Poetry Muse: Andrea Thompson, Evelyn C. White and A. Gregory Frankson + AfriCANthology

Today’s Poetry Muse feature is a triple-header of poets from Renaissance Press’ AfriCANthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets. We’re joined by Andrea Thompson, reading “After the Storm;” Evelyn C. White, reading “One Rock;” and the anthology’s editor and poet himself, A. Gregory Frankson, reading “The Blackened Room.” Read on to learn about their muses, like those who’ve “made a way out of no way.”


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Quick jump to: Andrea Thompson | Evelyn C. White | A. Gregory Frankson

Andrea Thompson


1. Who or what is your muse?Right now, I am most inspired by scripture. I believe the Bible is a spirit-filled book with the ability to speak to us where we are – offering the perfect guidance, encouragement and comfort we need in each moment. I am also inspired by the work of my fellow poets. There are so many amazing writers in Canada. I feel fortunate to be able to work, learn and grown in such a vibrant creative community. Many of my favourite writers are also contributors to AfriCANthology.2. What is your creative process when you begin writing? I tend to write first drafts long-hand, in one of those big spiral notebooks you get at the dollar store. I most often feel inspired to put pen to paper in the early morning, before the thoughts of the world have begun to clutter my mind. I also do a lot of note taking on my phone, when an idea strikes me on the go. Over the years I’ve learned that inspiration is a demanding task-master, and waiting to capture a juicy thought can result in it being lost – no matter how sure I am that I’ll remember. For editing, I find evening is best – when the work of the day has been put away and I have time to play with the process.3. When did you start writing poetry, and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?I began writing poetry as a child, looking for a way to deal with overwhelming feelings of grief and alienation. My mother died when I was young and I was raised by my grandparents, who were avid readers and lovers of literature. My grandmother had a terrific memory for verse. In my childhood home, it was a regular occurrence for my grandmother to punctuate her conversations with a quote from some poem she learned as a girl. After the occasional glass of wine, she would often burst out with an inspired rendition of Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Edna St. Vincent Millay. Even well into her 80s and 90s, these poems were still fresh in my grandmother’s memory. I adored my grandmother, and think it’s safe to say that this is where my love of poetry spoken aloud began.4. How would you describe your poetic contribution to the collection? Three words: Passionate, honest and raw.When I was invited to contribute to the AfriCan anthology, the editor Greg Frankson made it clear that no topic was off limits. On reflection of the theme (the realities of living as a Black writer in Canada) my mind immediately went to a poem I had written during the early days of the pandemic, when I discovered the “N-word” written in the snow on the side of my car. My poem dealt with the emotional aftermath of processing the event, but the poem alone felt incomplete. I was grateful for the opportunity to write an essay that allowed me to reflect on the incident with the wisdom of hindsight, and to put that moment into a greater social and spiritual context.5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?My first piece of advice to aspiring poets would be to immerse themselves in the form, and to be open to a variety of influences. I’ve learned as much from reading classical poetry on the page as I have from watching emerging spoken word artists perform on the stage. We don’t know what we don’t know, and I find that digging around in unfamiliar terrain often yields sweet surprises.I’d also encourage aspiring poets to be gentle with themselves, and to know that wrestling with feelings of self-doubt is a normal part of a writer’s creative evolution. I often see emerging writers silence themselves because of an over-active inner critic, that becomes a kind of tyrant. I would encourage them to take risks and experiment, to not follow in anyone’s footsteps but to allow their own individual poetic voice to develop. I find that the most engaging creative writing emerges out of an uncompromising dedication to authenticity. We all have our own unique approach to language, and when we allow that to be our focus – for me, that’s when the work really begins to sing.

Poem – “After the Storm”

