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.
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.
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.”
I 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 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.