LADDER DE POET
Deanna “Ladder De Poet” Bautista recently spoke with us about her second collection of poetry, The Q Files: Volume 1; a project which began in 2020 amid the global pandemic.
For years, The Poet’s List has been tuned into the Pasadena native’s writing; and we have witnessed her incredible versatility in both topic and form. Yet, through this interview, we now realize the undeniable sense of purpose and integrity that exists within both Bautista and her work:
She has a genuine desire to heal and transform lives; she recognizes that healing comes, in part, by speaking your truth; and she knows that change comes from actually addressing said truths.
In many ways, she is the purest form of an activist; one who knows that external action and internal work must go hand-in-hand.
And so she does exactly this in her book, Q Files; exploring emotional depths while also allowing conflicting truths to clash (ie. trauma and pain coupled with optimism and hope). She tackles tough subjects, including social justice issues. And she maintains her aforementioned purpose and integrity all the while.
It is a treasure to have spoken with Bautista and we hope that you are inspired by her words.
Prior to landing on poetry, what memories do you have of your relationship with literature and writing as a youth?
When it comes to literature, I have always been a consistent reader. When I was age 8, I used to read a lot of autobiographies, biographies and science books, while other kids read children stories. I was really intrigued about learning the lives of others. Specifically, artists and poets. Some of these autobiographies and biographies consisted of Michelangelo, Maya Angelou, Rembrandt, Shel Silverstein, Shakespeare and the list goes on.
I didn’t start off writing poetry at first. When I was age 11, I began to write rhymes/raps. I was a big fan of rapper/poet Tupac Shakur. Although Tupac was born on the East Coast, he was raised on the West Coast in California during his late teenage years and really influenced West Coast culture. After really diving deep into his lyrics and music, I felt inspired to start writing rhymes about my own life. That eventually turned into poetry by the time I reached my teenage years, and has stayed consistent in my life since.
When did you begin to claim the title of poet and how did you first connect with the poetry community?
I first connected with the poetry community my junior year in high school. I saw Russell Simmons’ “Brave New Voices” on HBO and fell in love with spoken word. I always knew about spoken word, but the way these poets—who were teenagers—delivered their poems, really inspired me to put my own poems out there more and share my stories. I remember submitting my written poetry to a lot of poetry contests and I won a minor scholarship for one of my poems.
[However,] I didn’t start performing spoken word until I got to college freshman year. Once I did my first coffee house at the university that I was attending at that time, I began to claim myself as a poet. Specifically, when I received a lot of positive feedback from the audience I performed in front of.
When you consider your body of work, on which topics do you tend to focus?
This is a great question. My poetry focuses on a broad range of various topics. I tend to write about everything relatable to everyone; from love to political issues, social issues and controversial topics.
How personal is your poetry? Do you tend to write about things which directly affect you or do you also venture out?
My poetry is a combination of both. It is definitely personal. But, at the same time, I do use other’s experiences to help write certain poems. Personal experience is always great to use in terms of projecting self-vulnerability to your readers and having them relate. But I do think that integrating the experience of others can help deliver a strong message to readers as well.
Do you tend to write for “the page” (with the reader in mind) or for “the stage” (with a listening audience in mind)?
I think I tend to write for both the page and the stage. I definitely write with the reader in mind, as I try to relate my own experiences with the reader. At the same time, I also write for myself to help get out what I need to put on paper, with the audience listening to what I have to say. Sometimes the audience might not always agree with what I have to say or write about, but if my poem can at least spark and touch one mind or soul, then that in itself is a blessing.
In what ways would you like to see the poetry community grow and evolve in the coming years?
In the coming years, I would love to see the poetry community be more appreciated by all of the arts. I know it’s already been incorporated into music and art, but I would love to see more movies and studio companies utilize and incorporate it. Poetry is always growing and evolving, and the range it has can reach many audiences all over the world.
I would also like to see how it can aesthetically and creatively be used in the workforce as well. Some companies allow music therapy, yoga therapy and art therapy to help reduce stress and alleviate symptoms of physical and mental health. Using poetry in that way could also be beneficial. Whatever direction it grows and expands, I’m excited to see how it will be used in the future.
On The Q Files: Volume 1:
Congratulations on your second body of work, The Q Files: Volume 1. We know that these poems were birthed out of your 2020 experience—more specifically, the beginning of the pandemic and the social justice issues that bubbled over in that time. With much of this being such a shared experience, we have found this book to be quite an emotional ride.
Can you tell our readers a bit about Q Files and how it came to be?
Quarantine and the height of the pandemic, as we all know, was a scary and unpredictable time. There were a lot of deaths occurring from virulent causes such as COVID-19. In addition, there were filmed videos of police brutality and individuals of color dying on screen before our eyes. There were natural disasters occurring at the same time, such as the wild forest fires burning homes and killing people and animals. Specifically, here on the West Coast where I live.
There was so much pain, distress and emotional instability. Everyone that I knew, both friends and family, were all feeling worn out and exhausted. I needed to write to uplift my own spirit, and the spirit of all those who were feeling emotionally unavailable. I wrote all of my poems as a reminder to not give up hope. The poems made me feel that me and everyone else in the world were going to get through these hard times and make it past this.
We love the poem “Sweating Sickness” where you convey both the physical and psychological toll of 2020. Can you recall any details about the writing that poem?
