled this book to acknowledge your applause. I heard it. I loved it. I responded. This is your encore—from my heart to yours.” Some poems, previously featured globally in anthologies, make an encore appearance in this collection.

Encore begins with romantic musings and essences sparked by the poet’s life and thoughtful interpretations of the lives of others. Poetic threads are woven through lyrics inspired by favored locales. From Hawaii to Boston’s Cape Cod, Colorado to Greece, Johns writes as she marvels at her surroundings and experiences. Her compassion for people is beautifully expressed either as poetic observations or unique tributes found in the chapter titled, “In Awe.” Johns’ prose poem, “She Speaks for Me,” is a masterpiece showcasing renowned African and African American women poets who persuade her writing.

Johns has a lot to say about the human condition. Some poems are concise while others are grouped in the chapters titled “Rants and Spiels” or “Keynotes.” She passionately addresses hunger, gun violence, women’s empowerment, and prejudice, among other contemporary issues. Anyone with a heart will be stirred by “Hunger, a Global Tragedy” and “It Has to Stop,” two poignant poems illuminating the realities of hunger and the poet’s gut-wrenching reaction to yet another senseless school shooting.

Johns imparts the spirit of Hawaii’s aloha in Encore’s message. “My Walk Along the Ocean” and “Blessed Life” are examples of poems reflecting tranquil moments of immense gratitude. Encore’s expressions are accompanied by complementary images and quotes—the poet’s signature accent found in her two previous collections. With Encore, Zaneta Varnado Johns leaves an indelible mark with every word and artistic rendering.

Shamenaz: You have written about nomads. Are you inspired by nomads of some specific society or have you written in general about them?

Zaneta: I admire anyone who freely moves about, especially if it is by choice. I am conservative with respect to my own lifestyle; stability and order are required. However, I enjoy traveling and often write while on location. I consume my surroundings more deeply now that I have embraced my passion for writing. I write a lot of tribute poems to celebrate people and milestones. Each of my three poetry collections, Poetic Forecast, After the Rainbow, and Encore, features a chapter honoring people who have touched me directly or indirectly. I cannot pinpoint specific references to nomads or specific nomad societies in my writing, however.

Shamenaz: What do you think, is publishing a book an easy task?

Zaneta: I believe that publishing is rewarding versus easy, especially if you enjoy the creative process and attention to detail. To me, the creation of a manuscript is exhilarating. I enjoy every step, from writing poems to working with the publisher, through the official publication date.

Shamenaz: When you write romantic poems, do you write about your own experience or by watching others. Are you inspired by any love poet?

Zaneta: My romantic poems reflect both my personal experience and my perception of other relationships. When I write about other people, I watch and listen closely. If I can imagine myself in their stories, then I can write a poem as though the experience is mine. “Table for Two,” “Valley Love,” and “Fifty-two Sunrises” are good examples of expressions about other relationships. These three poems appear in Encore.

I am inspired by Sarfraz Ahmed, a contemporary United Kingdom poet affectionately called “The Romantic Poet.” Ahmed is the author of four poetry collections: Eighty-four Pins, Stab the Pomegranate, Eighty-four Pins Second Edition, and The Ramblings of a Romantic Poet. He is also the coauthor of Two Hearts with Passion of Poetry founder Annette Tarpley. Ahmed and I have written a few collaborative poems together. I admire his work.

Shamenaz: What do you think is the reason behind so much success of the African-American writers?

Zaneta: I believe that our best writing happens when we go deep inside to share pain, vulnerability or protest. Prominent African American writers emerged during the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights eras with expressions about their unjust and inequitable experiences. The Black Arts Movement was a time of empowerment and Black pride. Creative art was used politically as a form of protest and activism. During this volatile time, excellence was the standard which remains to this day. With visible recognition, African American writers (such as James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni and Toni Morrison) inspired future writers (such as Alice Walker and Amanda Gorman). Their well-deserved recognition set great expectations for the words that would travel over the tongues of future African American writers, including myself.

Shamenaz: Do you think tragedy is one of the most important aspects for the popularity of any writing?

Zaneta: Literature is intended to evoke feeling, so yes, I believe that tragedy is an important aspect of writing. Tragedy evokes pain, a powerful emotion. At the other end of the spectrum, love, joy and laughter are equally critical for the popularity of writing.

Shamenaz: Do you think weather also influences a poet in terms of writing poems?

Zaneta: I am inspired by weather and nature in general. The weather influences our moods, and our moods definitely influence our writing. I enjoy the weather so much that my debut book, Poetic Forecast, is organized in chapters with titles analogous to the weather: Sunrise, Tradewinds, Sunny and Clear, Partly Cloudy, Meteor Watch, Severe Thunderstorms, Isolated Showers, Rainbows, and Sunset.

Shamenaz: You have been writing for a long time. Do you think it is much easier to publish a book now than 15-20 years back?

Zaneta: I published my first book in 2020; therefore, my direct experience with publishing is current. I believe publishing is more accessible now with the availability and acceptance of self-publishing. Technology makes publishing much easier and more interesting in my opinion, whether it is traditional or self-published.

Shamenaz: So Zan, what is your future goal in terms of writing?

Zaneta: My goal is to continue writing poetry with an added focus on Haiku expressions and essays. I would like to collaborate with other writers and artists, e.g. musicians, dancers, photographers, etc. I enjoy coediting anthologies with publisher Lisa Tomey-Zonneveld and welcome additional projects, time-permitting. Readers may expect another personal publication from me toward the end of 2024.

Shamenaz: What message would you like to give to the young poets?

Zaneta: To aspiring young poets, please know that your voice matters. Write when you’re happy and sad… hungry and full, and especially when you are agitated. Allow yourself the time and space to write each day. Writers need other writers. Read as much as you can and regularly connect with other writers. Capture the stories of your youth as they provide inspiration now and later. In the words of David Martin, founder of the Fine Lines Journal, WRITE ON!

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