Last year, I did an interview with the lovely Kt for WYCE discussing my journey in poetry since I left Dartmouth 1 year and 10 days ago that day. (Can you tell I got my ivy league diploma and dipped? Yeah, that’s what happened.) Me? Speak explicitly about the pieces I’ve written as though I identify as an artist? I didn’t feel ready, even after we decided to postpone the interview for a whole week.
This isn’t new for me, either. It seems that every time I’m asked to share the “me” that makes poetry, I become saturated with an overwhelming need to run in the opposite direction.
For example, a few years ago, I was invited with other Dartmouth students to grace the stage of The Nuyorican Poetry Cafe in New York City, a poetry club spearheaded by poet and fellow Queen, Mahogany L. Browne. This is one dream prevalent in the poetry world – to feature at The Nuyorican – and what did I do with the opportunity?
I gave it away to another poet without fuss or fight, saying that I didn’t feel ready to step on that stage (which, truthfully, I wasn’t).
On Wednesday, I attended a dinner with Grand Rapids business and creative leaders put on by Start Garden and GRABB to discuss the challenges to inclusive community development. There, I spoke to the particular intensity of structural barrier for Black families in Grand Rapids, the invisibility of the Black underclass here, and the importance of radical inclusivity as a business priority. Conversation went as expected for a table of businessmen being called to answer to a passionate young woman of color – initial defensive rhetoric thrown around to exonerate businesses from responsibility for social change, the championing of interpersonal “relationship building” as salve to racial disharmony, the need for “more education”, etc. The productive discussion that did happen for me, however, came after most of the other guests left. A community leader asked if a felt like a poet, to which I quickly answered –
“I feel like a writer who can write poetry sometimes”
During the interview with Electric Poetry, I was asked where does poetry come from?
Poetry comes from pain.
When I was in high school, I buried myself in writing to hide from parental criticism, but the social luxuries afforded even to straight A female students of color are too often far and few between. As I waited for the next social outing I’d be permitted to attend, I wrote often about the concept of freedom, feelings of entrapment, and why it was that my life was so much different than,say, my older brother’s. The words went from schoolhouse simple to metaphorical (albeit too literally in those early days) and meaningful.
Back then, my poetry had no choice but to be honest. There was no youth poetry scene in GRPS c. 2008-2011 that I could find, and I had no idea about the rising popularity of “spoken word” poetry. I refused to read published poetry because I found it insulting to my intelligence when the meanings escaped me (which is/was/is still often). When I need inspiration now, I often go back to those old and embarrassing poems, just to glimpse what I think to be the true essence of my writing.
I still muse about the concept of freedom, feelings of entrapment, and everyday sexism, but for some reason growing older came with an increased need to perform. I often find myself writing, acting, and even socializing performatively, as though those around me are watching an elaborate play in which I star as myself, reading from a script dictated by social dynamics.
My biggest, and most important goal of every day, is to get away from that performance.
To be me, unapologetically, whether people like it or not.
To be continued.