I wrote “Sweating Sickness” right after I saw a news excerpt stating that the hospitals and ICU were overflowing with patients of COVID-19, and that the death toll was now at an all-time high. However, there was another news excerpt about how this was going to go away soon. It was conflicting information. I had just lost a family friend to the virus and her family fell into a deep depression after her death. I wanted to talk about how this virus was not only affecting us physically but emotionally as well.
The media coverage of COVID, plus all the opinions from everyone about the pandemic, contributed to the physical and psychological rollercoaster we kept experiencing. It made it hard to believe what was real, what wasn’t real and how long was this going to affect all of us. [It took] us on a sick ride of physical and emotional confusion. Thus, “Sweating Sickness“ was written.
In the poem, “Study,” you leave us with the line: “You have to hurt in order to heal.” What advice can you share about how to heal amid hardship?
The advice I can give about healing is that you have to take it one day at a time; and take that time to learn how to love yourself. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process. During that time, get to know yourself. Do things that teach you how to discover yourself and love yourself. Focus on really getting to know what makes you happy, sad, upset and scared. Love yourself always, even on the worst days. It’s easier said than done, but when you find self-love, that’s a major breakthrough for healing to set in and commence. It will get better; and you will grow stronger and wiser from the pain and hurt.
Alongside a beautiful dedication to the lives that were both lost and affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, you also acknowledged the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Can you discuss the impact that those losses had on you?
The impact these losses had on me were very heartbreaking, making me feel enraged with anger and fear. It was heartbreaking to know that these lives were taken innocently just because of the color of their skin. These individuals who had bright futures ahead will never get to experience those futures because of racism and prejudice. I felt angry because, as an individual of color, you get tired and upset of seeing people killed who look like you. The media consistently plays these deaths over and over before our eyes, and it triggers rage and anger knowing that innocent lives are constantly killed due to racism. I also felt fear because it reminded me that, any second, I too could be another George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery just because of how I look. It’s a scary feeling and, unfortunately, a feeling I will have for the rest of my life until change starts to take place.
When you reflect on the writing of this book, would you describe it as cathartic, traumatic, or somewhere in between?
I would describe this book as somewhere in between. When I wrote these poems, they did start off as helping me to deal with the trauma of the pandemic. However, these poems were also cathartic because a lot of the poems helped release emotional build up from the pandemic and provided optimistic insight to everything that was going on at that time. I think when readers read this book, they will be able to find some type of emotional gain from these poems and [they] will be able to relate to it in some way.
What is your favorite poem in Q Files and why?
“Study” and “More Than Enough” are my two favorite poems. Both of these poems focus on self-love and how it is a revolving door. They focus on valuing your worth, and how loving yourself and getting to know yourself is never ending. I also feel that they highlight how it’s a struggle to carry on when life gets tough for us, but we have to keep pushing ourselves in order to move on and get by.
Would you like to share a few words on your first body of work, Tales to the Top, for those who may be interested?
Tales to the Top was a zine that I put together to get my poetry content out there. I am still proud of that zine, but it’s a variety of poems and topics. It doesn’t necessarily focus on one particular category. It’s a collection of poems that range from happiness, love, self-growth, and family and friends. This zine was a fun zine, and the poems were focused on different stories as we make our way to the top of life.
What tips do you have for a poet who is looking to publish their work?
Network, reach out, ask questions and never give up. Publishing can be a process; however, it can be done. Use your network of colleagues and friends within the same industry to ask questions and seek guidance. Networking helps a lot when wanting to publish your own material. Also, believing in your work and material will help your work come to life.
Which aspect of your hometown—Pasadena, California—has had the most significant impact on you, and why?
The community aspect has had the most significant impact on me. My hometown has a lot of up-and-coming talented individuals such as musicians, artists, authors, fashion designers, photographers and directors. I love that we are all striving towards the same goals and we are all open to helping one another. By collaborating, we are breaking barriers by coming together to make change. It truly is a beautiful sight to see, and I love my people of Dena for it.
What has been the greatest piece of advice you’ve received thus far (poetry related or other)?
The greatest piece of advice I have received so far came from one of my closest friends who told me I had to learn to just “Be”. It was the best piece of advice I received because I am always thinking of the future constantly; and always thinking about my goals and dreams. However, that can get overwhelming and can damage your spirit overtime if you let it. As of right now, I’m learning to just be present and in the moment. This applies to my poetry and my personal life. Learning to just be will help prepare me for my future by learning to take life one dose at a time.
What is your ultimate goal—with regards to your career or life in general?
My ultimate goal for both my life and career is to help change and inspire lives. I want to be able to make a difference in someone’s life. If my words [or my] career can help inspire and change someone before I leave this earth, that alone is the most rewarding feeling and goal ever.
Is there any additional information that you would like included?
I would like to say thank you to The Poet’s List for ultimately giving me my first platform on social media to share my poetry. Honestly, if it wasn’t for you all, I would not have established the following and the network that I have today. You all play a huge part in my poetry success and I am grateful for your platform. I would also like to thank all of my readers, for sticking by me and reading my material. Out of all the poetry books and poetry content in the world, you continue to read mine and I am humbled and blessed that my words mean so much to you. Thank you and I cannot wait for you all to see my future projects currently in the works.
*This interview has been condensed and arranged for brevity and flow.