The Phoenix Rising Collective

Inspiring Women. Empowering Change.

ARTIST FEATURE: I Am Becoming – An Interview with Mireidys Garcia Jimenez

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Artist Feature [The Phoenix Rising Collective]

The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, interviews women artists who use their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion.

This Artist Feature is Mireidys Garcia Jimenez:

I asked her, “Who are you?” And Mireidys Garcia Jimenez responded, “I am Becoming.”

I almost want to begin and end this story with the sentence above. As the interviewer, it speaks volumes, but it would be unfair to the reader to end with this sentence. At least I would be annoyed as a reader. Sometimes we meet people who are more than a passerby in our journey. They are spiritual beings made of earth, grounded in their descendant nature, using words to transform ways of thinking. Sometimes we bask in the presence of spirit-beings who are beyond their own spatial time. They show us that all things are accessible if we are willing to tap into that inner-treasure that sits at the pit of our stomachs. I met a few particular women this 2015 summer in the Art of Text workshop at Kenyon College. Mireidys is one of the women who inspired me.

Her family is from Pinar Del Rio, Paso Real, Cuba – a rural place where much of the crops that feed the majority of this country’s population are grown. She was born in Cuba and moved to Hialeah, Florida when she was 4 years old. She explained that her grandfather was a political prisoner. He was allowed to leave Cuba by himself when he finished his sentence, but he refused until he could leave with his whole family. This eventually happened, with great effort.

In asking Mireidys about other places she calls home, she mentioned Amherst, Massachusetts where she went to undergraduate school and found a safe familial space. She received her B.A. in Creative Writing and Cultural Studies from Hampshire College and will be completing her M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College December 2015. I, of course, asked her about writing and what it meant to her. She said she has always been a writer and that she always felt like she spoke in poetry. In the video she speaks of this literary experience.

 

One of my favorite questions to ask writers is what other literary artists inspire, influence, and inform their craft. Mireidys was clear and precise:

My favorite poets are Pablo Neruda and Aracelis Girmay. Neruda is the only author whose work I’ve enjoyed equally in Spanish and English. For me, none of his magic is lost in translation. Girmay is a political poet and the most predominant mentor figure I’ve had in my journey as a writer. I admire the incredible urgency and intimate delivery with which she conjures the unspoken. My favorite book is Just Kids by Patti Smith. This is the first novel I picked up after years of only reading poetry and I was captivated by Smith’s lyricism and zealous honesty.

I think what moves me most about Mireidys is the thickness in her poetic tongue. Her words sit with me and remind me that I am a part of this world in a very spiritual way. I remember watching her in the summer workshop. She moved from that pink typewriter to her space at the table and back to the typewriter. At one moment she was sitting right outside of the studio completing a writing assignment for the workshop. She was intense and deliberate in creating both her stories and books. In the midst of creating, though, she smiled. She smiled an earth-tone smile that reminded me that she is both night and day. She makes up the best of 24 hours, especially when under pressure. She worked tirelessly, which is why I chose her as a feature. Mireidys Garcia Jimenez reminds me of the greatest possibilities. Watching her made me reflect and ask, “How bad do you want to write and publish TC?” Moreover, “How hard are you willing to work for these possibilities that are knocking at your door?” Her literary talent and hard work inspired me to create more time and space for this art form I believe in.

The following poem is an excerpt from Mireidys’ upcoming collection. The poem is entitled The Cuba I Stole from my Mother’s Tongue.

Still, she smells of cafesito and el mar

forms a hurricane with her dance,

swaying hips, poised stance— she is guilty

for the waves in the vast Atlantic Ocean.

 

Yet this Cuba was never mine

no, blame it on the fact I lost a country

too young.[1]  Mine lives only in the voices

of my ancestors echoing this red earth for miles,

crawling under stories of exile, blindfolded

trying to make constellations out of English.

 

 

[1] From Ruth Behar’s The Island We Share

Learn more about Mireidys Garcia Jimenez

 


About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “The Phoenix Rising Collective is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” You can learn more about Traci’s work in creative arts HERE.


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ARTIST FEATURE: The Spirit of Intimacy: An Interview with Simone Savannah

ArtistFeature_SimoneSavannah[thephoenixrisingcollective]

 

The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, interviews women artists who use their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion.

This Artist Feature is Simone Savannah.

