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ARTIST FEATURE: Awakening to My Truest Self – An Interview with Jade Ponds

 

Womens Art and Creativity[The Phoenix Rising Collective]

There are many characteristics I love about the February 2016 feature, Jade Ponds. Her punching dry wit and her determination to reach personal goals are two obvious aspects that stand out. Also, she has a gentle and kind spirit mixed with tough love. There is a lot to this young woman whom I have had the pleasure of knowing in different capacities.

She was born in Banbury, England but moved to Flint, Michigan as a child. She had written her first poem when she was 10 years old. In actuality, her teacher placed her in “time out” for getting in trouble. She told Jade not to move until she wrote something. Soon after, without ever having written poetry in her life, she produced a poem called Love. Jade years later joined the Navy and served a four-year term, traveling to places like Dubai, Singapore and Hawaii, just to name a few.

I met Jade at a poetry event in December 2007. She came to the venue to support her cousin who was in the first spoken word class I had taught at University of Michigan-Flint. After the event, she approached me. She explained how shocked she was to see her cousin not only perform but sing on stage. This evidently was an anomaly. The next year Jade registered for the course. She wasn’t just a student in the class; she was a mentee. The odd thing about talking about mentor-mentee relationships is that the flow of knowledge and wisdom feels one-sided at times. But that was not the case with Jade. She shifted the tides in how I saw learning because she was someone who wanted to learn everything she could about writing, performing and developing as a person. She always asked a lot of questions – Jade kept me on my toes!

When she finished the spoken word class in 2008, she didn’t just move on to other classes. Oh no! Jade registered for credits to assist me with the other spoken word classes. She started producing the chapbooks for the course while working on her own poetry book. She graduated from University of Michigan-Flint with a B.A. in English literature. She continued her education, graduating with a M.A. also in English literature and a concentration in Creative Writing. I had asked her to emcee a monthly performance set I was organizing. The shift in the relationship moved from teacher-student to friend. Not long after, we started working together at Genesee Valley Regional Center, a Flint juvenile detention center. We co-facilitated a spoken word workshop with young women Monday evenings. Jade (after graduation) accepted a job with General Motors as an UAW supervisor while still publishing poetry books, co-facilitating the performance workshops as well as teaching martial arts on Wednesday evenings. Yes, she is a 4th degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. She is a woman of many talents.

Jade Ponds [womens art and creativity] The Phoenix Rising Collective]

However, the information above is not the story I want to tell about Jade. The story I want to share is specific. It’s about the shift in her life. I begin this story by sharing an excerpt from her poem Fair Exchange:

Life hangs in the balance

Balance no longer an option as one side dearly

Outweighs the other

Death is near

She is set to be a mother

Complete with belly rubs from well-wishing strangers

Never knowing the danger lurking around the next bend

The end

Much closer than before as she

Blacks out and falls to the floor

Pain overwhelming

Not just a throbbing

Or a stabbing

Or a shooting pain,

But a combination of all three times ten

Accompanied by blood

Horrific at best

With no chance for rest before rushing to the E.R.

Hands trembling

Scenes skipping from one to the next

to the next

then darkness

This poem speaks to an experience that made her rethink her life and the sort of legacy she wants to leave on earth. In July 2009 Jade was at her annual family reunion in South Carolina. Big family. Lots of children. All sorts of food. Playing games and talking smack – what every reunion should have, right?

She explained what happened on this particular summer day:

I woke up that morning because I am an early riser. I was also the only adult who would play with the kids. We were on the trampoline around 8 in the morning for about an hour, jumping up and down like kids do. When I got off I couldn’t stand up without feeling like I was going to fall over. I felt a pain in my abdomen – the lower right side. I ignored it though. Although the pain persisted, I kept moving through the day playing other games. Around 6 in the evening I was unusually tired. My mother-in-law gave me two Tylenol so I could lie down on my back because my stomach was really hurting. It got worse. I stood up to get somebody and then I passed out. I ended up waking up and calling Mike (her husband) but then I passed out again. I was rushed to the hospital. There were moments where I could see everything in front of me but then it got darker and darker until I couldn’t see anymore. And that’s when I had an outer body experience. It was sudden. It was like stepping outside of myself and seeing me on the hospital bed, along with Mike and the doctor. It was peaceful and I didn’t feel any pain.

What I learned was I needed an emergency surgery. My fallopian tube was removed because I had an ectopic pregnancy. Unlike normal pregnancies, the fertilized egg stayed in the tube instead of moving to the uterus. I was 7-weeks pregnant and the baby was growing in the tube, which had ruptured. Essentially that day, I had been bleeding in my belly. I had lost the baby.