in what is arguably the most
multiracial neighbourhood
in the most multicultural city
on planet earth — here
in the year 2020, after the “summer of love”
misnomer, which was really a summer of fire –
where a sudden awareness of racial injustice
ignited the minds and hearts of the world
set American cities ablaze for weeks and
made all of us in this hood shake our heads
and mutter under our breath — finally . . .
Here, where signs reading: Black Lives Matter
are posted on the lawns of middle-class, liberal
White people, in the windows of low-rent
high-rise apartments full of landed immigrants, here
where anti-racist slogans are spray painted in every back alley
on park benches, on the side of construction site plywood fences
chalked on sidewalks and printed on placards in storefronts, here
in Parkdale — in this down-and-out, up-and-coming, gentrification-weary
renoviction-victim, hipster, artist, addict and Tibetan refugee habitat
here, where you’d think everyone knew better — hate
hit me like a brick, struck me like a back-alley sucker-punch
leaving me suddenly vulnerable and winded.
Not that the lockdown wasn’t enough
after weeks on end of companionless silence
except for the cat, occasional neighbour and
weary shop clerk, after weeks spent staring at the same
walls of my small apartment — that began to feel like
that trash compactor scene in Star Wars, after weeks
of my social highlight being the donning of a mask
for post-apocalyptic shopping trips — after all this
lock-down life had worn my spirit thin.
But then came the snowstorm
blowing — hard and relentless.
wrapping the world in a reassuring blanket
covering cold, barren branches, coating grey sidewalks
with a bright glistening promise. The snow fell —
all day and through the night
and when I woke, I went outside to find
words of hope, written on the window of my car:
This too shall pass . . . ❤
And this felt like a love letter from God
a message of assurance to keep me buoyant.
I bundled up and went out into the bright
sunshine of that redemptive morning — walked
down the street, past burgundy Buddhist monks
who nodded and smiled, counting prayer beads silently
I walked past the gangly, masked teenage girl with her
enormous orange poodle, who strained on his leash
to greet me, with his pom-pom tail wagging.
I walked down to the water to watch a bevy
of majestic swans hold coronations for one another
then I walked back home — past giggling children
bobbing down hills on toboggans, and parents
whose eyes shined above their masks in neighborly hello!
I walked past all this and wound my way back home —
eager to re-read the gift on the side of my car.
But what I saw instead
was like a baseball bat to the head
a gut-crushing sucker punch that stopped
my brain, left me frozen on the sidewalk
deflated and incredulous. There —
in the immaculate blanket of snow, both
above and below my beloved message from God
there — across the window and on the roof of my car
was written one word — all caps, six letters
each stabbing my heart: NIGGER
I stood and stared — frozen
flashing back to school yard snow jobs
and vicious pre-pubescent verbal attacks
by White schoolmates whose parents
had indoctrinated them with hatred.
I stood and stared.
I hadn’t had that word bomb hurled at me in years.
At first I thought of leaving it there — as testament
to those who say that racism no longer exists.
Then I thought of old people haggard by the pandemic
hanging on by a thread, or children just learning to read
I didn’t want to be the one to introduce them
to the wrath of the world, so I wiped the snow away
erasing the evidence of hate.
And then
I went back in my apartment
deflated once again, but now
also afraid — believing that someone
close by had been so full of malevolence
that it had overflowed out of them –
aimed, like a weapon
in my direction.
Safe inside, I drew a bath
soaked as if trying to wash
the word off my body.
Deep in the heat of the tub, I began
to unravel and marvel at how they pulled it off
could see them — standing there in their parka
sneakily surveying the street, wary of witnesses.
There’s a house full of Black folks just next door
a lovely mixed-race couple and their East Indian mom
right across from me — in fact, most feet that walk these streets
are attached to Brown bodies.
I soak and soak
as if my skin had been tainted
stained by this heinous hate crime
as if I had been infected with a virus of fear
created by that frozen sand mandala in reverse
that startling, venomous, senseless non-sequitur
left a lingering psychic scar.
If this can happen here — if this
malevolent agent of bitterness can be driven
to deface a parked Parkdale car
racism is alive and well.
If it could happen here
it could happen anywhere.

Andrea reading “To White Anthology Editors – For Sonia Sanchez.”

* * *

Andrea Thompson is a poet, novelist, editor and educator who has been publishing and performing her work for over twenty-five years. In 2009 she was the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word’s Poet of Honour, and in 2019 her poetry album Soulorations earned her the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. Thompson is the co-editor of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, author of the novel, Over Our Heads, and the 2021 recipient of the Pavlick Poetry Prize. Her collection, A Selected History of Soul Speak was published by Frontenac House in 2021, as a part of their Quartet series. www.andreathompson.ca

Evelyn C. White


1. Who or what is your muse? My enslaved African forebears. And all who’ve “made a way out of no way.”2. What is your creative process when you begin writing?I welcome the spiritual guidance of my African forebears and also look to nature and music (gospel, soul) for inspiration.3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?I am best described as an “occasional” poet. I primarily write poems to honour writers whose work I feel has not been fully celebrated.4. How would you describe your poetic contribution to the collection? Free, heartfelt, in the spirit.5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets? Keep it real.

Poem – “One Rock”

(For Maxine Tynes — 1949-2011)
No crystal stair
No painted ponies
(going up or down)
She mined gilt
In a gait
(stuttered by polio)
Black womanish
And with a blast of God’s trombones
She fixed her foot on the rock and wondered “who is casting jealous eyes on me?”

