#CSPSlam Ch.4 baby. I arrive during the fourth poet’s applause. I prefer to sit in the front row, but it’s a first come first served and I get to sit in the middle, and this changes my preference. Next slam, I’m sitting in the middle. Because here, you get to see the judge’s reaction, the audience’s reaction and you know what lands and what doesn’t. You get to see whose friends are here, cheering them on even where cheer is not needed, being biased to their friends deliveries. I know for sure that, if I were a poet, I would prefer my friends to be honest audience members. To not cheer where cheer is not needed, to even boo when they need to, it is comforting to know that people who know you personally, are honest about your performance. But I’m not worried because Lil’ Hussil will throw shade in the air, hopefully you’ll catch because it says “average is not allowed.”
Again, there are no males in the final round, Kano who had been getting the top scores goes head to head with Ashley – the first time slammer. And I think, it’s about to go down. Kano knows this feeling all too well, and she approaches the mic with confidence, even I think she will win, but it’s Ashley -and not with first timers luck but with pure talent, calm and humility – who sits on the winners chair. When I chat to her during the interval, she is still catching her breath, still in disbelief that she won.
I still can’t get over the fact that, four chapters later, women are still in the lead, so I ask Ashley about all things female. Feminism and the likes.
And here is what she has to say:
- What informs your work?
Time present, time past, time coming. Spirit. Experience. People. Terry Barrett says that all art is in part about other art- this is true for my work. My work sometimes mirrors the world from which it emerges, sometimes it imagines a utopia, sometimes it is the utopia, most times it reads my innermost truth back to me.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in Half of a Yellow Sun “How much did one know of the true feelings of those who did not have a voice? As a female poet, what role do you play in making the feelings of voiceless women known?
I feel like voiceless women do not exist, what does exist is a society filled with deaf ears. I think my work has commanded listening, from me as from anyone else who has come into contact with it. My poems make me listen to the parts of myself that I would rather silence. My poems say that everything about me is okay- even the broken parts. I didn’t know it was okay to question and probe, to seek justice and representation and compassion and kindness until my poems said it. I didn’t know I could love my sexuality, love my black, love my mind- littered with illness as it is. I didn’t know I could talk about things as I thought them. For me, art is freedom. It is power- empowerment. Art is magic. It is spirit. It is god. It is connection with god. It is prayer. It is lovemaking. I really hope that my words make other people listen, that they make other women of colour more comfortable with their riddled parts.
- Essentially what do you aim to achieve with your poetry?
Love? I just want to make love everywhere, with everyone. I want to love strangers and friends until we’re all god again. I want to heal- I want my words to heal. Sometimes empowerment is breathing. Just being. I don’t want to reduce my poems to what impact they could have; I’d miss them then. I want them to always be freedom. Education happens that way. Forgiveness too. And running and soaring. I want my poems to be whatever they are to whomever reads them.
- To a layman, how would you explain feminism?
Feminism is choice. And choice is important. Feminism is not the sisterhood of travelling kumbayas- it is choice. The choice to do with our bodies what we will, how we will, when we will. Feminism is ownership. Owning all our agency, and dreams- even struggles. Feminism is telling the truth. Telling young girls the truth about themselves. Teaching boys about consent. Telling them that girls do not belong to them. Feminism is uncapping a black girl’s wings.
- As a poet, what sets you apart?
I don’t know that anything sets me apart. I think we’re all different shreds of god- you can’t really tell god apart.
- In one word, what are the challenges in poetry and what do you love about poetry?