Jordan Claire McCraw showed up to our interview wearing a cocktail dress over Calvin Klein sweatpants, immediately rushing to apologize and explain that she had spent the day auditioning. What soon became clear to me, however, was that regardless of its practical justification the outfit was fairly emblematic of who Jordan Claire McCraw is. She is a woman who, for a long time, had primarily valued herself based on the amount of beauty she was able to display at any given moment, yet who underneath had struggled to be comfortable in her own skin.
Jordan Claire McCraw’s debut poetry collection, American Rapture: Poems from a Heartscape, grants the reader the privilege of accompanying her in that grueling, multi-faceted journey towards self-acceptance. Her story is one of hope that regardless of one’s traumas, it is possible to heal. Now, she turns to using her newfound voice to heal other women who have similar scars to her own.
You have worn a lot of different hats in different career roles-acting in TV/Film, music videos, voiceover, audiobooks, and theater. How do you think what you learned in those roles influenced the book?
Interestingly, it wasn’t until I translated my classical theater training background into a film and TV context that I think I really started self-examining. I think that, as a performer, when I was able to keep my audience at a distance, there was always some part of me that I felt safe to withhold. As soon as I got a camera in my face and I started training with a coach in New York, I realized that not only was I being given permission to be totally vulnerable, but that it was a necessity.
So, for example, crying on cue. Well, I’m not gonna just stare at the ceiling, or use eyedrops, or do whatever the Kardashians do-I want to cry. So, the question became: How do I do that? I had to start finding all the emotions within myself, dividing them into pretty little boxes, lining them up on a shelf inside my psyche, and saying “Okay, I’ll take you out when I need you.” I had to just practice, like a muscle, getting in front of a camera and tapping into different parts of my consciousness, different emotions. As I got better at doing that, I became braver about the sources of those emotions.
I think because I got that training before my nervous breakdown, when I was reconstructing myself I was able to do it without boundaries. It was almost like I got to pick and choose which parts of my psyche to reassemble. Like, I kept with me some of my sadnesses that are embarrassing because I had befriended them by then. They had become useful to me, and they continued to be useful to me as I wrote the book.
How did poetry become the way to express these stories? Why not prose?
I don’t know! It’s just how I’ve always thought. You know, my grandmother was a poet, and when she passed there were unpublished books of poetry found in her drawers. Fast forward to when I was isolated and alone as a wife/mother, it reminded me of her because there were areas in my grandmother’s life when she compromised her personhood for marriage. She had a real mental health struggle as well, and she was from an earlier generation when her opportunities as an intelligent woman were short-circuited by circumstance. So now, some part of me wonders if she somehow lives on in me and intends to finish what she started. I feel like I owe it to her to really own who I am, figure myself out, act on it, and be brave with my poetry because those are all things that she never got to do.
If you could go back and give a piece of advice to yourself as a teenager, what would you say?
I would say…Put your hair behind your ears.
When I was a teenager, I thought that if my hair was behind my ears, that it looked like I had a round Charlie Brown head. Meanwhile, I was a dedicated student, so I was always looking down at my paper and up at the board, which made my hair constantly fall into my eyes. I was miserable. It was a constant source of drama inside my mind that no one else was aware of, but I was terrified that if other people didn’t think I was attractive that my worth would disappear.
Even though that wasn’t directly my value system, that sort of self-hatred had been modeled for me by the other women in my life. I didn’t have the confidence to just say, “Screw it, I’m in math right now. I’m gonna pull my hair into a pony-tail. Who cares?” Little things like that were the paper trail to my developing OCD, eating disorders, general perfectionism-not because those were my values, but because that was how much I thought other people hated me. I really thought that everyone was just looking for me to fail.
I feel so sorry for that little girl and I’m so grateful that I have raised her since then. When my mother disappeared, I took over mothering that teenage girl in me. I put food in her belly, I encouraged her, I praised her. I actually talk to myself in the car sometimes because there have been times when I really wanted to have a mom to encourage me, to tell me that everything was going to be okay, that I’m beautiful, that it’s okay not to be perfect. I’ve needed to hear it sometimes, so I’ll just say it out loud to myself as I drive down I-95. That’s how I have simulated for myself a second childhood and a second chance to learn how to live in the world.
Let’s have a bit more fun with this last question. What would you say have been your pop cultural influences?
Recently, Billie Eilish. I find her so cool. I think what she’s doing is so brave, so fun. That she has the nerve to say, “I’m the sexiest woman alive and no one knows what my body looks like. So there.” She’s on the cover of these massive magazine with that as her beauty platform, empowering women worldwide to an extent that is incalculable. I wish I had had Billie when I was a teenager.
Going further back to my childhood, another major pop culture influence I had was the Anne of Green Gables movies. She was my idol. I identified so closely with Anne-her writing, her orations, her fiery spirit. Particularly for a child who was raised in a fairly conservative home like me, she did those things in a way that was socially acceptable to my family at the time. She taught me empowerment through a more traditional and classical lens, which served as the building blocks of my present day feminist ideology. With my own writings, I consider myself as taking the messaging of these women in classical literature and translating it to fit into a much more complicated modern world.
American Rapture: Poems from a Heartscape by Jordan Claire McCraw is available now wherever books are sold, including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.