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Writer and Poet, Simone Savannah

Bravery delves into those uncommon territories of one’s life. It’s the areas we do not speak of. The places we do not venture because they are painful, scary, or require us to be vulnerable beyond measure. This idea of exploration is often linked to walking into the unknown. We all know that common Star Trek theme: To boldly go where no man has gone before. My question is “What do you find when you go to places you have never been or have tucked away in your life?” Many would say, “You find yourself.” This statement describes the artist feature for this month: Simone Savannah.

I’ve watched this woman poet for over a decade – as early as her high school years to the present, as a doctoral student in Literature and Creative Writing at University of Kansas. What I remember most about Simone’s earlier years is her smile. Even when a situation was rough, she found room to chuckle, and there it was – white teeth rounded to perfection as a ray of sunshine. Yes, her smile!

Most recently Simone published the poem Like Want For Having with an independent press called Big Lucks. When I read her poem I found myself focusing on specific words that spoke to intimacy, desire and sexual prowess. Her words were concrete and abstract, bouncing between the two. I had a raised eyebrow because this was a side of Simone I did not know but had peeked my interest. When we talked, our conversation actually started with Simone’s mother with whom I share a name – Tracy. She told me about her mother’s death and I realized this was the focal point of Simone’s exploration of intimacy.

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Photo Credit: Cover Art for Big Lucks, Issue #09

The deterioration of her mother, Tracy, started with the gastric bypass surgery. Complications from the surgery worsened her health – leading to a breast amputation, an affected leg and later surgery on her coronary arteries, from which she never recovered.

Simone’s mother died at age 37, and Tracy’s mother also died the same age. When she told me this I asked how this made her feel. “It’s pretty scary. I didn’t get a chance to meet my grandmother. I don’t see it as a pattern, though. I take it as a sign to take care of myself.” Simone’s mother battled anxiety attacks but Tracy’s mom dealt with alcoholism. My inquiry about Tracy’s anxiety led to Simone sharing that her sister (10 months older) had been given up for adoption. Similarly, Tracy was also adopted. She was depressed after giving Simone’s sister up, but then Simone was born and her brother noticed a change. He felt the adoption and her birth helped Tracy to create healthier relationships with her children and with men.

Simone explained she didn’t have the same abusive experiences her older siblings had with Tracy. She said, “My mom was my best friend when I was little.”

Our conversation transitioned. Simone began sharing Tracy’s troubling identity. While her mom was in the hospital she sneaked away to read her journals. “She was very clear about what people said about her weight. She was very clear about everything in the end. Men she had relationships with called her fat.” She never expressed these things to Simone but she wrote about these experiences. “It was odd because everyone knew her as a beautiful woman. She seemed confident on the outside but people didn’t know what she was going through. It hurt reading those journals.”

Simonepic1I began to understand Simone’s frustration. “It makes me so mad when people talk about my mother’s relationship with men because it was so negative. It revolved around sex and the fact that she had a lot of children.” She shared a tidbit about people mentioning Tracy using sex as medicine. She didn’t like the fact that there was a deviant connection to the act of sex versus the idea of simply enjoying the act itself.

I hadn’t pondered this thought because I have been told way too many times that sex is for something specific, often affiliated to religious doctrine. Granted, if you watch enough movies, you’ll get a variety of views on sex and its purpose. What we explored in our dialogue was the idea that sex fits into a box for numerous reasons – it is the topic parents don’t always want to address with their developing teenagers; the rules of what one should do when having sex (what’s nasty and what’s not); diseases connected to sex; the aftermath of sex; what sex looks like with or without clothes. And those examples aren’t even scratching the surface.

“I think it is funny to put sex in people’s face. I don’t see why we have to keep it private. I have no problem talking about exploring my sexuality publicly and the policing we do with sex.” She enjoys being funny in her poems but more importantly she likes contributing to a needed conversation revolving around sexuality, marriage and domesticity, especially when the discussion is imbalanced and it becomes one-sided or a double standard. She feels more voices should be included in this poetic dialogue. “My personal life and what I make up about it is almost always connected to something larger, something political like how we sexualize women and harass them on the street, or how we don’t give permission for (black) women to talk about their experiences as women, such as abortion or street harassment.” I related her comments to her poetry and why she writes. “Writing about these topics is very much about creating poetry – what can I do with these moments, these experiences? How can I write about them in a funny way or a serious way? How can I turn these moments into a page, a poem? Poetry is a place for me to be more creative…to try different things and to break rules. I feel freer in poetry. I can be anything I want in a poem.”

