By Zainab Iqbal
Published: April 26th, 2017
Most books usually open up to a page stating the name of the publishing company. “In Disarray: A collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Letters,” instead opens up to the name of the author—Jherelle Benn.
On Feb. 8, Benn (her stage/performance name is Relle the Poet) self-published and released her debut book to the world. It is a raw anthology filled with 45 poems, short stories, and letters about love, being a woman, intimacy, sex, and grief, all of which Benn had been writing since she was 10 years old.
“It has themes of life, experiences, things I’ve seen, and things I’ve learned in my 26 years,” Benn said. “Life is kind of chaotic yet beautiful at the same time.”
Why self-publish a debut book?
“You have to take it upon yourself to create your own job,” Benn said. “It was what I desired; I put it together, ordered, and sold it myself. It’s like being an entrepreneur and writer all at once.”
The 129-page book is split into four sections: Love, Lucid, Lust, and Life. Each section is filled with powerful words—enough to make one pause and think while reading. Though Benn incorporated her own experiences, she also wrote a lot about those who’ve inspired her.
“Poetry is something that I share to encourage others. And I share with them to show how they affected me,” Benn said. “It is a safe haven, an outlet. Once I started sharing my poems, I realized the impact. I would feel really selfish if I’d kept them to myself.”
Benn graduated from Brooklyn College in 2016 with a BA in Journalism. While at Brooklyn College, she was a writer and news editor for The Kingsman. As her life “is surrounded by poetry,” Benn is also a spoken word poet and activist. She is the program director at Green Earth Poets Café, where she teaches and manages programs for the company. As the program director, she goes to different facilities to share her words, including Rikers Island—a jail complex holding about 10,000 inmates on an everyday basis.
“For the Rikers Boys” is a poem Benn dedicated to the young boys at Rikers. She wanted to inspire them as they had inspired her.
“It was important for me to share with people who needed to hear it,” Benn said. “And the incarcerated youth was the perfect audience.”
She recalled the first day she went there. Based on the powerful words in the poem, it’s hard to picture Benn being nervous. But she was.
“What was I going to say?” Benn recalled. “How can I relate to them when I’ve never even walked in their shoes?”
So she went to Rikers Island, and read some of her work out loud to the youth. According to Benn, it wasn’t that bad, but she felt the need to write something specifically for them. So she did.
“I know I’m standing here seemingly shackle free, while y’all sitting there under tight lock and key,” Benn wrote. “This whole system is broken, every piece is corrupt; I know these words as adhesives will never be enough.”
The book also includes a couple of short stories, and an unfinished letter she wrote for her grandfather who passed away before she could give it to him—heartbreaking and real, just like her other pieces.
“I feel like I am a poem,” Benn said. “Life is a poem, because it doesn’t have any structure. With poetry, you can never be wrong.”
Currently, Benn is seven months pregnant, and spends most of her time preparing for her new family. She can be found looking through baby catalogs and planning for her baby shower. The one advice she has for young writers everywhere is, “Keep writing. Write about the good days and the bad days. And don’t get discouraged.”