First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM on November 1, 2021

For another evening of poetry, poets gathered to share their creations virtually.

The poets who performed their poetry were Anna Marco, Ayana Abdallah, Carla Martin, Chris Nielsen, Christopher Robert Craddock, Irene Sinopole, Mandy Wallace, Portia Choi, Shelley Evans, and Suzanne Weller.

The video of the evening’s event can be seen at the following link: Passcode: 9Wx*iCvR

Two of the poets from the open mic were interviewed.  They are Ayana Abdallah and Anna Marco.  

Here are their interviews.  

Interview with Ayana R. Abdallah

By Carla Joy Martin

Ayana shared with us the following contrasting poems:

Mind Hug! 

the next time 
you gaze 
upon a full silver moon 
get your mind hug on! 
languish there 
dissolve in brilliant 
new beginnings 
baby steps 
let moon shadows 
scratch that annoying 
brain itch 

XXX (A Poem for Adrienne Piper) 

it is not easy to forget 
injustice or inequality 
when it robs you of proper medical care 
shatters your dreams 
the career you sweated blood for 
faith has withered like day-old daffodils 
you are too young, too old, too black 
too much a woman who knows 
her own mind will not survive 
the strain of sleepless nights haunting 
dreams parading grotesque histories— 
sisters splayed in a wilderness of hatred 
wrists and ankles tied to unyielding stakes 
parched red earth corpses swimming 
in their own blood broken bottles 
jammed into vaginas; 
like rivers of truths 
their stories are obscured in ancient 
it is not easy to forget 
you cannot force your mind dead blank 
worry that she was yet conscious 
just barely alive enough to know 
it was the flesh of her swollen belly 
ripped open her feet and hands decapitated 
like the killing of swine 
she had fainted after that 
you cannot force your mind dead blank 
summer nights do not find you smiling 
happy content 
how could they 

 Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories? 

A.The two poems featured for this essay were read at a First Friday Open Mic, “Mind Hug!” and “XXX (a Poem for Adreinne Piper).” Because the latter poem was written and published in the Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies in 1993, I had to do a little digging, as Octavia Butler would say, to address the poem’s background satisfactorily. However, that is not to say that the spirit in which either poem emanates is buried under the vicissitudes of the day-to-day challenges facing rainbow tribes—quite the contrary. Each poem evolves from and addresses a particular aspect of consciousness within and beyond the veil of ubiquitous injustice. Nevertheless, why did I write these poems? Furthermore, what did I hope to achieve?  

  A graduate instructor in Rhetoric at the University of Iowa at the time, I left ample room in my syllabus for critical thinking about art and its impact on our lives. In preparation for a descriptive essay, students met me at the university’s Stanley Museum of Art for a tour of its collection of visual art and careful notetaking about a single installation of their choice. I recall being struck by an unflinching abstract honesty about slavery, racism, and misogyny while standing in front of Piper’s audio-visual creation. As I directed my students to do, I sat down with paper and pen and began to free write. What I channeled is a narrative poem in ekphrasis style in that it paints a picture inspired by visual art. Forgive me; I cannot describe Piper’s installation in detail. And I did not have the time to research it. Suffice it to say that whatever her provocative exhibit, it conjured blood memory.  Simply put, I feel the encroaching death, pain, suffering, hopelessness, and helplessness of an enslaved African woman losing consciousness. As Guyanese poet Grace Nichols exalts in her collection, I Is A long Memoried Woman.  

  Fast forward twenty-two years. I am an Associate Professor of English at Albany State University, still “committed to insurgency” among “students, faculty members. . . administrators and super. . . [human] menials” of Africana descent, “exploited, isolated, alienated from ourselves and our communities” in the American academy (Third World Caucus 1969)i. Getting away from it all, I write the heaven of my heart in “Mind Hug!”  

With the warmth of sunshine on my bare brown arms, I write from my country home on a large deck overlooking rolling acre after rolling acre and a calm lake that splits them. Staring into a clear vast blue sky, I conjure and celebrate igbodu, an Ifa concept referencing a sacred inner space where one may find a perfect state. In this poem, like Grace Nichols, I “chart the power to be what I am—a woman charting my own future.”ii   

i See Ayana R. Abdallah’s dissertation Africentric Transgressive Creativity: A Reader’s Meditation on Octavia Butler, 2001. 
ii See Grace Nichols poetry compilation I Is A Long Memoried Woman, 1983. 

