Poetry for Independence: Gabriela Garcia, Monica Lewis, Kem Joy Ukwu & Michael Collins
A Resounding Reason for Why The Are Words
Everyone is pivoting to video.
Well guess what? You need real words and human thoughts and emotions to make video, and you need real bodies and hearts in the spotlight to create “engaging content,” so let’s delve into the core of our expression for a moment, as we prepare to host a compelling reading on July 2nd. A thoughtful way to improve your holiday weekend, if we may say so.
Why There Are Words brings together diverse perspectives and reminds us why we even bother being human and putting words out there anyway. Reminds us that maybe there is a poet within every one of us, waiting to be heard.
Michael Collins, who brought the series to New York from California, says we need words right now so we can “reach for deeper truths, find compassion for the “other,” engage with one’s own shadow, and grow the ability to see the world in complex ways from multiple perspectives.”
I’d love to do all of those things.
I asked Gabriela Garcia (with her brilliant podcast On Poetry) how she knows she’s a poet. She deftly cut ambiguity from the question, saying,
I know I am a poet because I write poetry. Other symptoms include: seeing images in your daily life and holding them hostage in your mind so they can eventually have a life on the page, making weird noises, and chewing on plastic pens.
Monica Lewis, another bright young poet you’ll meet this Sunday, spoke to me about her work in the world, and why it needs poetry right now, at this very moment.
The world is in such a dark place — he who shall not be named needs no mention here — but art, specifically poetry is necessary more than ever to remind us of beauty, to offer a safe, nurturing place of recognition and relief, to remind and reinvigorate us to keep fighting, to keep us awake, but also to provide comfort.
To be awake and vigilant, and kept just safe enough to do the work we’re called to do: perhaps that’s the forcefield we need right now. A field to surround us but not coddle us too closely. She knows she’s a poet because she can feverishly spend up to two hours crafting the perfect sentence. I can’t wait to hear that creation, live on the Bowery stage.
Prolific writer and Bronx native Kem Joy Ukwu described to me the role of her work, tackling isolation and seeking empathy.
Most of my stories focus on emotional aftermaths. Many characters from my work deal with loneliness, detachment and a lack of belonging. Issues facing the world today often cause devastating loss, loneliness, detachment, pain and grief. One of the goals I have for my work is to encourage emotional recognition and empathy from readers.
And she didn’t even start to seriously pursue professional writing until a few years ago. She draws inspiration from not only poetry but fiction and nonfiction, music, comedy, film and television. A few (of many) literary works that have tremendously influenced her?
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Crash Course: Essays Where Writing and Life Collide and If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, both by Robin Black.
Monica Lewis also said she has been greatly influenced by Junot Díaz, calling it “jagged and glittering, like a crystal.” I guess it’s finally time for me to crack open one of his geodes. Gabriela Garcia, on the other hand, told me that her biggest influence is Sylvia Plath.
The first time I heard her poem “Fever 103” at age sixteen my immediate thought was “I didn’t know girls were allowed to talk that way.” Who cares if it’s cliche to love her? Her work gave me permission to be human.
Who knows whose words might give you that permission, this Sunday? There’s only one way to find out.