The best pieces of poetry are both bold and unassuming. At first, even their complexity seems concise and easy to manage. Yet, they eventually unfold with all the twists and turns of a full-length novel. All lines work together for the good of the poem.
Tiara “Mizhani” Walton is a striking presence whose fearlessness is portrayed in both her speech and various pursuits. It was only four years ago that Mizhani reignited her passion for poetry. And yet, she is already helping to spearhead the forthcoming poetry show, AFROPoetic. The Detroit native now resides in Orlando where she remains active on the spoken word circuit; performing on platforms such as The Sisaundra Show.
Still, many may know Mizhani thanks to her past as an exotic dancer who rose to global fame. Once heralded as the top dancer at Miami’s adult entertainment club, “King of Diamonds,” Mizhani spent a decade in the industry before an intense spiritual awakening called her out of the lifestyle, completely.
As if that weren’t layered enough, Mizhani’s story contains countless beautiful and moving moments. These moments unfold with all the twists and turns of a full-length novel; each one eventually working together for the good.
The Poet’s List proudly presents our interview with Mizhani.
How long have you been writing and when did you begin to claim the title of poet?
I have been writing since I was younger; maybe 13 or 14 years old. And I think I lost my passion for it when I started going through life. I started writing again at 28. I came in contact with a homeless man and he asked if he could do some poetry for me. And when he began to speak, I felt as if he was telling my story.
So, I took that two ways. At first I was like: “Wow, there [are] so many people that have experienced the same things that I’ve experienced.” And then, as life progressed and time passed on, it was like: “Oh, no. You have to be the one to tell your story. So I started writing again and I started taking the title of poet at about 28.
Wow. Do you remember any details about that encounter?
I was in Atlanta across the street from the Greyhound and Magic City. I was in a whirlwind moment, too. I was an entertainer at the time, so I was making money; but I wasn’t stable. And I was about to begin the journey that changed my entire life. Having to walk away from a lot of things that I felt that the devil was rewarding. [I had a lot of] things that were just a gift from the enemy, based on the fact that I was doing his work.
Why did you stop writing, initially?
I think life just started to happen. Hanging around the wrong crowd, doing the wrong thing. A kid playing adult games. The creativity that I had as a child was stifled based on my inability to actually be proud of who I was in that moment. I think I write the best when I’m proud of myself and when I’m in a good space. So I don’t think that the spaces that I was in were fostering my creative child, or creative genius.
When you consider your body of work, on which topics do you tend to focus?
So, I write every day. Every single day. I write a poem or a short line or something. And it really is based on how I’m feeling. So I write emotional poetry. I write about social issues. I try to write about things that affect me. I write what God tells me to write. I write what the world needs as opposed to what the world wants.
You shared with us that you are a “writer first” who is now finding her home on the stage. When was your first live performance and may you tell us about it?
Because I have such a huge following on social media, I was able to [host] my own show and be a poet on [that] show. There were about 125 people. It was in Detroit at a place called Punchline Comedy Lounge.
I wanted to be able to look in the crowd and see some faces that I knew and be comfortable. But little did I know, I would not be getting the support that I thought I would from people who I knew. So, it was a roomful of strangers. And I still, you know… did my thing.
I want to be [in front of] people I know. I think it stems from me wanting people to be proud of me and to tell me that they’re proud of me. My parents were always there though, so it started to put into perspective that I really don’t need anyone to be proud of me as long as they are.
In what ways would you like to see the poetry community grow and evolve in the coming years?
I don’t want to ever meet a starving artist. I feel that poetry feeds the soul. So the poetry community should be fed as a whole. In the words of J. Ivy, “The world needs more poets.” And it’s so funny because, a couple of days ago, I was asked why I chose to do poetry instead of rapping. And I didn’t really have an answer other than the reality that the world doesn’t need me to rap. The world doesn’t need me to be in a space where I’m not being true to myself.
I want poets to be more acknowledged. More acknowledgement, more platform, more spotlight. I want the community to be welcomed by people. I just want people to heal from the spaces that they’re in, and to understand that they’re not healing from it because they haven’t heard a poem that triggered their healing process.