What I’ve learned from this artist is how important it is to acknowledge and even speak of the discomforts that block us from understanding why we do what we do and how our actions, as well as others’ actions shape our identity. But oh, how empowering it is to use the arts to address the concerns we aren’t always willing to face behind closed doors! Simone Savannah is walking this journey of self-discovery, both intimately and publicly. I give thanks, because from one artist to another, she empowers me to speak of the intimate things I have also tucked away in corners for way too long.

 

More on Simone Savannah:

Simone is from Columbus, Ohio. She is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas developing her interests in sexuality, Modern and Contemporary women’s poetry, and African American literature. She served as the Assistant Poetry Editor of Beecher’s 3. Her work has appeared in Blackberry: A Magazine.

 


 

 About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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ARTIST FEATURE: Wisdom’s Artistic Journey – An Interview with Mama Sol, A Light

The Phoenix Rising Collective’s Artist Feature, curated by Traci Currie, highlights and focuses on women artists using their talents and creativity to fully express self-love, build self-esteem, and nurture their own authenticity while inspiring others. Creative expressions may range from performing to painting to writing to travel and everything in between. Our goal is to share how these empowered women cultivate agency, healing, and happiness through fulfilling their passion. This Artist Feature is Mama Sol. __________________________

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Mama Sol – Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

This is a story about Wisdom with a capital “W.” Wisdom is not to be taken lightly. She comes in various forms – sometimes entangled or even cloaked in struggle and risk-prone decisions. But she takes chances. She leaps off high cliffs and transforms in mid-air. It is then that she begins to sprout wings and fully operate in her gifts. Her wings do not sprout overnight, but indeed they begin developing the minute she steps off the cliff. Yes, Wisdom is gifted; Gifted with experiences that some may call impossibly possible. She is, for the sake of this article, a Mother, a Motivator, a Lyricist, an Artist. She is Mama Sol. Let’s begin with her name. This musical performance artist and writer has maternally taught hundreds of children, thus she was divinely named Mama Sol. She explained when she taught in Detroit at the Afrocentric school, Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology, the children were learning Swahili. All the classrooms included both female and male teachers, Mama and Baba (Swahili for mother and father). Her family and friends started calling her Sol when she started studying Right Knowledge. When she shared that Sol means sun in Spanish, I immediately thought of her influences. She said, “I am influenced by other people’s struggles. When I see other people struggle I can help them see light, especially given my own experience. Darkness inspires me to bring light, which is probably why I am still in Flint…I am from Flint. I’ve lived all over. People have suggested I move to other places where other people are…I think you should bloom wherever you are planted. And Flint needs light.”