This moment of awakening represented both death and new life. On one end, my child had died and I could feel my life draining out of my body. For a moment I thought, “This is my last day on earth.” And it could’ve been. I asked myself how were people going to remember me. And I didn’t like the answer. What I understood about myself was that I had been holding myself back in life. I was the person that didn’t allow people into my world. I was very guarded (and still am to a degree). But I wasn’t living up to my full potential. I was not fully writing my truth or loving completely and fully. I might have to be responsible for other people’s feelings, especially if I impact them and I connect with them. Yes, I was shy, but it was more than just being shy. I was afraid of publishing my book because I was afraid to share. So this brought on that question, “How am I going to be remembered?” It was time for me to recognize the things I liked to do. For example, I liked helping people. But it was also time for me to recognize the experiences that placed me in a corner. In the past, I didn’t want to give people an opportunity to get to know me. And I think that stems from my hurtful relationship with my dad. He was the first person who truly let me down in my life. When I started to acknowledge resentment from within, I also had to acknowledge the discomforts and vulnerabilities related to our father-daughter relationship. I listed the discomforts:

On my dad’s watch I was molested.

On my dad’s watch I didn’t feel a sense of security

On my dad’s watch I felt like he wasn’t listening to my heart.

On my dad’s watch I felt unloved.

 

Although Jade acknowledges these experiences and feelings, she also admits she is still healing. And she doesn’t shy away from the anger or frustrations she feels about her dad today. She writes about it; She talks to trusted people; She uses her experiences to empower and help. When I am with Jade I am pushed to the next level of artistry because she reminds me that my truth should be spoken and shared, if for no other reason than to release and speak aloud as a way of acknowledging myself in the universe. That is where my healing begins.

It’s befitting to end this article with her words I carry, especially during times when I want to shut everyone out, “What I have learned is to treat each person as an individual and not as a collection of failures.” Yes, what I have learned is that there are some people who will show you how to trust. I’ve been fortunate to connect with a woman who shows me what trust means in my artistry and in myself.

Thank you, Jade Ponds!

 


 

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.  “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.” Read her latest posts. You can learn more about Traci’s work in creative arts HERE.

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: Owning Who I Am Through The Discomfort – An Interview with Staceyann Chin

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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 Staceyann Chin.

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I have learned most recently that some life-changing interviews occur during the silent moments, when no one is speaking. They occur when one person is having internal dialogues with oneself while the other…well, I can’t speak for the other.

I begin this article with the following questions: How do I tell the story of the passing silence between an artist who observes poignantly without hesitation and an artist who discovers an introverted side of herself? Why am I so focused on the airport drive and not the featured artist’s FIRE BALL spoken word performance I witnessed earlier that particular day?

I recall very clearly in fall 2014 when a small group of us talked about bringing Jamaican social activist and performing poet Staceyann Chin to the University of Michigan-Flint. My first thought was “She’s Jamaican. I can finally be in the presence of another fellow Jamaican, although I am not quite that.” But I would claim this name in the same way poet Audre Lorde proudly claims her Caribbean American identity. I have a right, right? My next thought was “Let’s shake things up around the campus and bring Fire and Brim Stone.” After all, Angela Davis had just spoken at the university February 19th. What she shared was in alignment with what I knew about Staceyann Chin, and indeed Chin brought the poetic energy of Davis’ public lecture to the UM-Flint stage.

Let’s backtrack. Through the advice of a mutual friend, I wrote Staceyann an email that she responded to within 24 hours. She agreed to come, and on March 26th she flew into Flint, Michigan in the early afternoon and flew out of Detroit, Michigan that night. Her purpose on paper was to perform on stage for roughly 45 minutes and then have a 15-minute ‘Question-and-Answer’ session. However, given my own spiritual walk and the fact that I believe in starlit cosmos, galaxies-one-grasp-away, flying invisible angels, the blue & red pill, and having in-depth conversations with ancestors using my 6th sense, I believe her purpose in coming to Flint was divine and probably on par with the questions I have been pondering about my life both professionally and personally.

So, if you are wondering if this is about Staceyann Chin, well…I am not sure, but read on.

After the performance I asked her how she thought the event was. She said, “Fine.” But then she turned the question on me and said, “How do you think it went?” Being the stickler I am, who has a tough time seeing anything as perfect if I am the one organizing or performing, I mumbled something that felt inconsequential. Interestingly enough, that moment was quite significant, because I sensed she heard something else in my question. Honestly, when I ask artists their opinion on an event they’ve been apart of, many of them respond with a short declaration and then the conversation is over. However, she asked me what I thought. This example confirms what I learned about her earlier that day – she observes. From the time I picked her up from the airport that afternoon to the moment she exited my vehicle to return to the east coast, her senses were present. For example, when I walked into the airport to meet her (thinking I was early) she had been standing near the exit door. An important note, there were barely any people in the airport. I had walked right by her. However, she seemed to know who I was. She called my name. Mind you, I told her I was short and brown with glasses. But beyond the matching description, there was an assuredness in her voice and in her being. During times I thought she was NOT present (an assumption that came from noticing her on her cell phone often), she was very much so observant. She was cognizant of her surroundings and even my mishap in being confused as to which way to go when leaving the airport, although I have been driving these roads for over a decade. She was alert and mindful, the very thing I attempt to practice in my life. And yes, I was in the moment – moment of confusion; moment of weariness; moment of anxiety and a bit of elation. The next hour, she spent talking with my colleague from Jamaica. I offered a few comments, but I essentially listened to the back-and-forth heated dialogue about raising children and Jamaica’s changing identity.

