For her new collection of poetry, “Resurrecting the Bones: Born from a Journey through African American Churches & Cemeteries of the Rural South,” Jacinta V. White worshiped in small, country churches in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to connect with her family’s spiritual history.

After each visit, she’d talk to church members and walk through the adjoining cemetery, letting her imagination wander.

“This was a way to catalog the journey,” said White, who claims Charlotte and Detroit as her hometowns.

She moved to this area to be closer to her mother who lives in Kernersville.

Though she didn’t grow up a reader, White loved the poetry she learned at church. She wrote her first poem while working at her first job after college.

“It was about a breakup. I printed it off and some of my co-workers loved it,” White recalled. “After my father passed, poetry took on a different life for me. It helped me with my grief, and I started writing more, reading more. It was something I had to do. I referred to it as my lifeline.”

Her uncle suggested she visit churches that her father had pastored before she was born. He made up a list of churches and each Sunday, she’d pick him up and they’d visit the church together. Those visits evolved into the poetry project.

White works as a consultant.

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: I’m a poet. I use words and lines to create images and evoke emotions. I play with sounds and rhythm as a way to invite people into an experience.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: Though I have an advanced degree (MPA), I have never formally studied poetry. I came to poetry as something I enjoyed and needed. Since then, 20-plus years ago, I have learned to appreciate the exquisite craft. Through workshops, studying, and being in critique groups, I’ve honed my skills. I used to let the fact that I don’t have an MFA suggest I couldn’t be a “real” poet. I know that’s not true and continue to push my understanding and experimentation of poetry.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: I have a number of influences. The best way to grow is to be well-read, so I tend to read a variety of poets. I would say, when I started out, I was mostly influenced by Cecilia Woloch. She was the first poet whose workshop I took in the early 2000s. But I’m also influenced deeply by the work of Anne Sexton, Lucille Clifton and Terrance Hayes.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: Time. I’m learning to make it my friend and not feel bullied by it (LOL). I have to become more disciplined in carving time to write and to stay writing. I tend to juggle a lot of balls, but writing has to stay my priority. That means saying no to some things I want to do and places I want to go. It’s well worth that sacrifice, however.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: Art helps me be fully alive. I feel clearer when I am creating. I feel whole even when I’m writing about something troubling. It’s the process of making something out of nothing — at one moment having a blank page and the next having words cover that page. It’s my love language to myself and to the world. When I write, I’ve connected to who I feel I am created to be.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: Art is ever evolving. It’s a living thing. So, my advice to artists would be to take care of yourself and your art. Nurture both. Believe in both. Stay true to both. If you give up on your art you are giving up on yourself and someone needs you to be an artist (including yourself) because they need to see or hear or read that art that can only come from you. And I would say, be patient. It (the inspiration and the art) will come. Trust the journey.

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Lisa O’Donnell writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in relish. Send your story ideas to lodonnell@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7420.

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