I asked her what was one of the greatest challenges in her life and she said, “The toughest thing was the most beautiful thing – quitting my job at Timbuktu.” She was at the pinnacle of her career as a Lead Teacher and the Director of Special Education. Many told her she was crazy when she made the decision to leave, but Sol knew it was time. She explained that although it was important to be with her students, leaving school later than she desired to be at home with her son wasn’t justifying the spiritual means. She said, “I had to do what God intended me to do – WRITE. Write music.” What was running through my mind was my own journey as a teacher. I was thinking, “We compromise all the time. And like a sacred responsibility, we owe our students and their parents the entire package – to support, teach and inspire at all costs.” And it was as if she had read my mind. Sol said without hesitation, “The world is my classroom.” I felt a sudden knock on the inside of my chest. “The world is my classroom.” What an empowering phrase. I’ve often thought that a teacher should teach in a specific space during a specific time. After all, that is what we are taught as we develop into adults – go to school, attend regularly scheduled classes, come home, do homework, go to bed, get up again and start all over. You repeat the process until you meet the requirements and follow the rules that lead to gainful employment, right? Wrong. Let’s consider her statement. If the world is her classroom, she can teach anywhere. Not only that, she can also learn from everything in every possible space. Her highest degree is LIFE itself. ­­Permit me to transition abruptly. It’s important to share why I wanted to interview Mama Sol. Namely, I was familiar with her lyrics. I had seen her on stage perform in packed crowds. What was most piercing was the way her body language matched her words. There was symmetry in her whole being. I observed a whole package that couldn’t be compartmentalized. Thursday, February 19, 2015 I saw Mama Sol sitting in an audience listening to Angela Davis speak. Yes, I should’ve been listening to this iconic being but what caught my eye more than anything was a humble sort of reverence and love that embodied Sol. And I thought of her lyrics from her song Exercise, “I’m just aware that my gift is guided by freedom fighters.” I saw her listening intently to what this regal 70-year old Davis passionately espoused about community activism and reforming education. When I asked Sol about Angela Davis she talked about her connection and interest to the Black Panthers. She mentioned that one of her heroes is Assata Shakur and her mentor was Mama Gloria Aneb House, Human Rights Activist also connected to the Black Panthers. “To hear her [Angela] still speaking and fighting for justice…I can’t be that close [to Angela] and not hear her speak…when I think of Angela I see courage.” It humbled me to watch this artist, who has performed in front of crowds as large as the one on February 19th, quietly listen to Angela share her experiences.
I asked Sol why she creates music and poetry. Basically, “Why are you an artist?” Her response speaks to her being a Motivator, one of the chief identifiers she shared above: “My purpose is to break the destructive cycle of mainstream hip hop. Children need options right now. And they are relying on reality TV and radio and BET. So many parents are doing the same thing. And the music I am doing is giving them options.” This response led me to other questions. She explained that her core audience does not connect with a particular age, gender, or ethnicity. “They are people who understand the necessity for positive change right now!” This dialogue conveyed more than her artistic gifts. She has a spiritual calling that manifests through her desire to empower others and create change. And again I stress, this was not an overnight success. Her lyrical journey actually started in college. Following college she wrote commercial ads in New York for the FUBU clothing brand. This career path was interrupted by a 3-year bout with breast cancer, which she defeated. During her healing she was offered the opportunity to teach in Detroit, allowing her to shift her focus to children. Upon having her own child, she recognized the difficulties she faced with remaining in the classroom setting. “This led to my transition back to what God intended for me; which was writing things that could transform darkness to light – G.I.F.T. God Intended For This.” Her journey has taken years – “practically a lifetime,” she explains. Yes, Sol has great success stories – outputting musical cds, performing internationally, and sharing the microphone with other Hip Hop geniuses like Rakim and Talib Kweli, just to name a few. But she is far from being done. The final point I wish to make about Mama Sol and her continued journey is the importance she places on seeking an inward stillness that comes from meditation. She talked about spending time alone – something she knows well because she requires it in her life. She emphasized the need for quiet. Being in tune with herself, she stated, allows her to go into a big crowd and bring the stillness with her. And being in crowds is as precious as being alone. One of the greatest moments she says is traveling. Now, this may look like I am jumping around, but both her shared space and alone space intersect. Just follow me – one of her best moments was being in the Amsterdam Airport. She saw different people speaking dissimilar languages from various parts of the world. “This is life. This makes you accept every single person,” she says. Realizing that the world is grand yet miniscule is what makes her not only adaptable to situations but also open to the great possibilities her stillness provides. Thus, as an artist she is able to give of herself to a variety of audiences. And she gives 200%! Now that’s a lot of love to give on stage – in massive crowds – among people from all over the world. But remember, Mama Sol acknowledges that this is a journey that takes time. And she has shown us that God willing, she will ride this journey to the very end and continue to give light unto the world with her whole heart. Learn more about Mama Sol here.   ________________________________

About the Contributing Writer:

traci_currie[contributor]the phoenix rising collectiveTraci Currie is the Art + Creativity Contributor for The Phoenix Rising Collective. She is a Communication and Visual Arts lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes The PRC will help women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.” Read her latest posts.


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Shades of Deeper Meaning: Thoughts on Love, Loss, Resilience, and Poetry

For National Poetry Month I have chosen to interview three poets whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know. I want to showcase the spirit of this art form through their life experiences. What I hope you will notice is the very unique voices that shape these women. I asked all three the same questions, but the way they chose to answer reinforces the power of how humans identify themselves as individuals, social beings, and collective forces. I also observed that the women, as unique and individually powerful as they are, spoke of similar experiences: pain, resilience, change, and appreciation.

Andrea Daniel

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Who are you?

I am a totally creative person – all arts, culture and entertainment, with a splash of communications. My dreams/vision for my life have never changed since I was a little girl, which means I’ve always been into poetry, singing, dance, theater, writing, video production and voice over work, but my left-brain and right-brain work in tandem, because I’m also a business owner. I have to split my time and mind between the creative and the business side. I am a woman who thrives on positivity, putting it out there and getting it back. I’m a mother of a wonderful 22-year old son who is also a creative type; I am a sister, a daughter, friend to a close circle of like-minded people; a woman who loves to laugh, and a pet owner of a sweet little 13-year old terrier mixed with poodle.

