Take 5: Staceyann Chin

Nairobi 2014
Nairobi 2014

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every encounter with the Jamaican poet, Staceyann Chin. She is provocative, funny, candid and insightful. She has an overwhelming sense of humanity and that has always left an impression on me. A deep impression. Her spoken word performances are riveting and enlightening. I found it a privilege listening to her share a world that I feel us men don’t get enough insight into, that of a woman’s world.

S: Favourite poem and poets?
Staceyann: That is a crazy question! I have many poems, but I feel in love with a poem when I was young by T.S Eliot called, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock; Lorna Godison’s poems are amazing! There is bunch of other poems too. When it comes to poets, it’s the same issue. I have many poets whom I like. There’s a small weird looking white boy called Tony Hogland, South African Keorapetse Kgositsile I love his work and it is deeply moving. Amiri Bakara, Lucille Clifton. There are so many. It is hard to single out a poet or poem.

S: Tell me about the journey of poetry for you?
Staceyann: You know I studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths, but I found they weren’t inspiring me. I was reading a lot on the side –  poetry and literature. Then I went to university to study philosophy and literature and that is where I kinda feel in love with the work. I thought of myself more of a critic than a poet. So, for a long time I was more of a critic. But when I was forced to move to America, the spoken word spoke to my situation and helped me address what I was feeling. I needed to say things. For instance, the pain of missing Jamaica, not being accepted, being far from home, being a lesbian, being a woman, being an abandoned child, being black in a place that isn’t black. This was my window into writing poetry.

S: There are times that your poetry comes from an angry place. Would I be right in saying that?

Staceyann: Anger has a lot of fuel and so when one is angry you don’t need a lot of motivation to move. All you need to do is to light the anger and you are airborne. When you are angry you are already naked. It is less introspective as the emotion is already there.

S: What poetry do you enjoy most writing about?
Staceyann: I love writing about things that I am experiencing in the moment. It allows me to deconstruct how I feel. It helps me makes sense and to understand the things that are making me feel senseless. It helps me make a path forward. Plus, it gives me a road map.

S: Has being a mother changed your poetry?
Staceyann: I don’t know whether it’s changed my poetry, but it’s certainly changed my perspective. It’s inspired me to be more honest. On one hand, it matters to me now how Zuri will look at my work in future and on the other it won’t be a bad thing for her to see the truth behind my work. Before she arrived I was pretty certain about what I was talking about and where I was headed. Surprisingly, I didn’t expect to be deeply moved by the direction she has inspired in me. She has shown me how much I don’t know and shown me how I much I can learn from people who’ve just been born. I’m learning from her! Furthermore, one stage during my performances, I am now a more textured being. I’ve more joy. Previously, I’d been jaded and brutalised by the activism and now I can be both be happy and still be an activist.

I must admit, I’ve less time to write now. Before, I could wake up in the middle of the night and write on the thoughts that were giving me sleepless nights and then go back to sleep later. I could live a very charmed writer’s life. Now when she falls asleep for a few hours, I’ve got to get a poem out of me (laughs). I’m therefore learning to hold onto inspiration now and access parts of me that happened either the previous night or the previous week.

Staceyann’s critically acclaimed book, The Other Side of Paradise, was released in 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s