When I’m Not Writing About #Vanlife, I’m Working on My First Book of Poetry
In 2014, though, I wrote pieces for Ebony.com, PaperMag.com, KDHX (St. Louis’ public radio station) and my alma mater Full Sail University.
I also worked on special projects with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The Carter Center, RetailMeNot and Lifetime Movie Network, among others. I was in a zone, killing it as the kids say.
St. Louis has a rich literary history, though. A total of 19 poets, writers and educators were born here. The list of notables includes poet and essayist T.S. Eliot, journalist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn, and our beloved poet and memoirist Maya Angelou. Though born in Trenton, New Jersey, playwright Ntozake Shange lived in St. Louis from age 8 to 13.
Nevertheless, I’m curious by nature; had my hands in a bit of everything while living here. I wrote album reviews and covered live shows, but interviewing artists was my jam. I think I chatted with 11 total; people such as singer and musician Avery*Sunshine, photographer Mattheu Bitton (Lenny Kravitz’s main guy), Floetry's Natalie Stewart (pictured above) and rap artist Theophilus London.
I even did a 10-year retrospective on the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite (one of my favorites!) – where I interviewed the actors who played Kip, Lafawnduh, Uncle Rico and Napoleon. As far as writing goes, I was having a good time. However, at that point, I’d been freelancing for seven years. I wanted (and needed) to shake things up!
OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE
So, I moved to Beijing, China, to teach English as a Second Language to kids and teens at a private international language center! I originally signed a 15-month contract, but ended up staying for 27 months.
Within a couple of months of my arrival, a funny thing happened… I no longer had the desire to write about music or to pitch articles to magazines anymore. The change of scenery and pace of my life pushed all of that to the side. Consequently, I ended up going back to doing what I love most; writing poetry.
In St. Louis – over the course of the two and-a-half years I was here – I worked as a sales ambassador at LUSH Cosmetics, held a contract position at Wells Fargo Advisors and a seasonal sales spot at Busch Stadium. I penned MAYBE three poems that entire time. My energy was all over the place, and writing poetry takes focus. But it worked to my advantage in terms of pitching ideas to a variety of magazines. I had no problem getting assignments.
Now, I was living in a country I’d never been to before, meeting people I might not have ever met, and doing things I hadn’t done in a long time. It shifted my entire head-space, but in a good way.
"A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” — Oscar Wilde, from The Children of Poets
On a conscious level, I knew relocating would prove to be a great thing for me. I tend to work better when I’m outside of my comfort zone; give me a task and leave me to my own devices, I usually thrive.
Thus, where I once wrote consistently about love and relationships – which I still do, the poems I was now penning… dipped in and out of growth, self-love, awareness, spirituality, individuality, nature, travel, family and change.
I was writing everywhere too! On subways, on buses, in restaurants; during my lunch break at work; in parks, on short hikes and at concerts; that feeling of adventure and excitement renewed my love of poetry. And I was focused.
Pretty soon I was back on stage and reading at poetry nights in Beijing. There really were not any weekly open mics in the city to test out new work; they were usually one-off events every couple of months.
In 2017, I read at two that were organized by expats. But I also made it my business to read new stuff at every show, so it further pushed my creative writing limits.
In early 2018, I organized and hosted my first open mic night in a small local bar called De Refter. I love intimate and unique settings; it creates a vibe, brings people closer in for connection and conversation.
So last summer I collaborated with expats from the US to put on Prince & Poetry, an event that would celebrate the musical genius of Prince Rogers Nelson, and the art and love of poetry.
Artists, poets and singers would cover a Prince tune and/or read a poem that included themes of a lot of his music (individuality, spirituality, sexuality and freedom).
We held the event at a quaint bar/film house not far from the city center.
Camera Stylo included a lounge area downstairs but upstairs was a series of small screening rooms that you could rent. We booked the largest room, which held about 40 people. We sold out that event.
Purple Rain was silently projected on the back wall directly opposite the stage. The performance area was surrounded by tea light candles and purple scarfs; the soundtrack during intermission was all Prince-inspired.
It was one of my most fulfilling poetic experiences. We had artists from all over the world; India, South Korea and Zimbabwe, to name a few.
And my last event in Beijing — held less than a week before I left the country, was simply called An Ode to Beijing. I wanted to give thanks to the city I called home for over two years. It was a wonderful mix of poetry, world music, laughter and vibes.
Now, as I’m working on my first book of poetry – to be published by BaileyGirls Publishing, here in St. Louis, later this year, that energy is still alive.
The book is untitled, but every poem written is new; poetry penned within the last eight months, since my return to the US in November.
Writing a book with very personal pieces can be challenging. Every day is a different struggle; be it time, energy, theme or connection. But, thus far, I am happy with everything that’s pouring out of me.
So, performing at the Nuyorican Poets Café on New York’s Lower East Side next year will be one of my goals during #vanlife. I’ve been too many times to not have read there yet; it’s a New York staple for poets and poetry lovers worldwide.
With several locations in the D.C. area, Busboys and Poets has hosted renowned writers like Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni. I just want to soak up the energy and spirit of another room that has held these legends in its arms.