We love that answer so much! What do you appreciate most about the poetry community?
How they welcome you. I love how welcomed I was. My fear was that they wouldn’t welcome me because I had this huge platform. I didn’t want them to feel like I was getting these opportunities and didn’t deserve it. Or that someone else has been working harder and they deserve it [over me]. That was a big thing for me. I wanted to pay homage. And I wanted to be in a space where people were receptive of me; not based on who I was, but based on who I was becoming.
We know that AFROPoetic, a new poetry show with Afro TV, is currently in development! What is your involvement and how did that come about?
I was on The Sisaundra Show to talk about Pole Fitness and they found out that I did poetry. They were like, “Anytime you want to come back, come back.” [During that taping, I met] the producer, Rasheedah Murshid. I [reached back out] for National Poetry Month and went on to do a poem. Rasheedah was like, “I want to have a big poetry show and I want you to host it.” And I was like, “OK.’
So we had the casting call. Super dope experience to have maybe 20 poets come out within a three-day promotion span. People were coming from Tampa, Orlando, everywhere. And it was surreal. So now it’s really happening. We were able to secure four more shows for the year. It’s called AfroPoetic and will be hosted by Novocaine.
What qualities do you look for when scouting poets?
Delivery is really the most important. Enunciation. I want to hear how you speak. Like, I want to be able to understand the words that are coming out of your mouth. That is probably the most important thing for me.
A major news storyline for you has been your transition from the world of exotic dancing to faith, poetry and running your own Pole Fitness company. We’re so proud of your journey and want to know more. However, we want to start from the beginning:
Where were you born and raised? Which aspects of your hometown have molded you as a person?
Oh, man. I’m tough. I’m from Detroit. We’re cold, like the weather. I think that we have an edge and are natural born hustlers.
Being from Detroit, you’re from greatness, and that allows me to feel… everything. I can feel the wind blow and hear a song in the wind. It’s that up north Motown baby in me. But at the same time, I’m able to respect others’ craft and understand where they are based on their cultural upbringing. Each person is made up of what they were surrounded by.
What memories do you have of your relationship with literature and writing, growing up?
People would be outside playing and I would be in the house reading the dictionary. My mom bought encyclopedias for our birthdays and Christmas. As an adult, it’s so surreal going to my mom’s bookshelf, picking up her books and reading the notes like: “Wow, I experienced that.” “I think just like that.”
This is what my child is going to get from me. And it’s important because they say that if you want to hide anything from a person, put it in a book.
What was your relationship to Christianity and/or faith, growing up?
I was raised in the church. And I’m really grateful for that because, it’s true: “Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they grow older, they will not depart from it.” I remember my mom saying, “On Christ the solid rock guy I stand. All other things are sinking sand.”
I’ve stood in sinking sand, [where] I didn’t even know the path I was on was bad. I truly believe that I was asleep. Once you see that you’re sinking, you realize: I don’t need to stand here.
I’ve been able to go and create a foundation of faith through my own experiences and encounters with the Holy Spirit. So, I’m a follower of Christ; a nondenominational follower of Christ.
If comfortable, may you share how you were first introduced to the adult entertainment industry?
A girl from church.
I was destroying myself in Detroit. I was a part of the wrong things. I was violent. I was belligerent. I was ignorant. I was lost. But everywhere you go, you take you with you. So all of the doors that were open in Detroit would be open to me [when I moved to] Florida.
If our math is correct, your industry-career lasted approximately ten years. Within that time, could you feel God or poetry ever try to capture your attention?
I would post things like: “I just want to tell you how good God is.” And then I would post a picture with a bag of money and me naked. The spiritual warfare was growing. But, when you become a writer, you have to really consider how your writing is going to be taken. Do you want people to feel something and then leave feeling as though you’re a hypocrite or do you really want them to feel something and have them see that you’ve changed your life. Once I got out of that space, I realized the spiritual warfare and the part I played. God was saying to me: Choose ye this day who you will serve.
Upon leaving the industry, how did you first begin connecting with the poetry community?