It was time for her performance, which was at 4pm. I had a tough time navigating her to the theatre because someone cornered her with comments and questions. And in my absentmindedness I abandoned her to talk to a student. I knew I shouldn’t have, but for a moment I lost control of what to do. Oddly, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the people who were clearly there to see Staceyann. How silly of me, right? After all, I wasn’t the one performing – she was! When we entered the theatre, I almost rushed her onto the stage and she said (slightly paraphrased), “Slow down, let’s talk about the order.” I had to take a breath and remember my role. “This is what you do, TC. You organize. Get it together. Focus. Most importantly, take care of your guest.” Heck, for one moment, it felt like she was taking care of me.

The introduction by my colleague was phenomenal. I felt as if it set the stage for everything that occurred – FIRE. Or rather FIYAH! (a little patois for your ears/eyes). It was everything I had hoped, even in my own discomfort. Yes, I am a bold performer, but even I hold back in my own performances. But Staceyann brought FIYAH!

staceyann_chin[self-acceptance]the phoenix rising collective

The event ended and we were on our way to the Detroit airport (1 hour and 15 minutes). During the drive is where I got to know a slightly shy TC who couldn’t come up with much to say because it felt too forced. A matter of fact, I had asked her earlier that day if I could interview her after the performance on the drive to the airport. She said, “Yes.” She pressed the record button while I was driving. A few minutes into the conversation, it just didn’t feel right. The interview felt odd, inauthentic and full of information I had already known. Truth be told, I had reviewed her memoir. I had watched numerous videos and the movie she had featured in. Most of all, I had just seen her perform live. I already had the necessary information for this article, so I thought. I told her to turn the recorder off, and I drove in silence. I was in this weird space. I felt as if I should say something but had nothing in my head besides random thoughts. Then she turned to me and asked me about my life. She wanted to know about me. And it felt odd that she wanted to know about me personally and professionally. I spend my time listening to others – that is my job. My job is to communicate effectively with people across cultures and to listen critically so I can respond to the words not spoken and the body language that seemingly says nothing and everything simultaneously. That’s what I do!

So when she asked me questions I was uncomfortable because it was odd to be the center of attention for a moment. As far as I was concerned, she was supposed to remain the central focus until she left my car (although there really was no focus since I barely spoke). But Staceyann would not allow that to happen. She asked me about my family, my job, my lifestyle, and my travels. Given my disposition and responses, she asked me if I had ever been to therapy. Who wants to admit going to therapy? I know I don’t, at least not to a world that seems to make assumptions about what therapy is and who it is for. But guess what? I did admit it. I admitted quite a few things that led her to say, “Mamacita, you need to break free and address some things.”

My first thought, “I need to break free?!?! You don’t even know me like that!” My second thought, “You’re right. I’m stuck. And I don’t know how to get un-stuck.”

In closing, Staceyann’s interview was about ME. It was about figuring out how to OWN this journey I am on. I learned that there is no finite moment to these life questions. I must take deep breaths; I must use my voice; I must ask the questions I ponder daily; I must break free both privately and then publicly…maybe unapologetically with poetry at the helm.

So, given my words and body language, I suspect Staceyann Chin the storyteller, the poet, the activist, and the observer made me the center of attention for a short moment. And I performed my ‘crossroads’ identity in the car, on the way to the airport. Yes, I am at a crossroads in my life and that’s what this interview revealed. I was reminded to use my tools to break free. Poetry. As my Caribbean American mentor-in-spirit, Audre Lorde says, “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

Yes, Staceyann Chin is right. I must break free. So today I claim Poetry.

Read Staceyann Chin’s memoir: The Other Side of Paradise.

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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.

Staceyann Chin @ UM-Flint – A Short Film created and contributed by Shekinah Shazaam


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ARTIST FEATURE: An Interview with Martina Hahn – Quite the Phenomenon

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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 Martina Hahn.

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I had the great pleasure of sharing the stage with a phenomenal speed painter named Martina Hahn. I use the word “phenomenal” with great purpose, because she reminds me of Maya Angelou’s poem Phenomenal Woman.