* * *

Evelyn C. White is the author of Alice Walker: A Life and an alumna of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was honoured for her Master’s Thesis on The Racial Development of Blind Black Children. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A. Gregory Frankson


1. Who/what is your muse?I wouldn’t say that I have a specific muse that is the single consistent spur for my creativity. I write based heavily on my responses to the natural, political, and sociocultural environments in which I find myself. If you’re Black in Canada, that’s muse enough for your writing, trust me.2. What is your creative process when you begin writing?I largely write in spurts. When I have inspiration to create, I find an appropriate place to write — which is usually at my office desk in my home but can be in a coffee shop — and get all the thoughts out as they come to me. I tend to spit out large chunks of writing all in one sitting, and complete initial poetry drafts in particular usually come out all in one go. Then I leave it for a while (usually at least a day) before I revisit, review, and revise the perspectives and messages I’m working to translate to others through my writing. Since I can be a bit of a perfectionist, the editing process can go through many iterations, with very small changes made each time over a period of days (and sometimes weeks) before I feel comfortable with the shareable version of the piece. In my mind, it’s never final, it’s just in a state where I feel comfortable having others experience it.3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?I began writing poems in primary school and never stopped. Sometimes they come out as page poems, other times as spoken word, and they can also come to me as sung or rapped lyrics. For me, it’s all poetry. Since my first artistic love was singing and I was addicted to reading since before I entered kindergarten, it was inevitable in retrospect that musical and poetic forms would (e)merge and weave their way through my creative journey from its beginning to the present. I wouldn’t say that I chose poetry over other forms of writing, however. I’ve been crafting op-ed pieces since high school and have a deep love and appreciation for storytelling, memoir-like essay composition, and creative nonfiction. My literary practice, just like my artistic practice in general, has incorporated multidisciplinary elements from the start.4. How would you describe your poetic contribution to the collection? 
“The Blackened Room” is an emotional reflection on the journey of Black people through the Middle Passage that is retrospective, introspective, and darkly evocative of the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade.
Haunting – Evocative – Vivid
5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets?If you’d like to grow your ability and confidence/competence at creating page poetry and/or spoken word, you have to do three things: read a lot, write a lot, and share your work a lot (at readings, open mics, slams, showcases, festivals, etc.). It’s pretty straightforward, though it’s not simple or easy.6. Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?Besides several of my Black Canadian contemporaries, I’d say Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou at the head of a list of many strong Black poetic voices.7. Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?My poetry is highly lyrical and musical in nature. Songs that move me include “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps, “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, “Hold On (To Your Dream)” by Wee Gee, “True Experience” by Barrington Levy, “Turn Your Lights Down Low” by Bob Marley & The Wailers with Ms. Lauryn Hill, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” by Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and “Tennessee” by Arrested Development among many, many, MANY others.

Poem – “The Blackened Room”

open the door
step inside the contours of your fear
caress the warp in your perception
that braids devastation to your cranium
tight like rows of Negro corn
as each footfall draws you deeper
wrap yourself in the blackness
like a discomforted comforter
too warm that leaves you sweaty restless
confused discombobulated equilibrium
dissolve matter into the ether
argue spiritedly with the lives
you’d meant to live before . . .
the door groans shut behind you
cuts off all possibility of escape
bidden by the highest bidder
who enslaves you to new terror
bitter as the sea salt that transported
anxiety-addled chattel from foreign sands
through the hourglass you are diminished
once plucked from indigenous land and
cast onto red-soaked soil unfit for your roots
shrunk down to near enough to nothingness
pulverized in aggregate to be ground down
into building blocks of oppressive freedom
shackled by the petrification of ambition and unfree wills
a testament to the death of one’s hope
newly nested in pathology
that holds you fetal fragile like an eggshell
broken open oozes unrestrained
like a liquefied scream
a race to fill cracks and crevices
whips quickly across sullen floorboards
desperate search for unattainable wholeness
in the fetid dank vacuum of a space
that proffers no gentle companionship
on the journey to pernicious perdition
just a middle passage from here
to where fear lurks in dark corners —

* * *

Greg Frankson, a.k.a. Ritallin, is an educator, activist, consultant, and award-winning literary artist. Since 2004, Greg has featured in numerous audio recordings, videopoems, public speeches, articles, and literary journals. He appears in three anthologies, including the award-winning collection The Great Black North (Frontenac House, 2013), published four poetry collections (Cerebral Stimulation, 2005, Lead on a Page, 2012, A Weekly Dose of Ritallin, 2015 and Cerebral Confections, 2021), and is the editor of the critically acclaimed AfriCANthology: Perspectives of Black Canadian Poets (Renaissance Press, 2022). Greg is a 2012 national poetry slam champion, a 2013 inductee to the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour, and won Best Author in the 2021 ByBlacks.com People’s Choice Awards. He is the past poet laureate of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership, appeared on CBC TV’s Canada’s Smartest Person, and is the former poetic commentator on Here and Now Toronto on CBC Radio One. He is the founder and CEO of Voice Share Inc., which focuses on helping individuals and teams strengthen their inclusive leadership and effective communication skills to accelerate transformative change. Greg is passionately focused on living according to his personal mission statement – to present the vision that inspires others to positively change the world.

* * *

Many thanks to today’s featured poets Andrea Thompson, Evelyn C. White, and Greg Frankson for their compelling readings and interviews. During the month of April, you can buy AfriCANthology and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!Keep up with us all month on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.