Today was a good day–ICE CUBE
For those of you who don’t know, I’m not just a blogger trying to get a magazine off the ground. I am also a performance poet and author of short fiction. I love what I do, I love talking to others about what I do. Particularly if they are like-minded individuals who create substance from nothing.
For the poets who take their craft seriously, your word is your life. The act of writing, spitting, slamming, etc.–It is why you call your self a poet. It’s intoxicating. It’s not just venting; it is liberating.
Over the weekend, I put out a call on Facebook for poets who lived in or near my area and wanted exposure to allow me to interview them for UWMagazine. The first poet to answer that call was a young lady by the name of Earth Talinna Witbey, from Racine, WI. When we spoke over the phone, I heard echoes of my own life. I couldn’t wait to meet her and talk about our mutual affliction of wordcraft and poetry.
We agreed to meet at a coffee shop in Gurnee, IL at 9:00 on a Monday. And for twenty minutes, we spoke candidly about our experiences (many of which mirrored each others).
JNHarris: Let’s discuss being a poet and being a writer at large. Earth how are you feeling today?
Earth Talinna Witbey: I feel amazing and blessed. I’m just super excited to be here.
JNHarris: Earth, I started writing off and on when I was younger. I started writing plays and I’d put my classmates in different roles. And it was fun for a second, but I quit doing it because I had low self-esteem and I never thought anyone would want to hear my word let alone read my words. But, how old were you when you started?
Earth Talinna Witbey: I was 13 when I first started writing poetry. And it started like, I had a really rough childhood and I never had anyone to talk to and no one ever asked me how I felt about different things that I had seen growing up. My mom was on drugs; I witnessed her being beaten. I witnessed her getting addicted to drugs. And all this–it created a ball of fire within myself.
My grandparents–they actually raised me. I moved in with my grandparents when I was like 9, 10 years old and they never asked me what I saw or how I felt or about different things that me and my sister went through. And that bothered me, because I wanted to share; I wanted to get it out because I was hurt. But, no one–I never had anyone to talk to, so I would just write about it. And, at first, I would just write about my feelings and then, I started writing about my feeling and making it rhyme. And then I was like, maybe I should just turn this into poetry.
So, I had notebooks full of poetry from age 13 all the way up and I never shared it. I never spoke it with no one. I just kept it. Like, it was just a way for me to get out my feelings. And then, one day when I was like 25, God was telling me ‘you need to share this with people. There’s other kids that feel this way and experience certain things. That don’t have no one to talk to and they also don’t have a voice’.
And I’m very shy, but I’m also like very strong and courageous. So I was like: I’m going to be the voice. I have to do this. I was always the kid the in classroom where if something needed to be done and the teacher would call on a volunteer, and no one would do it, I be like, I’ll do it. And that’s kind of how I felt when it was my first started performing, I’ll be the first one to stand up and speak about this and share my truth and be the one to open that door so kids can have someone to talk to.
JNHarris: Now, your first time performing, take us to that moment. Your first time on stage. What was that like for you? You said that you are very shy and that you are also very courageous but going on stage, like for me, I just did it to be doing it. At first. I didn’t think I’d get applause, I didn’t think anyone would care. And truth be known, I am my own worst critic but I am not the best poet out there. I know this, and I keep this fact in my head constantly. I sucked in the beginning. I totally sucked. And a lot of things I said were for shock value. But, you had a purpose behind yours. So, take us through that moment.
Earth Talinna Witbey: The first time I went on stage, I was 25 (years old). So, could you imagine you (are writing) at 13 and the first time you are speaking your words you are 25? And like I said I was very courageous–I entered a slam.
Who, like what poet do you know, that the first time they are going on stage, they enter a poetry slam? So, I went to a slam and I got up there and I actually missed a big chunk of my poem because I was so nervous. But, I did really good. I actually made it to the second round. I mean, I didn’t win, but I made it to the second round. I got a really good response from the crowd. I got a really good score from the judges. And I had a lot of people come up to me and embrace me. They really loved what I had to say.
But then that made me realize, like I don’t have to enter a slam, because to me when you enter a slam it is all about competition. To me, poetry is not about competing. Like we all have different truths, we all write differently. We all have different styles. So, I don’t have to compare my poetry to someone else’s. I just want to be heard. That’s it, that’s all. So, now I don’t do slams, I don’t do any type of competitions . I just want to be heard, so I just do open mics now.