Primarily I’m a writer, as most things I do stem from the realm of writing.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your poetic artistry.

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Click photo for more info about
Andrea and Like Gwendolyn.

While I’ve always written poetry, I believe my voice was the strongest in my years of recovery from domestic abuse. In 1992, I left my abusive husband of four years, taking my, then, two-year old son with me and moved from Maryland back to my hometown, Detroit, MI. Needless to say, I wrote a lot of poems after I left; poems about abuse and its effects, and poems about my son when he’d have to leave me for long periods of time because a judge ordered that his father have visitation rights. This was a very painful time for me. My only response was to write about it. Those poems are published in my first poetry book, Like Gwendolyn, and while the entire book is not about abuse, it’s those poems and the poems about my son that tend to resonate most with people.

One of the greatest experiences I’ve had was after graduation from Oakland University in 1985. I worked on a cruise ship, the S.S. Emerald Seas, which was part of the eastern cruise line (I don’t think it still exists). I was part of the five-member song and dance act, TiChand, performing as the floor show on the cruise ship, five nights a week, two shows a night. I was the only American along with four Canadians, and the only Black person in the group. We sailed from Miami, Florida to the Bahamian Islands. I felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing at that time in my life; there was nothing about it that felt foreign to me. Our contract was for six months, but because I have a minor heart condition, which flared up during my solo performance one night, my stay was only for one month. I will never forget it.

Another highlight of my life was after I left my marriage back in 1992. In addition to writing poetry, one of the things that was a great distraction from the upheaval of my life, was the opportunity to write and be the lead vocalist on a House music track called Stars, which was produced by the internationally known House music DJ/producer Carl Craig. My cousin was dating Carl at the time, and she recommended me to work with him when he needed a songwriter and a singer on his newest project. We recorded two tracks, which both became very popular in the House music scene here in the U.S. as well as in Europe. A surreal thing about that experience is, today my son is a House music DJ, and people he knows in the industry still have high regard for the music I did 21 years ago.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

(Andrea extensively spoke of many poets, writers, and artists.) Here are two:

Gwendolyn Brooks. She was one of the first African American poets I was introduced to as a child. The clarity, rawness and lyrical nature of her writing had a big impact on me. I’d met her twice in my life, once when I was 10. She autographed a copy of the book The Black Poets for my father, which I still have. And again I met her while I was in college when I attended a Master Class she conducted at Oakland University. She was a very direct and thoughtful woman.

Nikki Giovanni. One of my favorite books of hers is Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. From Nikki I learned that poetry can be fun, serious, and well, Nikki Giovanni is just an awesome poet and woman. I’ve heard her speak twice, and it was from her that I also learned to cure writer’s block: learn more about [your] subject, read something, study something, then the words will come.

Shilpa Venkatachalam

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Who are you?

I am from, Bombay, India. I left India when I was 20 years old. I completed my Masters in English Literature at the University of Durham, U.K. and followed it with a Ph.D. in literature and critical theory at the University of Nottingham, U.K. where I also taught briefly. I currently teach literature and philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. Suffice to say, I am, however, at a crossroads in my life and am soon to make a switch into the area of public health and policy fueled by a desire to make a difference in the area following the experiences that resulted from my father’s diagnosis and recent battle with cancer, which came to a close a few months ago.

How do you identify yourself in terms of your artistic craft?

As a writer, writing is simultaneously one of the most difficult things to me and the most ‘natural’ because it is through writing that life unfolds itself; it is through writing that moments of clarity, epiphany, whatever one chooses to call them present themselves to you in order for you to chase them through dark alleys, winding roads, and serpent like pathways.

It is always a hard thing to say what one’s poetry is about: life, love, disappointment, betrayal, faith, regret, pleasure, pain, ecstasy – all of these and yet none of these. For if I could capture what it is all about, I would perhaps not write at all. Writing is the very quest; it entails a process of searching and chasing, a curious struggle to articulate the unsaid, incomprehensible. And in that attempt, a hope to find at least a glimmer of understanding and of capturing. That, at least, has been my hope.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your poetic artistry.