I thought I was going to Africa, but the Holy Spirit stopped me. That’s where my journey essentially began: me thinking I was going to Africa as a stripper and the Holy Spirit said, “It’s not so.”
This is when I was in my darkest days; smoking a zip of weed a day. I was listening to Kanye West’s “Never let me down” [featuring J. Ivy]. Kanye’s literally one of my favorite artists. And I’m vibing to the music and posted it [to Instagram]. And then I just started bragging about how I was about to go to Africa.
I asked J. Ivy on Instagram, if he could write me a piece and he did. J. Ivy wrote that poem for me and it saved my life. And, it saved my soul. Your life and your soul are two totally different things. I feel like there are a lot of people living, but they have yet to come in contact with their own soul. So it woke me up. I felt like he had given me the go ahead to express myself and to never stop.
And his wife’s music started to heal me. Then, being able to see their journey and how they got their start. I just felt like: I’m going to make this wave. I’m not folding. I’m not bending.
I don’t even know if [J. Ivy] knows the affect that he’s had on my life. I think that he’s so Spirit-lead. When you’re a vessel like that, you just plant the seed. You don’t have to water it, you don’t have to babysit it and watch it grow. You don’t have to make sure it gets enough sunlight. You plant the seed and you pray that you’re not planting it on shallow ground. So, I don’t know, I don’t know that he knows…
But, here it is: You saved my life.
What happened after you decided: I’m choosing God.
I lost my mind, I had so many TV shows after me, I had so many producers after me, I had so many people after me that I couldn’t turn it off. I eventually learned to be a part of the world without being “in” it. I think that as I got closer to God, I realized that God had not given me a spirit of fear.
People think that I just walked away. They don’t realize that I fought to get away. When people ask me about it, I give them my story or my testimony plain as day. “Choose ye this day who you will serve.” Yes, you can still work around all these things. But you need to know how to put God first. You can’t serve two masters. I just want to encourage anybody who feels torn, to surrender. That’s literally the only thing that you can do is surrender. And when you surrender, you surrender fear [as well as] what people think about you.
I don’t care if people don’t like me. I want my spirit to irritate your demons. I’m not going back into the darkness so that you can feel comfortable.
Have you always had this bold personality where, once you have your mind made up, you can speak on it very boldly?
I didn’t start talking until I was three. But I think that’s why the enemy wanted me so bad because it’s like: once she starts talking, people listen. She knows how to make them feel it. We’ve got to confuse her mind. We’ve got to stop her tongue from giving glory, honor and praise. Because if not, she’s gonna bust hell wide open. And I think that’s what happened with my exit. I busted hell wide open.
Did your career in the industry prepare you for the performance aspect of poetry?
In a sense, but not really because I had a false sense of pride. I wasn’t really confident for real. It was fake.
What is one thing that you appreciate about your past?
I appreciate that I was spoiled. It shows that you can give your child love and you can give your child a stable household. It shows that even though a child may “have” [those things], they still may go the route a “have-not” might go. And it shows that even if you do that, there is an alternative. So now people can see, “Look how good God is.”
What is one thing that you appreciate about your present life?
Peace, peace, peace, peace, peace. I just love life. I didn’t used to. I used to wake up and wonder like, “Why am I awake again?” I’d try to smoke it away. I was tormented by pain and the decisions I made. And I was finally born again and restored. I like seeing the way that my words affect people. As a whole, I love being what people need.
Other than poetry, what are some of your interests (music, travel, sports, etc.)?
Oh, I love traveling. I love TV production. I love podcasting. I love being outside. When I’m 35, I want to get an RV and just travel.
What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve received thus far (poetry related or other)?
So my mom says, “Do what you know to do that is right.” And that will forever be one of the greatest statements, ever.
What is your ultimate goal—with regards to your career or life in general?
I just can’t wait until my parents move down to Orlando and I get those years back from the world. That’s what I’m looking forward to. Those years that I gave the world, I’m getting them back.
At the time of this interview, AFROPoetic is still in production. The show will air on AFRO TV.
*This interview has been condensed and arranged for brevity and flow.