"Cyphers are similar to rap battles. According to a poet from NYC, it's not about defeating or discouraging the opponent. It's about sharing your story." Shanita Jackson
Brave New Voices 2012!I have this insane habit of pointing out wonderful and coincidental things. I've wanted to be a part of Brave New Voices for years now, and what I noticed is that the first year I was blessed to go was BNV's 15th anniversary!
Brave New Voices started in 1996, which is my birth year. As it seems, I was born to do this!
In all seriousness, Brave New Voices was not only a life changing experience, but a healing experience. Being completely surrounded by poetry, soul, and love so thick it's almost tangible is a feeling I can't even justify. I wish the world could fully understand the powers of poetry. It's incredible. We stayed at the beautiful Berkeley Campus in California. Everything we did was so liberating. We could stay out and gaze at the stars if we felt the need to. Inspiration was waiting around every single corner! The cyphers were stunning! The teams gave Asheville WordSlam so much love. The poetry.....my goodness the poetry was breathtaking. Almost every poem I heard knocked the breath out of me. It felt as if they had reached into my life and snatched a poem right out of my heart. Every time I talk about BNV I get an overwhelming sense of frustration because no matter how long I rant, no matter what I say, I cannot describe the amazing experience and the amazing people I was so fortunate to meet. I feel the need to thank BNV for the impact it made on my life.
From the Brave New Voices Video blog...
Shanita performing at the 2011 Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) Youth Poetry Slam. Photo by Katelyn Zimmerman.
My worst possible fear is to perform an amazing poem in front of a huge crowd, and no one understands what I'm talking about. Eventually, everyone has to face their fear.
This finally happened to me when I performed a few poems for my church's New Year's party. I performed two beautiful poems called "The Grandchild who Cheated a Poolside Grave" and "Brown Eyed Perspective." When I finished, there was a polite applause, but as a poet who has inspired many, you can fully understand when the audience didn't grasp your meaning. I kept a smile on my face, but inside I was seriously bummed out.
After the service and once the New Year was brought in, a man stopped me and told me he understood everything I had to say. He even told me what my poetry meant to him. I had inspired someone!
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you not to be discouraged. Never let a minor setback slow down your passion as a poet. Some audiences may not understand the vocabulary of your poem, some may not understand anything about it at all. Performing a poem is all completely worth it if you successfully inspired at least one soul. That's what it's all about.
This is why I write.
I was born
to say. Poetry
is the closest I’ve come
to saying it
Why and when did you start passionately writing poetry?
I always had a love affair with words. I was a voracious reader since age 4. I began writing poetry in Middle School. This love of poetry followed me to Erskine College. I was the editor of the literary magazine The Review. It was only after I married and had children that I rediscovered my love for poetry, because I felt I had to be serious and get a job, so I majored in psychology.
Poetry, my persistent muse, followed me. Around 30 I was in a time of my life ripe for creativity. I began the first Poetry Slam in Greenville South Carolina at Wittershins Bookstore & Café that later turned into the Village Café. I began touring the country with Poetry Alive simultaneously performing in Poetry Slams. When I wasn’t mothering, I was poeting.
How has your family or your life influenced your poetry?
I am rooted in my family, and I write from my roots. I write about those known and those unknown, because they guide me. It is part of my Afro-Carolinian lineage to honor my ancestors. I am a griot. I recall the family line poetically. I do not have much of a choice. My family originates from Nigeria. Nigerians are the chief Praise Poets of West Africa. This is my major poem for that I began writing at age 12 even before of I was aware of my historical roots.
I am a Sankofa, that mystical African bird that constantly has its head turned back investigating the past in order to learn from it. I write about many family members from Will Rogers, my great-grandfather born a slave, to the newest addition of our family, my niece and Goddaughter, Jada Nicole. Life is one poetic cycle in my heart, and it fuels my pen.
How old were you when you first performed your poetry (Word Slams or Poetry Slams) and how did that feel?
I was in my early 30s. I felt invigorated about the whole Slamming aspect. It appealed to my competitive nature. I ran the sprints in track and performing in a Slam provided that same kind of rush. It was more gratifying, because it was always about the words and the camaraderie of fellow wordsmiths. I was hooked from the first time I walked down Carolina Lane and through the Green Door. It took me six months to win a slam, but each time I lost, I came back determined to win. I studied the winning poets and I came back with more game until I finally won. My first major slam win was at the Asheville Poetry Festival. It was a sweet victory, because all my family was there to see me win and I beat out some major competitors like Danny Solis, Patricia Johnson and Pat Storm. It was then I knew I had arrived as a slammer. Ultimately I left the slam world, though it served me well as a hands-on workshop for five years. I knew that I had to expand and grow to other territories, if I was going to become the poet I wanted to be. I still believe in Slam as a learning tool. I also see it as a vehicle for empowerment. I highly endorse and encourage it as a valid way to craft one’s performance and work.
How many books have you written and how many do you plan to write?
I have written two chapbooks, two books and one on the way. I have two CDs and one DVD. I don’t know how many books I have in me. There are three more that I know of that I want to write.
Do you imagine yourself to be the next Maya Angelou?
No. There is only one Maya Angelou. I working hard to see what Glenis Redmond can add to the world.
Do you find yourself to be an inspiration?
I am inspired by life and living, and I do my best to express that in poems and essays. I hope that what I say on the page and stage inspires others to grow. I see myself with a non-profit in the future called: GROwW – Glenis Redmond’s Outreach with Words, where I have a show on PBS, HBO or Bravo, and I interview poets and talk about all things poetry. I see myself with a self-help poetry book. I am interested in the healing ability of words. If I had my way in this country, everyone would be required to create a Praise Poem and must memorize it and be able to recite it on demand. I hope to take poetry more to the masses. I hope to let my poet light shine all over the world. There are many wicks that need to be lit. I believe in the power of poetry.