At age fifteen, I made the decision, completely of my own accord, to move halfway across the world from my home in Accra, Ghana to Interlochen, Michigan so that I could attend boarding school and learn to be a writer.
Yet, still, three years down the line, I had to be told that I was a poet. Sure, I knew that I wrote poems, I even knew that some of them were pretty good, but to me, a poet was something larger than that, something otherworldly and infinitely wise that I could only ever hope to become after years of turmoil, some kind of Southeast Asian religious epiphany, at least one mutually-abusive romantic relationship, and lots of hard drinking.
But when I was named a YoungArts finalist in poetry and then, later that same year, a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts in poetry, reality intruded, and I was forced to give up my romanticism in favor of convenience.
Recently, after a performance with YoungArts in Los Angeles, in which I performed one of a series of poems that revolved around black women and the complex relationship we have with our hair, I was introduced to someone as a spoken word poet.
While they enthused about the authenticity of my poem and my presence on stage, I was struck completely dumb. “Hold on,” I thought. “I just barely reconciled myself with being a Jr. Deputy Poet in Training. How did I become a spoken word artist? Can you even become a spoken word artist without trying?” And then of course, came the perennial paranoid knee-jerk reaction familiar to many “Is this only happening to me because I’m Black?” Read the rest of this entry »