Some true facts about me:
1. I hid my smile by placing a hand over my mouth until I was in my mid-20s.
2. I have trouble looking at myself in the mirror. It feels the same way it does when somebody reads something I’ve written while I’m there; like they have cut under a piece of my skin and have a finger under my flesh, poking at anything below.
3. A not small part of me tells me that everybody is lying when they compliment my writing. A not small part of me is ashamed at any praise, and wants to run away as soon as it starts. People have called me humble, but really, it’s a defense mechanism as I try to divest myself from the trauma of being around people who think I have any small amount of talent.
I don’t say any of this to fish for complements because, as I’ve said, it would mortify me, but to explain what this process of embracing poetry and the spoken word has meant to me. As I’ve gone through all of my writing, as far back as I have saved, has dealt with race. My first story was of some “dark” elves trying to fit in with the “light” elves, and what that social construct meant. My first poem is about my grandfather and how he and I speak different vernaculars. My identity as a black man has been in the back of my mind for a long time.
All of this is a long way to say how appreciative I am to have been voted “Poet of the Year” for Poetry719 (We do stuff!). It has been an intensely uncomfortable experience to have Ashely cheer me on and call me out whenever my name is brought up. I don’t think a lot of my poetry. I have only been writing poetry in earnest for three years, and I consider every one of the poets on the list better than I am. I would have been happy and more comfortable if any of my friends had won. But, what this experience has done for me, is help me solidify my voice. My first poets are written from rage and sadness. As I’ve learned, grown, heard so many other voices in this community, and changed through these experiences, I think the poems I’m writing now are coming from a more wholesome place. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing specifically from any particular mindset or emotion; it’s just that, as I grew as a poet, my emotions kept me writing very similar material.
I’m learning to be proud of myself. Of my achievements. I think, for everybody out there getting on stage, writing poems that bare your soul, and then share them with a group of strangers, should take a second to acknowledge just how difficult it is. I’m very fast to complement my friends for extraordinary things that I’m also doing, while not giving myself credit. So, this is me, taking a very rare moment to say that I’m proud of myself. The poetry that I’ve written in this past year is pretty dope. I’ve learned more about myself, more about my voice, and more about my goals very recently, and so going forward, it’s only going to get better. I’m definitely going to work on a book of poetry, and it’s definitely going to be great.
I want to take this moment to say thank you to some of the people who gave me space to own this realization:
As always, thank you to my wife, Dr. Sandy Ho, who helped me find my new tribe, who constantly supports my creative and educational endeavors, and helping find the resources to help me grow.
Thank you to Ashley, Chris Beas, and Phillip Curtis, for Poetry719 (We do stuff!) and everything you do in the community. I’m sure you know the work you’re doing is important, but I’m saying it here again. The work you’re doing is important. Not only that, but immensely appreciated.
To the Hotcomb Poets: Rosegold, Sipho, Rogue Scholar, Tyescha, Ashley, Beas, and Midnight. My tribe, my friends, and an endless source of joy, laughter, and poetry. You’ve all helped me grow so much since I met each of you.
Chris Jones: (https://www.shotbytherobot.com) My longtime friend, and dope ass photographer. Thank you for taking the picture I’ll undoubtedly use in the sleeve jacket of whatever book I eventually publish.
To everybody who voted: It means more to me than you’ll ever know. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
That’s more than enough from me for now.
See ya’ll at the next open mic.