Life, for me has been full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. There comes a point in your life when everything comes to a head, when one difficult situation is relieved by another one. The past three years for me have been a testimony to this; from my own serious illness, to my fathers battle with advanced cancer and his subsequent loss, weeks on end spent in the critical care unit, and the loss of a close friend, and then my own crisis as a result of these events – a crisis of the self, a crisis of what life really means, a crisis of relationships and people. It seemed nothing would give.

But through all this, one begins to understand oneself; one begins to realize the dignity and strength of people who suffer and see the suffering their loved ones are going through; one sees a remarkable humanity and empathy that ironically shines through when people are going through the most testing times of their lives. This fantastic ability of people to pierce through, beyond their own pain and reach out to the other has been most inspiring to me. The renewal of faith in life and in people is unrivaled, stunning, magnificent and nothing short of remarkable. There is also the transience of all things in life, something I continue to battle with to understand, an urge to grasp it, to embrace it, to resist it, all at the same time.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

As far as favorite writers or books are concerned, I find myself gravitating toward them depending on where I am in life at that particular point: what experiences I am going through or have gone through, what my philosophy at that moment is. Everything is a process of metamorphosis, so it could be mountaineering books, it could be Borges, it could be Graham Greene, it could be Em and the Big Hoom. Different writers, different books touch and impact me at different points in my life.

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A Poem by Shilpa Venkatachalam:

Here and There

You want guarantees,

I can offer you none.

Like a subatomic particle I exist in two different states simultaneously

I am wave

And I am particle

And come into being only for an instant that disappears before it has decided to stay.

I’m already planning to leave you before I have even met you.

I’m already preparing to destroy before I have even created.

This is my tragedy and this is my bliss

I am clothed in contradictions

Like matter and anti-matter

I am immersed in inconsistency

Before I have committed

I know I will deceive

I cannot offer you what I do not possess

I cannot possess that which you want me to offer to you.

To sustain anything is a challenge I am unable to meet

Every second explodes with a million alterations

That invade my being

And that make it quiver.

How can I offer you a guarantee

When I have never known what it means.

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 Jan Worth

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Who are you?

I was born in Canton, Ohio to a preacher and his wife in 1949. My mother was 39 when she had me.  I have a sister who is ten years older than me, and I have a brother who is seven years older than me.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the endurance of one’s very first impressions of the world.  My world was full of people who were bigger than me.  They were imposing figures but nobody was quite happy.  I was surrounded by people who were fairly ill at ease and who made a lot of decisions about me. I didn’t really experience the world as a place that I had control over.  My job, it seemed, was to bring slivers of joy into this rather depressive unit.  Apparently I used to hold my breath until I blacked out to get their attention.  I remember only one of these episodes.  On the other hand, I somehow felt like I wasn’t really “one of them” and so I always assumed whatever was going to happen to me would have no connection to them. I was surrounded by religion, scripture, religious music, words – and my poems have a lot of the iambic pentameter of the King James Version in them.

My family always expected catastrophe:  my father’s father was killed during the Depression and his family lost their farm.  My mother’s father was a traveling evangelist who was always leaving, leaving, leaving, and her mother lost her mind.  I’ve gradually learned that the worst doesn’t always happen.  That’s been a great relief.

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To learn more about
Jan and her novel, Night Blind,
click the photo.

So, this avoids the question of who I am now.  I am just letting go of those first impressions of the world.  Not everyone else is bigger than me.  It is not my job to make everybody else happy.  I do not want to continue carrying my mother’s grief – she is dead.  I am profoundly in love with using words – I recently used the phrase “sanctimoniously reasonable” and I love how that sounds, and how perfect it is for what I meant at the time. That kind of thing gives me deep pleasure.

I am a woman who’s learning to breathe.  I’m a woman who’s gradually trusting my rhythms and my deep inclinations towards words, but I know words aren’t enough; sometimes, the body knows things – sometimes silence is best.  I’m a woman trying to be in the moment, as the saying goes. I know I can’t be alone all the time, and one of my greatest pleasures is sleeping with my husband.  I mean actually sleeping – the physical refuge and comfort of our conjugal bodies together.  I’m a woman who doesn’t know much of anything for sure.  I think the earth is spectacularly beautiful and I wish we weren’t ruining it.

How do you identify yourself in terms of your artistic craft?

See above – my ear is pretty closely attuned to the cadences of the old scriptures and hymns, even if my content isn’t always. I love working with sound; I want my poems, even the depressed ones, to be melodious. I love interesting words.  I am continually touched by the “natural world,” by air and fragrance and new growth.  I still generally believe in the individual ‘eye’ and ‘I’ although I know a single voice often isn’t enough.  But it’s what I have to work with.  Protestantism is very centered on the individual – on the individual’s private and rightful relationship to God.  In my case, I’ve taken that to mean I have the right to doubt.  And believe me, I do, and feel no guilt.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your artistry.

