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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.”
Interview1. 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”
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
Interview1. 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)
* * *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.
Interview1. 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?
Poem – “The Blackened Room”
* * *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.