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  Women poets of the Caribbean such as Grace Nichols, African American poets Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, several Native American poets such as Joy Harjo, Japanese Haiku women poets such as Sugita Hisajo, incarcerated poets from Norfolk prison, British romantic poet William Blake.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  One needn’t have a degree in poetry to write poems that touch someone.  There are all types of people with myriad interests and needs.  Hence, write from the heart of your passion.  Whether your poem makes a difference in the life of millions, twenty-five or one does not matter.  It took me decades to care about publishing, preferring the performance of my poems, and encouraging others to write be they living in a nursing home, enrolled in a community poetry workshop, or a college creative writing classroom.   In fact, my literary godmother, renowned poet Sonia Sanchez is the reason why my first poem “Humility My Love” was published (1981).   She, not I, found an anthology for the publication. And it was decades later before I submitted poems for publication consideration. 

Interview with Anna Marco 

by Carla Joy Martin

This is the poem Anna shared with us that evening:

The Lemon Tree

Aunt Eleanor had a lemon tree 
In her backyard
Standing…for a million years
A genus Ponderosa Citrus
Birthing fruit the size of Texas

We compare our heads
To those fat orbs
Rub our noses on the rind 
Get heady with the scent

Grab those pseudo soccer balls 
And pack ‘em into bags 
Race home, race home
To squeeze the Sun
For lemonade without sugar

Those lemons 
Her personality
Were the perfect match
Both bigger than life
Exceptional, Sheltering
Nourishing, Rooted
Fun, Tangy
Made you smile

I loved her
Eleanor is that tree
Tart yet sweet 
She was lemonade that didn’t need sugar

© 3/27/14 Anna Marco






Q. What inspired you to write your poem?

A. It’s an Ode to Love, a mashed sonnet…motivated by loss. I was grieving the death of my beloved Eleanor and couldn’t reconcile goodbye. I decided, “Aloha” was better. Aloha is neither Hello or Goodbye but in proto-Polynesian language translates to “the presence of breath” or “the breath of life.”  That’s poetry in my world.

The Lemon Tree wrote itself. Or maybe Eleanor’s spirit wrote to me. Spirit is a two-way street. I only channel poetry-it just comes. I’ve been that way since I was a child. It used to scare me but I learned the written word is an artistic gift. I just sit still and let words, images and inspiration flitter by me like a butterfly.  The challenge it to not judge or disregard it, to capture the soul source, get it onto paper or it’s lost. Meanwhile I have a 90% math disability and can’t do it but the doctor said I’m off the charts in English.

Q. What is its back story? 

A. All my poetry is pulled from life experience. This poem is a summary of my relationship with Aunt Eleanor, from my birth to her death. First I sheltered her in my heart then shared her with you so you got to know her too.  She is those words and she never left me. When I came to acceptance of her physical loss, I found peace. My grief process includes creative writing. For me, death is transition of energy- from life force to another energy form, i.e. poetry.  Romantic poets such as Keats and Walt Whitman thought poetry is human spiritual experience. And so, EARTH without ART is just EH.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  

A.  Yes. I’ve always been a voracious reader-my mind is wired for words. Also, it helped that I grew up in a creative household.  My mother read to us, we sang, danced, did art, charades, mime, theatre…I believe that creativity supports intelligence. I was a very shy child and learned to identify feelings through creative writing.  

Q. What poets have influenced you?   

A.  Poets and writers…Marne Carmean, my mother, Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, Khalil Gibran, Shakespeare, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Rudyard Kipling, ee cummings, Bukowski, Poe, Walt Whitman, Shelley, John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes, Tennessee Williams, the list is endless but I favor romantics and grit. I hang out in libraries

Q.  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire? 

A.  Many creative folks-songwriters such as Dolly Parton, Adele, Stevie Nicks and Jim Morrison. I also admire filmmakers who convert words to visual art. I like foreign films

Q. What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems? 

A. Just do it. Writing hand is connected to heart. Don’t judge yourself, explore self.  Start with a journal, log your dreams, doodle, try open mic, join a group, take a class, do workshops or writing retreats. Sing, dance, play. I’ve gone to the beach and read angry words to waves, dug a hole and burned it. The twisted paper turned into a giant black rose. There is beauty in truth. Free yourself.

Q.  How do you make a poem?  

A.  My mind is a blender so I learned to meditate. That helps me focus. I enjoy Haiku and alliteration. I have to get quiet, take time and space and dedicate it to writing. Must try to catch magic. I have to have pen and paper handy. I can’t explain it. The words just come.

Q.  Give us a glimpse into your creative process. 

A.  It starts with something simple, a word, nature, music, an image or an idea. I try to build a foundation for it. I make it a game, like a word puzzle of bits and pieces that will ultimately make sense in a cohesive way.  I learned that I need a beginning, middle and end with continuity, and a hook. Once upon a time, my car broke down and I waited for a tow truck. I turned a sunset into a confetti field of poppy petals. Aloha.