1. Hello Tawny, Thanks for taking time out to do an interview with us. Tell us a little about yourself- any hobbies outside of writing poetry or activities you enjoy?
I love to cook. Most of my friends love to cook too and we love to eat good food. So if I'm not writing or at a poetry event, I'm probably in my own kitchen or one of my friend's kitchens, cookin up something delicious and getting ready to stuff my face.
I also really enjoy flipping furniture. I have a lust for old, French style pieces and they're usually pretty easy to find at thrift shops. Sometimes when the emotion-work of poetry is too much and I know I need a break from that energy, but also need to stay in motion, I'll pick up an end table or mini dresser, strip it, sand it, paint it and have a new piece to add to my home. I really like getting my hands into things, to take something old and dusty and make it fun and like-new.
2. I recently read your chapbook, Breaking the Barge, and found it to be deeply profound- especially "India". Can you tell me a little bit of the inspiration behind each of the poems you chose to include in the chapbook?
To go into the inspiration behind each of the poems would be a dissertation, haha. But overall, I felt as though Breaking the Barge was a collection of poems that consisted in some way of me breaking out of the shell of my former self, which also meant breaking out of this mold that I felt society was trying to fit me into: what it supposedly means to be young, woman, brown, progressive, hetero, cis, to be a woman in the south but from the north. All of those labels are a waste and trying to live up to those expectations is exhausting. So I stopped.
Each poem was a breakthrough in its creation, in my own awareness of what I had just written. Each poem either pre-empted or was followed by some deep and often heavy self reflection that I had to do, to grow into a stronger version of myself.
Since you mentioned India in particular I will give you a bit more on that one. I studied abroad in 2004, while in college, and visited India for only five days. But those 5 days, and the rest of my trip, were completely life-changing. I had never seen poverty to the degree that I witnessed in India. And particularly child poverty. Much of it haunted me in my sleep while I was there and for years after. I had a very difficult time accepting the reality of what I was exposed to, especially while I was being told by our study abroad staff that we should not give money to the children begging. It was heartbreaking. The poem is practically all true, with very few embellishments. I listened to their advice up until the last day. I just couldn't not give the kids I'd seen every day, nothing. My heart was completely broken and my soul ached knowing that I could help them, but trying to heed the warnings I was given. It was a terrible situation to be in. I still feel regret for not giving more or doing more. They advised us not to give out any money because the said we could end up getting mobbed if more beggars around saw us, they said it was for our safety. And maybe that was true. But I couldn't give nothing on the last day. So I gave them all the money I had left in my travel pouch, which really was just a bunch of coins. They really didn't believe me that I had no more money. And I didn't have any more money, on me. Nor any more Indian money. It was heartbreaking. I went back to my room, washed the soot off my hands and bawled my eyes out. That was 13 years ago, but I remember it vividly and still feel the pain like it was just yesterday.
3. Are you planning to release more poetry or perhaps dabble in other forms of creative writing? If so, can you share what you envision?
I'm sure I will. I think I would like my next project to actually be published by a publisher though. I dont think I want to self-publish another chapbook. It will likely be poetry, or at least include a lot of poetry. I do write some creative nonfiction, mostly short pieces though and some memoirs. It might be a hybrid kind of work. I think that might be really cool to create.
Whatever it is, I plan to approach it intuitively, just kind of feel my way through its creation and growth. I get pretty excited when I think about that process, even though I sort of have no idea what I'm going to do or how I'm going to do it.
4. I understand you've recently vacationed in Cuba- can you share a little of your experience there? Would you visit there again or do you have other destinations in mind in the future?
Hmmmm..y'know, yeah, sure. So I went to Belize and Cuba over Christmas and New Years of 2016. Everyone has asked me about my visit to Cuba and almost no one has asked me about my visit to Belize. I find that kind of funny, but I know Americans are really excited about Cuba now that travel is no longer restricted. So my brother and I stayed just outside of Havana for 3 nights/4 days. We stayed in an Airbnb with a local Cuban family downstairs. Our Cuban family was EVERYTHING. I mean that wholeheartedly. They knew what we would need even before we did. They picked us up at the airport, made us an incredible breakfast, gave us the lowdown on the area surrounding us, got us to and from Old Havana. We would've been lost without them.
Which is to say, I think today, Havana at least seems to be fairly challenging to get around and not get taken advantage of as a tourist. I've been to a lot of unique and less-traveled places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Tanzania - and all 12 years ago. I was surprised and also saddened to the degree that locals first appeared to befriend my brother and I, but then ask for money or expect us to pay for their drinks, or give us a ride home but then charge us an exorbitant amount once we got there.
And I guess I get it. Y'know, travel has been restricted there in a country where income earning potential is drastically limited for the incredible majority of individuals. So, I'm not so mad at it. But it did make for not the best experience as a traveler there.
Belize was amazing, on the other hand. I think everyone should go. The people were really warm and kind, it seemed very safe, lots of fun, lots of love, excellent food, beautiful views. I could go on for days about Belize. I would go back to that country in a heartbeat.
5. Who is your biggest and most respected hero that has had the most influence on you? Why?
My Dad. He's hands-down the most honorable person I have ever known and his integrity is un-shatterable. Pretty sure I just made that word up, but he is deserving of that. I have never looked up to someone so much, nor wanted anyone to be as proud of me as I continue to want him to be, all the time.
The fact that I'm nearly 34 years old and still feel that way about my father, to me, is incredible. As kids I think we often put our parents on a pedestal, because we look up to them so much, kind of like gods. And I think for most of us, at some point our parents fall off, even if its just a little. Which isn't to say we stop admiring them, but we see their human.
My Dad has never fallen off that pedestal. And that never ceases to amaze me.
(sidenote: they say women look for their father's when they look for a husband. My Dad has made finding a partner very, very difficult. He's probably laughing at that now, and smiling at how high the standard has remained. Thanks Dad, lol)
6. I also happen to know that you participate in the National Grand Slam Poetry Contest that happens every year. Could you elaborate a little on what that is for those who might not know? Whose performance poetry have you witnessed at that event that left a strong impression on you and why?
Ahhh.... So its the National Poetry Slam, just for clarification purposes. And I don't compete every year, I've actually only competed at NPS once in 2013, lol. I am though very involved with the slam poetry community nationally, regionally, and locally.
This past year the city of Decatur hosted the National Poetry Slam as a city. I was on that organizing team and organized over 400 volunteers from all over the country alongside one of my best friends, Anisa. It was incredible, exhausting, but very very rewarding.
Poets who I've seen perform who have left a lasting impression on me are:
Just to name a few. I could go on for days about poetry and poets and poet-stuff.
For those interested there are also a couple of other cool national or regional events that may come to a city near you, that I'd recommend:
Southern Fried Poetry Slam
Rustbelt Poetry Slam
Women of the World Poetry Slam
Individual World Poetry Slam
There's a lot of slam stuff going on these days. So there's also likely a slam venue or team or some kind of event in most medium-large cities across the country.
7. Lastly, if there was one thing in the world you'd like to see change, what would it be?
I would like to see people all over the world cultivate and actively practice empathy. A lot of it. I think we need that very desperately today.
Q7 Corner: Author Interviews
A.L.Deleon loves to find and interview authors, Indie or Traditional. This is where you'll find all the details of those interview spotlights. Typically you'll find her asking seven questions of each author featured.