It was amazing. Like, the feeling of just having everybody direct their attention and their energy to you. It’s a lot of energy, and in the beginning, I didn’t know how to receive that energy. It was just making me really nervous. And so one day, I actually got to open up at a comedy show with Pierre from Def Jams How to Be a Player. And there was a female comedienne on that show too. And I opened up the show and I was really nervous. And I was like, I’m so nervous, I just don’t know what to do. She said: You are not nervous. You are excited. Now, this is how you use this energy. When you receive the energy, instead of thinking that you are nervous, think that you are excited. And, then that way when you go on stage you can make your way through instead of stumbling over your words. You are not nervous, you are excited!
JNHarris: I have found that there are a lot of pitfalls and traps doing poetry. When I started doing poetry (performing), I thought I would be dealing with intelligent people. Joining revolutionary groups and being a righteous beacon for the cause or whatever cause may come–But at the end of the day it is about you. You are putting yourself out there. You are your brand. And if your name is on it, that ups the ante, that ups the responsibility, and that ups the accountability. And I won’t say any names because that would be wrong but I have had a lot of negative experiences dealing with people in poetry.
Earth Talinna Witbey: I have had a negative experience. I have a good friend. his name is Kevin “Keval the Genius” and he had an open mic series called POETENTIARY. For each series that he did, he had a 15 minute spotlight for local artists. And one month, I was the local artist, I had the 15 minutes. And I’m up there, I’m doing my thing and there was a woman who was there and she had gotten really intoxicated. She was interrupting me the entire time I was up there trying to share my poetry. And we had to actually have her escorted out the building because she was distracting the crowd from what I was saying. It just so crazy how it all worked out.
The building that he actually had the event in, he (Kevin) couldn’t have it there. So, there was like two days before my event that he had to find another location— But the location that he changed it to was actually more fitting for me. It was more comforting, it had candles everywhere. It smelled good. The energy was positive, it was uplifting. It was like real homie. And like, that’s my style. I’m Earth. I like to be grounded, I like to be present in the moment. But, I want people to feel comfortable and just take the journey with me. I want my words to paint a picture in their minds. So, he actually chose a really good location for me, for my 15 minutes. And I was the only person that got to perform in that setting. So it actually worked out for me. I just had that one person. You know, with everything good there is some bad. And she was my bad in that situation, but we removed it right away. And it ended up turning out really, really good. I had a really good crowd to come out. I was just so honored that so many people wanted to hear me.
You know, when I go on stage, I’m still that 13-year-old girl who don’t have nobody to talk to. So, like even now, sometimes when I perform I cry because just channeling all that energy from being a kid, and it’s like energy that’d been bottled up. So, sometimes I feel just like a Coke. Like I’ve been shaken up for so long, and now that I got a chance to open up, I explode. I’m just overwhelmed with emotions and everything is just flowing out.
JNHarris: My experience on stage started at a comedy club. And I was hosting my own open mic at that comedy club. The owner and I got close, she did some real dirty things, like taking a credit card out my name and spending over $10,000 on it. And I had people calling me up, bill collectors, telling me that I owned the club and that I was going to get thrown in jail. And it was a hectic year, I ended up in the hospital with a complete and total psychological breakdown.
Earth Talinna Witbey: That would have hurt me too. Especially when you are good to people, and You know you have an honest heart and you are pure and your intentions are pure. And then, you have people come around and do something like that. That’s very, very hurtful. But the one thing I’ve learned about life is you have to have those moments. Because those moments make you who you are and it makes you stronger. And you learn from it. As long as you learn from it and you are able to grow and evolve from it, then you will always have the upper hand. Because her karma is going to have to come back around. You know, she is going to have to pay for that. You don’t do people who have a pure heart–you don’t do that to them.
JNHarris: Yeah, well. When I was in the hospital, I started working on my first book. And that come out maybe a couple of years after I got out. So I kept going. And it was a moderate success. Years later, I’m on my 5th book and this year it’s winning the BCALA Black Caucus of the American Library Association best EBOOK by a self published black author for 2017. So I can’t say I am the best poet but I can definitely say I’m not the worst anymore. So I continued to work on my craft. You are only as good as your last poem is my opinion. And I was wondering if you felt the same way or how you felt about that statement.
Earth Talinna Witbey: Yeah. And that’s one thing that I’ve learned. Because I lived in Texas for ten years. When I first moved to Texas right after high school, because I just had to get away from my home town because all the memories from my childhood–they weren’t good. You know. I always said that when I graduated I was going to get away from here. So when I graduated I moved to Texas, but when I moved there it was so new to me that I actually had writer’s block for like five years the whole time I was there.
