Archive for the ‘Poetry Sundays with Stacia’ Category

Poetry Sundays with Stacia: Poetry for Hire’s a Pain.

September 27, 2009

A month ago, I stood up in front of my seat at a banquet table, fumbling with two folded pages I’d concealed in my purse, and began to read my aunt a tribute poem at her semi-formal birthday party. She was shocked and so was I.

It was the first time anyone had heard me read an original poem publicly in about six years. It was the first time I’d written a poem for someone, without being asked, in nine years.

Afterward, there was the typical surprised, but positive response:

“I heard you were a writer, but I didn’t know you could write like that!”

“That was beautiful!”

“You really captured her personality!”

I smiled graciously, offering a single, deprecating nod and a sincere, “Thank you.” Then I thought to myself, “I won’t be doing this again for a while….”

It isn’t that I mind reading poetry aloud, now that I’ve decided to resume writing it. It’s the writing on commission or in tribute that presents a bit of a problem. I’ve always found writing poetry for hire (or by special request) to be a bit schmaltzy. When someone asks me to write for a wedding, a funeral, a baby christening, a family reunion, or a birthday party, spontaneity is sapped from the experience and all that’s left is obligation and a list of mannerisms and personality traits to describe in eight or fewer stanzas.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Having a creative skill that other people admire is an honor, and being able to write something sentimentally resonant for friends, family, or strangers is nothing to sneeze at.

But seeing my work printed in an event program or hearing it read by a member of a wedding party or listening to myself read it semi-impassively for a paycheck just makes me feel like a mascot. And I always wonder if the people listening think the free verse I’ve written is any different than poetry made entirely of rhyming couplets or those acrostics we used to write in elementary school.

A is for awkward.

There’s also something a little artificial about writing for people you don’t know well. You wonder if you’ve worked in all the information their loved ones wanted to you to mention. You worry that you haven’t captured their essence accurately or thoroughly enough. It can be stressful and disheartening. It’s never fun.

Fortunately, writing for my aunt’s party was another story. It came as a complete surprise to her and no one knew I’d worked on it. So there was no pressure, no expectation. No one hoping it would rhyme and no one wishing it sounded more like the poem I wrote for their relative two years ago.

Are you the go-to poet in your social world? Have you experienced my angst? I’d love to hear about it.

And if you’d like to read Stacia’s poem for her aunt… please do.

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Poetry Sundays with Stacia: A Conversation With…Tara Betts

September 6, 2009

Chicago native Tara Betts is a poet, activist and educator. She’s also the author of Arc & Hue, a collection of new, original poetry, released Tuesday, September 1. You may have seen her featured on Def Poetry Jam or read her work in Essence. A creative writing lecturer at Rutgers University, Tara has been widely anthologized and featured at readings all over the country.

What I love about her writing is that it’s as thoughtful, precise, and eloquent as it is accessible and relevant.

Check out this clip at Borders’ Open Door Poetry site to see what I mean. And when you’re done with that, let this marinate:

… Pretty fabulous, right?

Tara was gracious enough to answer a few questions about her writing process for our Sunday series. I trust you’ll find her responses as insightful as I do.

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Poetry Sundays with Stacia: To Love or Hate Spoken Word?

August 30, 2009

Poetry.

Just say the word and you’ll elicit a kaleidoscope of reaction. While one person clasps her hands and swoons, another will roll his eyes so hard you think they’ll stick.

What draws people to poetry?

What makes others consider it downright revolting? How do we develop an appreciation for poetry? Why would we want to? We’ll be examining these questions and others every Sunday here at aliyasking.com, but first, let me draw you a map of my journey.

It was DC in 1997, just one year after Love Jones mainstreamed the black poetry scene. I’d grown weary of the finger-snapping, the… slow, drawling cadence of… open. mike. denizens… by the end of my freshman year of college.

Once a month, my girl Randi and I would hop on the green line and jump off at U Street to tip into a small black bistro called Mango’s and listen to work of older poets.

A girl in a two-foot-high headwrap with cowrie shells adorning her neck and wrists read about sex as a metaphor for black nationalism. A guy whose locs swung across his back like a pendulum delivered a poem about the beauty of the black queens in Southeast and Hyattsville.

The first few nights, it was magical. You could get drunk on that cadence, holding your breath for as long as a poet held a pause, remembering to breathe only after you felt lightheaded and sated.

It would be three months before I realized that many of these poems were practically interchangeable. Five months later I realized, y’know, if you’ve heard one poem about a beautiful black queen, you’ve heard ‘em all.

Within nine months, the love affair was over.

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