The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
Growing up in Newark, often it’s about which hobby or which extracurricular is going to save you.
When I say “save you,” I mean keep you distracted from all of the outside world that could harm a young person. Early on, the thing that grabbed me was poetry. I got the opportunity to be raised in the hood as a performing arts kid. My life was about memorizing and performing poetry, and debating, particularly against white performers and writers. That is a strong memory that I have from elementary to high school—always being involved in oratory competitions, and enjoying winning them.
The first poem I was ever asked to memorize was “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. But I gravitated towards energies and literature and writing that sound rather militant. One of the first pieces that I ever wrote was about burning the American flag. So even though people wanted me to listen to or recite or be like Maya Angelou, I gravitated more to, like, Tupac, or other people like him. The things I wrote were very, very militant. My family was concerned about it. They were like, “She’s writing and we love that she is writing, and she’s engaged in these things, but we are unsure about how we should feel about it.”
I don’t think my family started honoring my career as a poet until I created Black Girl, Call Home. Because they didn’t truly understand. They were like, “Well, you’re a poet, but you’re not Maya Angelou. So don’t you think you should get a job?” That’s literally like what it is. You’re either a broke poet or you shouldn’t be one or you’re Maya Angelou. They were just like, “You should probably figure your life out.” But I stopped trying to get them to understand, and focused more on just becoming. It wasn’t until maybe the last three or four months that they were like, “Huh, you really do got a book coming out. Oh, okay. You really are all right. All right.”
Sometimes your parents just exist in a smaller world than you do. Like my mother doesn’t have an Instagram or anything like that. So saying, “Mom, I have a book deal,” and then being able to help your family in a way that you weren’t able to before, I think that they do see the shift. I’m supportive in a different way. But then they saw Amanda Gorman and they were like, “But you’re not her.” My mother probably won’t think I’m truly successful until I sit down with Oprah.