Friday, March 13, 2015

Poet uses life experiences as fodder for collection of poetry

      Before John J. Mask knew that words could elicit a response and speak volumes, he lived life on the edge of the rugged streets of Gary, Ind. Life was full of uncertainty. So by the time he was 14, he’d been shot in the face below the right eye, grazed by a bullet twice in the back, and stabbed twice in the arm.
      “I knew it wasn’t my time to go, because God had a purpose in my life,” said Mask, a former street-tough who gangbanged until his mother made the decision to send him to his sister in Brownsville, Tenn. to keep him alive.
Poet John J. Mask (left) and a friend.
      But Mask didn’t stay put. He backtracked to Gary and stayed another year before returning to Brownsville.
      “The gang tried to kill me,” said Mask, finally giving up gang-life and joining the Army. He stayed there 15 years and started life anew.
      “I made a conscious decision to go to the military to get some discipline,” he said. “I knew if I didn’t change, I would face prison, the grave, and hell.”
      The transformation was finished. But instead of living his life by his own volition as he’d done in his teens, Mask surrendered everything to God. Afterward, he put pen to paper and, like a scribe, inked a collection of poetry that traces his meandering journey and unmasks his innermost thoughts.
      After penning his first poem in 2006, Mask published his first book of poetry in 2009. He intermixed words to evoke images that formed the basis of the book “One Man’s Mind,” a collection of poems that testifies, inspires, encourages, teaches, bemoans, and brims with a spiritual overtone.
      In 2010, Mask followed up with another collection of poetry entitled “Revealing the Mask.” The title is self-explanatory and likewise imbued with imagery of a spiritual nature. It is a testament of where the author has been and the relationships he’s forged along the way.
      God is the epicenter of this book of poetry as well. But Mask unloads a plethora of his thoughts on the reader about life, love, joy, pain, the ghetto experience, his emotional tailspins, and God’s omnipotence. You’d also find in the collection God’s omnipresence and His ruling hand at work.
      God wants to see our faces/ That’s why he allows devastation in various places/ The killing is in great demand/ That’s why God wants us to read His words, Mask writes in the poem “God’s Face.”
      The words to one of Mask’s earlier poems were revealed to him in “bits and pieces,” he said, while driving along in his BMW. He took it all in and penned “I Hear the Screams, Do You Know What I Mean?” It is a sad state of affairs that spells out domestic violence.
      Mask is deeply engaged in the telling of his experiences via poetry and, in many cases, simple prose. It was the blood that saved me, he writes in the first two lines of “Blood, Sweat & Tears,” a poem from “One Man’s Mind.”      
      The poem traces Mask’s earlier beginnings when his mother interceded on his behalf. In essence, she gave (sacrificed) her life to save him just as Jesus Christ gave his life to save us.
      Mask is No. 8 of his mother’s 10 children and the youngest of three of her boys. His parents, Floyd Mask Sr. and Darlene Nelson, were divorced when he was a child. She raised her large brood as a single parent by herself, he said.
      “A lot of people ask me how do I do what I do,” said Mask, 49, providing answers to questions about his past indiscretions and his profound poetic expressions. “I can’t do it without the Lord. He inspires me. And I always invite the Holy Ghost to lead and guide me.”
      God turned it all around, said Mask, a former law enforcement officer who retired two years ago due to a botched surgery.
      “No one knows what another man goes through unless they’re in another man’s shoes,” he said.
      Mask has been in ministry since 1988. He was ordained in 1992 at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Stanton, Tenn. He is currently serving in ministry under Bishop Gerald Coleman Sr., senior pastor of Faith Keepers Ministries in the Raleigh-Frayser community.
      Mask and his wife Marie are the parents of five children: Marquita, 27; Jasmine, 26; Joshua, 25; James Anthony, 21; and Ashante, 21. They also are the grandparents to Carmi, 4; Fred, 3; and Berkia, 2.
      Since his transformation, Mask has tried to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, but added: “I’m not Jesus, but I try to symbolize myself as a Christian. Anything I can do to help somebody, that’s what I’ll do. I’m just trying to do what God wants me to do.”
      “One Man’s Mind” was published by Curry Brothers Marketing and Publishing Group in Nashville. “Revealing the Mask” was published by Feel Me Publishing also in Nashville. The author is planning to release two additional books of poetry soon.
      (For more information, contact John J. Mask at 901-283-6144 or by email at or

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