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(l to r) Martina Hahn, Painter, and Traci Currie, Poet at the 14th Annual Black History Month Brunch – Photo Credit: April R. Nunley

I was invited to share poems written by Maya Angelou at the 14th Annual Black History Month Brunch this February at Genesee District Library. While I recited the poems, Martina was next to me painting Angelou’s portrait. By the time I finished my 7-minute recitation Martina was done. I had heard of speed painting but I had never experienced it – definitely not in this manner. Although I was focused on myself on stage, I felt Martina’s presence next to me. I heard the movement of her hands over the canvas, splashing colors in purposeful directions to shape Angelou’s image. At some point, I wanted to STOP and focus on her the way the crowd was focusing on her. I had this odd feeling that the audience was bouncing back and forth between two artists, more so with an emphasis on her work because they were trying to figure out what she was creating. By the time I had started the last poem Still I Rise the audience and I began calling-and-responding the infamous refrain “I Rise,” at which it was becoming abundantly clear who Martina was painting. What a feeling! But this feeling is exhilarating for more reasons than you can imagine. Martina called it the “law of attraction” that brought us together.

Let me share a few things about this German born artist who first pursued a college degree in psychology. She shared the concerns her parents had about her pursuing visual arts as a college major. I suspect others can relate to this experience. I think some of us can guess what that infamous question is when expressing interest in being a professional artist: “How will you make a living?” Well, in Martina’s case she admitted to the struggles she had gone through to reach her dream. She said it wasn’t until the late 1990s (about 17 years ago) when she was given an opportunity to paint a mural, which took her nine months to complete.

At some point in our conversation Martina revealed she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. I told her she didn’t have to share details if she didn’t wish to, and she explained a concept her family came up with: The Voldemort Syndrome. Do you remember Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter? He’s the evil guy whose name you are not supposed to say. If you’ve never seen the films or read any of the books, this may appear foreign, but think about it like this: Never speak of anything bad or else it might manifest in some way. However, Martina explained how important it is to name the things we consider terrible. She said, “If we don’t say them they will stay with us [like a dirty secret]. I talk about the bad things because when you name them they lose their fear-factor and power.”

And so she talked about the cancer. She also talked about the domestically abusive relationship she was in and how unhealthy her mind and spirit were during this time. She started seeing a therapist who was helping her. Then two years later she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was fortunate to learn about this in its early stages. As a result, she was able to undergo treatment that removed the cancer. A year after the diagnosis she found speed painting. Although she had seen speed painting before, she did not pursue this form of art until her son wanted her to paint the character Jack Sparrow from the film Pirates of the Caribbean. She was unable to paint the character because, she explained, she was over-thinking the process. Martina became so frustrated one day that she ended up slapping the paint onto an 8×4 piece of plywood. She found herself furiously creating Jack Sparrow in roughly nine minutes. When a friend saw this wonderment, she was asked to do it again for a fundraising event. And this time the adrenaline rush took over and she created the image in six minutes. She learned to stop over-thinking the process and allow it to flow. She has a magnet on her refrigerator that says, “Don’t take things too seriously.” Over the years this phrase has become a mantra in her life.

She says that she found her peace and joy through art. “People need to find that one thing in life that gives them joy…that calms them.”

May 2015 it will be seven years from the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In those seven years she has focused on healing her mind and spirit. “I believe in the trilogy of the mind, body and spirit. Over the years I have come to believe that in this western world, we focus on the body – whether it be short or tall, big or small, black or white. But there’s so much more to us. There is a soul, a mind and a spirit. We don’t give the full attention to our true bodies. I feel that these diseases like cancer are caused by our unhealthy minds and spirits.” She reinforced what I mentioned above: two years after the escape of her own abusive relationship is when she was diagnosed. Although she was unhealthy she explained how fortunate she was. Her body warned her, so to speak. She had a 6.5-inch malignant cyst removed. “The way I choose to look at it,” she said, “is that the cyst encapsulated the cancer. The cancer was actually contained so that it wasn’t spreading in the rest of my body.”

In the aftermath of her explaining her journey to me, I thought of the number seven. When I completed the seven-minute performance with Angelou’s Still I Rise it dawned on me, this poem is a part of Martina’s living truth. Upon completion I looked out into the crowd of faces, and they were in awe of the painting. I was stunned and humbled because I honestly thought her painting spoke for itself and that it was unnecessary for me to be on stage. After all, my job was done. But Martina called me over when she completed the painting with her signature. She assertively grabbed my hand and we both took a bow. Afterwards she later explained that it was important that “we” performed this together. She explained that accolades are fine, but more significant is what we displayed on stage – a communal process. Our job was to come together as one and share our gifts so that others might go home and be inspired. Also, for those not familiar with Angelou’s work, they will hopefully research her legacy and the path she has created so that we could be on stage at that very moment honoring not only the phenomenal woman she is (even in spirit), but also the phenomenal women we are, simply because we rise to the occasion every time we take a breath.

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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

Andrea_quote

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.

nightblind

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.”