I was at Kent State University when the shootings happened in 1970; it was a turning point for me, making me believe the world was dangerous and sometimes short. I felt quite reckless for a time after that. Peace Corps in Polynesia shaped me in that I took myself on a giant adventure and survived it – I’ve written so much about that that I don’t have much more to say.  Flint has affected me, too, of course – the continual wrestling with its troubles, my first marriage to a Flint man and poet; the deterioration and collapse of our long marriage, the ruin of the place.   And then, discovering the joy, in my 50s, of a man who loves me – wow.  It’s been the biggest surprise of my life, and I’m profoundly grateful.  I’ve had to learn how to write happy poems.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

One of my first literary faves was the South African short story writer Nadine Gordimer.  I remember reading one of her short stories when I was about 14 or 15, working as a library page in Coshocton, Ohio.  I remember just standing in the stacks and reading a story where a lonely woman watched a herd of deer – it touched my heart and I thought, wow, you can write like that?  I also love the poems of James Wright, Theodore Roethke, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Heather McHugh, Marianne Boruch – many, many, too many to name. I’ve recently been reading Mary Ruefle’s essay collection Madness, Rack and Honey and I’m crazy in love with it.  I like poets who understand the human condition is totally complicated and exasperating, and who doubt the world and love it simultaneously.

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A Poem by Jan Worth

Missiles, October, 1962

My parents said

we should get new tires

in case rubber got rationed

again.  I caught the scent

of fear. Rubber burned the air,

left dismal grit

on Akron’s windowsills.

My mother went to bed,

middle of the day, sleepless,

sweating there for hours.

Rising, she seemed as tired

as before, blanket dents

on a cheek, hair flat on one side.

She left it like that.

I got my period, red splash.

Crawled into my parents’ bed,

rare day when my mother didn’t

get there first. Nestled

in the pride of new pain,

snuggling it, my own.  Got

my first bra, small poking

breasts tender to the touch.

“Little missile girl,” my father

cracked, looking at me mournfully

as if I was about to disappear

in some uranium half-life.

“Stop it,” my mother said.

I didn’t believe the world

would end.  There was going to be

plenty of time for me, to revel in

my vivid hurts, my lucky changes,

my charmed survival after

my mother and father were history.

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tcphoto_cw2Traci Currie is a Communication Studies lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer for 5 years; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes the PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.”


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The Quilting Story Revealed: An Artist’s Path to Her Passion

I fell in love with Faith Ringgold’s art years ago when I was studying quilts as a media art form. Yes, quilts as a media form. This may be hard to imagine, but the book Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad discusses the utility of these artistic blankets, far beyond keeping the family warm.  The quilts contained messages, codes, maps, and stories for a specific culture; more specifically, the quilts led many enslaved African women and men to freedom.  As an artist and activist Faith Ringgold talks about her artistry as a way of sharing one’s story and self-identity.

 You can’t sit around waiting for somebody else to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it. That’s where the art comes from. It’s a visual image of who you are. That’s the power of being an artist.

-Faith Ringgold

In the MAKERS documentary she said Aunt Jemima was the first Story Quilt she made. She chose to rewrite Aunt Jemima’s life story as an entrepreneur. Many people should remember Aunt Jemima if they eat pancakes – she is the woman on the syrup bottle that had a do-rag on her head, and years later transitioned to an Afro or maybe it is a Jheri curl (still to this day). Regardless, this Mammy caricature became the quintessential figure for the product – eventually selling syrup to millions of pancake lovers. Faith talks of reshaping the history of women so that we can accurately portray ourselves in an empowering light. More importantly, women can define themselves for themselves.

It is Faith’s words that led me to the feature for March, Women’s Herstory Month – Ernestine Holmes.

Ernestine is an extraordinary quilt artist, and I learned about her quilts a few years ago. I had the opportunity to see some of them during a demonstration speech. I was amazed at the detail and craftsmanship, so last December I sat down with her to discuss what led her to this rich and vibrant art form.

