"In my poems, I say the unsayable. I am inspired by the unknown multitudes of my ancestry. They stand 10,000 strong at my back. I am a griot, a storyteller, a poet, and a holder of history who works to stitch and sing my heritage back into being. I write to right, while my poems dance and sing on both page and stage." Glenis Redmond
I first met poet Glenis Redmond about two years ago at a Poetry in Plain Sight reading in Winston-Salem. Ever since, I have followed her work and her work-travels with awe. Glenis is a true Road Warrior Poet, bringing the power of words with her everywhere she goes.
Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of my most recent award. My essay, "Poetry as a Mirror" was chosen by Tayari Jones as a runner-up for the Teachers and Writers 2018 Bechtel Prize. Here are the links to the essay and an interview by Matthew Thompson.
- Poetry As A Mirror: https://teachersandwritersmagazine.org/poetry-as-a-mirror-4656.htm
- Ball turns into Poetry: https://teachersandwritersmagazine.org/the-ball-turned-into-poetry-a-conversation-with-glenis-redmond-4670.htm
What are you currently working on? How long have you been working on it? How did you become interested in it/ where did you get the idea for it?
I am working on a new poetry book, The Listening Skin. I am writing about what is like to be a highly sensitive person. In this work I own being a HSP, a disorder coined by Elaine Aron. It is a condition that impacts the nervous system, and the HSP is acutely aware of their surroundings, easily over stimulated, and overwhelmed. My dad just called me high strung, but when I discovered Aron’s book, it answered a lot of questions about how I show up in the world.
Also, I am working on two poetry reference books: Poetry Road and Poetry Circles. The first details my poetic travels, and the latter is a compilation of the poetry lessons that I have taught. I am excited to work on these texts because it allows me to catalog my work as a teaching artist and a Road Warrior poet for the last twenty-five years. I have learned so much on the road.
I am also collaborating with Dr. Lynnette Overby and Dr. Gabrielle Foreman, both professors at University of Delaware. As a creative team, we are unpacking David Drake, an enslaved potter poet’s life from Edgefield, South Carolina. Lynnette teaches dance. Gabrielle is an African-American literature scholar. Together, we are bringing Dave to life on stage and on the page. Dave amazes me because he created beautifully crafted pots.
He wrote on one of his pots: I wonder where is all me relations/friendship to all and every nation. Viscerally impacted by the horrors of slavery, Dave found a way to record his story. Dave’s wondering in the 1800s furthers my wondering about my/our ancestral links. His pots and poems serve as partial missives to me/us. His "I wonder" couplet speaks specifically to me about the African-American torn lineage that I/we strive to collectively piece together. The place-based poems that I write about David Drake set in motion a call and response creative cycle. David calls out as he looks for his people; I/we look back to him to discover and recover my/our ancestral links. As a South Carolina poet, too, I reply to Dave’s query. My poems are a direct address to Dave: I/We are your relations. I feel compelled and driven to preserve and uphold his legacy. I say to Dave: I am here. There is a saying: Those who neglect their past have no future.
Also, with Lynnette Overby, I just finished working on a project for The Three Harriets: Harriet Tubman, Harriet E. Wilson, and Harriet Jacobs. Harriet Tubman, as most know, was the conductor of the Underground Railroad. Harriet E. Wilson was the first African-American novelist. She wrote Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black. Harriet Jacobs was enslaved and hid in the attic for seven years to escape her treacherous owner in Edenton, NC. She escaped to freedom and became an abolitionist and wrote a memoir titled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. These projects appeal to me because I think it is important to highlight our untold stories.
What issue are you currently most passionate about? What is the one thing you would like people to know or understand about this issue?
Racism. It is an intentional architecture that bombards the landscape.
I am passionate about dismantling racism: one-on-one, creatively and systemically. It is systemic. It will take all of us to defeat this man-made design. It is purposefully institutionalized and embedded in American culture. In my work, I push to widen our margins. I write to elevate and integrate my/our stories. I strive to create new and healing structures
What book or film with a female protagonist would you recommend and why? What female author’s, artist’s, or musician’s work would you recommend and why?
Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred captivated me. Dana, the central character, is a 20th Century African-American writer catapulted to pre-civil war times via time-travel. While there, she encounters her ancestors. Dana lives in both worlds. She’s violently torn from the past and the present throughout the novel. This plot resonated with a sense urgency that I understood. Butler investigates the unanswered past through Dana’s time travel. As a poet, I identify. I believe that my work involves time travel, too. My artist statement reflects my process:
My poems percolate from the core –– words born from joy, anger, rage, celebration and sorrow. I pour what burns onto journal pages. These hot-inked scribblings are handwritten epiphanies. They morph into soul-driven manifestos. This drive comes from a deep-seated oceanic need to explore my dismembered lineage. My poem making is a creative way for me to make peace with the many pieces of my disrupted family tree. With this red clay weighted history, I strive to weave beautiful, bold lines speaking unapologetic colloquial anthems. In my poems, I say the unsayable. I am inspired by the unknown multitudes of my ancestry. They stand 10,000 strong at my back. I am a griot, a storyteller, a poet, and a holder of history who works to stitch and sing my heritage back into being. I write to right, while my poems dance and sing on both page and stage.
Musically, I love all of Nina Simone’s work. I especially appreciate "I Put a Spell on You." It puts me in a trance every time. Abbey Lincoln's voice is fierce, yet bolsters me. I would include Cassandra Wilson's jazz and blues to the mix. Her version of "Tupelo Honey" melts me.
Name one woman who has influenced you/ had an impact on you, perhaps as a mentor. Why and how did she impact your life?
I have never met the poet and civil rights activist Jackie Earley, but I heard “1,968 Winters” at a black history program when I was in the fifth grade. This poem, I am sure, made me a poet.
Twenty-seven years later at a panel in a library in Florida, I sat next to Adrian Castro, the author of Blood and Honey. Afterwards he came up to me and said, “Jackie Earley is my next door neighbor. I will go home and tell her how much that poem meant to you.” Not much later, I received a letter in the mail from Jackie Earley. We have been pen pals every since. She wrote the blurb on my second book, Under the Sun:
“This definitely the time to read the poetry of Glenis Redmond. There is a time to read, a time to laugh then say, “My God” and “Oh, wow.” She paints poetic structures of family and plants historical measures to their portraits. This young story woman takes the reader home with her. We walk by the river Soul, from whence we all came. We want to catch her words and arrive in fields of oxygen, fresh air being whipped by another generation of strong African-American writers. Glenis gives birth to humor with poems like “Poetic Fate”: You will laugh out loud with the daughter “solving for the unknown” contrasted with the mother writing “because of the unknown.” The poet takes us with her on her sometimes-painful journey of loves’ recapitulation. The poet labors, yet it is the reader who profits."
This Fall I worked in Mansfield and Wooster, Ohio. I happened to text Jackie. She happened to be in Ohio. We did not meet, as we were still parted by many miles. We talked for hours on the phone. I told her, everywhere I turn in Ohio there is a plaque honoring Johnny Appleseed. Jackie quipped, “Remember the poets are the Johnny and Jane Appleseeds. We take the seed of poetry and spread it wherever we go. Because of us, orchards sprout poems and poets.” This woman has saved my life through poetry. She keeps saving it through her wit and wisdom.
This was a full-circle moment. I believe I keep having these moments because I have chosen to surround myself with fierce women who have encouraged me to bloom without apologies.
Glenis Redmond travels nationally and internationally reading and teaching poetryso much that she has earned the title, Road Warrior Poet. She has posts as the Poet-in-Residence at The Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, and also at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. During February 2016, at the request of U.S. State Department for their Speaker's Bureau, Glenis traveled to Muscat, Oman, to teach a series of poetry workshops and perform poetry for Black History Month.
In 2014-16, Glenis served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poet's Program to prepare students to read at the Library of Congress, the Department of Education, and for First Lady Michelle Obama at The White House. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow, a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient, and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. She also helped create the first Writer-in-Residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina.
Glenis believes that poetry is a healer, and she can be found in the trenches across the world applying pressure to those in need, one poem at a time.
Visit Glenis at www.glenisredmond.com