The first five years I had writer’s block because I was just trying to figure myself out; I was trying to find God and find myself and I ended up finding God in myself and finding myself in God. And once I had that breakthrough–one night I was sitting there and I was just crying so hard, and I wasn’t sad anymore. I was actually happy that I was able to overcome a lot of things I had went through as a child. And as I was crying, I heard my higher self say write this down.
So, I pulled out a notebook and I’m like sitting there writing down everything that was flowing through my mind and my heart. And I ended up coming out with one of what I feel is my best poems and it came from me having an emotional breakthrough. And I didn’t even know what the poem said because I was crying so hard. I was just writing what I was told to write. And I actually didn’t read the poem until two or three days later. And when I read it I was like wow! Like I wrote this? These are my words? These are my feelings? This is amazing! And then I shared it with a friend and he was so excited that he had me share it with it his friends and then everybody was like you need to do an open mic. And I was like oh my God I have never performed before, but that is what lead me to enter the poetry slam and do my first performance. And even now, I am 28 and this was like three or four years ago.
So my writing style is very versatile. I also write from what I experience through my friends and through my family members. They say, a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. So, I have the ability to experience things through other people. So sometimes when I write, it don’t even be for me. It be for things that I have seen people go through. But, then sometimes when I write for myself, I’ll notice it will be a completely different style of writing. So, I actually have different types of poems, and depending what type of event I am doing I’ll perform whatever poem fits for that crowd. I’m just thankful to have that ability.
JNHarris: I don’t have that ability. I find inspiration in mundane things. Something I see on the news, etc. The last poem I wrote was a letter to Rachel Dolezal. So, anything that makes me upset is what I write about. Just stupid stuff. But, they are good poems. Some of it is not stupid stuff. At the end of the day, it is not as personal or as empathic as writing from someone else’s experience. I can’t get in that mind frame I can’t walk in some else’s shoes. And part of me doesn’t want to.
Earth Talinna Witbey: Well, I’m a reader. I read people. So it’s real easy for me to pick up on people’s emotions. Like, if they are telling me there story, I can feel them, I can place myself in that situation. Like I remember one time I actually did I reading for this lady, and as I’m doing her reading, I’m telling her what I see, what I feel, I could feel that she wanted to cry. But, she wouldn’t release her tears and I was the one who was actually crying. Like I channeled her sorrow, and I’m balling while I’m doing her reading. I made it through the reading but I was just crying so hard because it was everything that she wanted to release, but it came through me instead. But, I was just–I felt that it was an honor to be able to do that. That’s a gift that God gave me. And if I could use that to heal the people around me, then I’m going to do that.
Because I never had anyone to be that for me. When I was like a child, I needed that. I always held in my tears. Like the past three or four years of my life, I literally cried everyday. Sometimes it could be because I’m sad, sometimes I’m angry, sometimes I’m frustrated, sometimes I’m happy , or sometimes I’m excited. Somehow, I learned to not keep it in and just to release it. It’s easier to release it. Because you don’t want to walk around with all these built up energy or built up emotions, that makes you heavy. I don’t want to be heavy, I want to be light. Because I want to be able to fly. When my grandparents raised me, they would say, Linna is going to grow wings to fly away from here. And as a kid, I didn’t really receive what they were saying. I just thought that they were saying that because I really loved chicken, that was like the only meat I would really eat was chicken. But really what they were doing was speaking to my spirit. They were feeding my spirit.
And when I got older–anytime I’m sad, or anytime I doing something new — I can hear them say: “Linna is going to grow wings and fly away from here.” So anytime I’m feeling heavy, I remind myself of that. I need to be light. Whether they be good things or bad things, I need to release them.
Well, I can definitely say that I learned a lot from Earth Talinna Witbey. I learned that overcoming adversity is just as big of a challenge as overcoming one’s self.
There is always a personal story behind the poetry. And for Earth and myself, there is much more to come. Right now, Earth Talinna Witbey is working on a poetry mixtape. She also has her own business in Racine, Wisconson, called EARTH HEALS located at 999 Ascension Dr.
You can find out more about EARTH HEALS here.
As for me, my books are available on my Author Page on Amazon here.
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this post and I look forward to posting more.
Stay Tuned, and as always, #writemore #domore.