This 74-year old soft-spoken and gutsy artist was born in Arkansas, and she is the oldest of five siblings. She spent most of her adolescence in Arkansas until her father’s job in the automotive industry transferred the family to Michigan. While there, Ernestine was home schooled until she moved to the Midwest; she talked about her experience in the segregated school she attended, and how Black History was not allowed to be taught, but regardless, she had teachers who taught it.

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Ernestine was always familiar with sewing. Her mother taught her to sew, and she credits her mother and grandmother, who both made Utilitarian Quilts, with inspiring her desire to quilt. They also made Anglo Saxon Quilts that were showcased at fairs, and regularly won ribbons. In the 1970s Ernestine received a scholarship from the Urban League to attend Academy Nvart in Southfield, Michigan. Her passion was to learn Couture Design, which she did.

However, Ernestine did not start quilting until she retired in 1992 from General Motors. At the age of 53 she decided to pursue her passion. She says she officially started quilting in 1994. Four years later she joined the African American Quilters in Flint, and then joined another group, the Michigan Quilt Network, where she started exhibiting her quilts annually.

I asked her about the messages in her quilts, and she explained that some of them tell a story while others focus on specific patterns that repeat themselves throughout the work. Ernestine also shared that her quilt that focuses on the African Diaspora was created because she specifically wanted to show how the slave trade affected cultures around the world. Out of the 200 plus quilts she has made, she stated that this one was her favorite.

Ernestine also expressed one of the challenges she has with quilting – selling her work.  She is preparing for an exhibition this spring, and this is a very big deal, given the fact that she often sells quilts on commission. Selling her pieces has not been a common occurrence as there is an attachment to the art she creates. She explained that at times her challenge with people is whether or not they recognize and value the time and effort she puts into creating each quilt. And she doesn’t necessarily work on one quilt at a time; it simply depends. After looking at her extensive collection that covered her whole house, I realized how important Faith Ringgold’s words are – an artist can become the art she is creating.  Ernestine says, “If you spend your time creating something you should be financially rewarded for it. When I went to Africa I wouldn’t barter with the people.” She says it was difficult to negotiate prices for the art she saw.

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Finally, I asked Ernestine if there is something she does beyond quilting. She named two activities: golfing and traveling. Due to time, it has been a challenge balancing her personal interests, but her plan is to return to these two activities and continue creating beautiful quilts.

Here’s to Ernestine Holmes – a quilter, storyteller, activist, and indeed an artist!

Other Sources:

Utilitarian Quilts – Ernestine explained that Utilitarian Quilts are made out of the old clothing, specifically created to keep the family warm.

TC[photo_CW2]Traci Currie is a Communication Studies lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years in many capacities: art gallery board member; overseeing a spoken word series for 5 years; performing nationally and internationally; published poet. She believes Phoenix Rising Collective will help young women reach their highest potential and pay-it-forward. “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.”

You can also read about Traci’s journey to self-love, as this contributing writer was also a LYFF feature: click here.


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It’s Love Yourself First! Friday. Today’s Phoenix is Janine.

janine_lyff[collage2-website]We’re very inspired by Janine’s self-love story, so of course it’s time to share it with you! She loves herself by creating “me” time – quality time that gives her space to figure out what she requires to move in a direction that’s beneficial to growth. “The time I create for myself enables me to cater to the desires of my mind, body, and soul,” she says.

On a weekly basis, she exercises her mind with inspiring reads that support her success in life. In addition to reading, Janine takes time to express her thoughts through words or visual art, strengthening her communication skills so that she’s able to relate to others in a way that is more authentic.

She loves and cares for her body by getting plenty of rest, engaging in physical movement through dance and weight training, treating her natural hair with care and thinking well of it, consuming nourishing foods that she prepares, and enjoying sunbathing sessions. “I consider nature to be a healer of sorts. Therefore, the act of sitting outside gifts me with an opportunity to observe and become receptive to ideas and the healing calm that the quiet of nature brings,” she shares. Being in nature and relaxing outside under the sun brings comfort to her soul.

Janine’s self-care regimen creates a deeper love for who she is, and also leaves room for her to offer love to others.

To see more of this beautiful artist’s work follow her on pinterest at janine jackson (wombmind).

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Love Yourself First! Friday is a weekly self-love series created by the Phoenix Rising Collective. Beautiful, diverse women of color tell their stories of triumph, share their personal affirmations, and declare their love for their own lives! The series is meant to inspire and empower women to fiercely demonstrate self-love in action in order to build and sustain healthy, positive self-esteem.  Be sure to read some of our other inspiring stories.