On the 31st May 2016, I was fortunate enough to attend a book launch of the undergraduate creative writing anthology I was published in. The night was set to be a good one, showcasing promising young talent but I was more concerned with the fact that it would be the first time I’d perform poetry in front of my mother. Rather odd when you consider she’s seen me perform everything else from guitar to Shakespeare.
In effect it would be the first time she would see the fruits of my academic labour. Poetry has always been a creative outlet I’ve been immensely dedicated to since childhood. Although our relationship is somehow estranged it’s verse that I always return to if I’m in an impasse. In my three years of study, I can most definitely see immense progress in my work and it can only go up from there; as I long as I keep at it. In the last five to eight months, my prose and poetry has been particularly concerned with the safety of black bodies; more specifically – discussing the ways in which black people are mistreated or often misunderstood.
I think as a poet that happens to be black my poetic voice isn’t challenged enough; especially as the majority of my audiences are white. I could talk about Jim Crow, the Black Panther movement, and racial profiling and for fear of stepping out of line, I am constantly told how much they like what I’ve written, but seldom do hear what they didn’t understand. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for these compliments, they reaffirm many strengths I am learning about myself. That being said, I cannot progress if audience/friends/academics inhibit their concerns or misgivings.
I think half the battle in being a poet is being open enough for criticism, but dense enough to use it constructively. It was so strange that I was performing hard-hitting expressions of what it meant to be black and not once was I scared. When I had initially written the poems that would eventually make the edition, I had always imagined I would share it with other black poets. Something about the performance that night, with my mother and I two of three black people in the room; I have reconsidered and decided it’s not just black people that need to hear about the horrors of their own experiences. If I really want to connect and touch people, I had to speak to those who are unfamiliar.
I was blessed enough to meet with some friends who said they were touched by my words to the point of tears which means it’s a step in the right direction. I always maintain that poetry doesn’t always have to be fully understood but must partially resonate. Even as the reader there are still moments where I stumble on a word or pause before a sentence, because in that moment, I remember the blueprint feeling that caused all else that followed.Even more poignant as I looked onto my mother in the audience, silent and attentive.
(PURCHASE A COPY OF UNDERTOW HERE!)