Victoria and her team performing Hot as Shells
Recently, I was lucky enough to present at the NCTE, a conference for English teachers, where I saw three incredibly talented youth spoken word poets perform. I was so inspired that I decided to get in touch with Victoria Smith, a 16 year old poet from Atlanta, so I could interview her. Some of her answers are transcribed, and the full recording is available below.
What drew you towards spoken word poetry and how did you get into it?
“I’ve always loved poetry...I was the age of ten and I saw Alicia Harris, that girl from the 2008 Brave New Voices on HBO and I saw it on YouTube and I was so awestruck at it...I had been writing poems but I didn’t really know how to share them, because I felt that nobody would get them unless I said them out loud. And I didn’t know there was a form of poetry where you could say your poems out loud, you know? So when I saw that I was like I have to get into this...I just thought it was beautiful, that you could make people feel so much within that short span of time with your own words and people felt the same way that I did."
What message do you want people to take away from your work?
“That it’s okay to be sad and to grieve and to not know all the answers. Because my poetry I feel is a very, a puzzle all on its own that I’m trying to solve...and also the people who are listening to them and reading them are also trying to solve in their own sense...It’s okay to not know all the answers and that it’s okay to feel the way that you do, and to feel vulnerable, and to feel like you don’t know how you’re feeling, because in the end, someone will always understand, and even if they don’t understand, at least you will be able to get those thoughts out and at least you’ll be able to analyze them, and hopefully one day you’ll understand them...That it’s okay to be yourself, like, I think that wraps up all that I’m trying to say.”
What inspires you? What gets you out of writer’s block?
“What inspires me are really, my true feelings, and this also goes into to the other question--what gets you out of your writer's’ block...When I have writer’s block it’s mostly because my emotions are very jumbled and I don’t know what to feel, or I’m feeling something and I don’t want to feel it, even though like, I know it’s there, I try to ignore it...And when my emotions are very jumbled I just talk myself through them...I kind of have my own therapeutic sessions with myself and it really helps to bring my emotions out...for me to kind of jumble through and sort all of what I’m feeling so I have a clear, straight path and a clear, straight mind.”
Do you have any tips for poets, both young and old?
“It all really, truly comes from the heart. Like, man, a tip--just do some soul searching. Poetry is not about being perfect or writing the poem to fit this topic or that topic that’s popular in poetry right now, or what’s going to get you the points or what’s going to get you the snaps, or what’s going to get you the call and response and the claps. It’s about what you feel inside, like, if you’re not passionate about it, your poem’s going to suck ass...Poetry is about doing it for a purpose, and if you’re doing it for the wrong purpose, then you basically have no purpose at all for it, you know? Poetry is really about just, saying how you really feel, and it’s, in my eyes, a very sacred form of self-expression...Like, don’t think about anybody else. This is for yourself. Do it.”
Who’s your role model?
“Natalie Cook, for one. She is my coach and somebody that I love to death. I consider her to be what I aspire to be. She’s an amazing woman and just, wow, like that’s all I can say about her half the time, just wow. She accomplishes so much and she’s doing what I want to do, and she’s doing what she loves, and that’s what I want to do, something that I love and not have any regrets about it. Yeah, she just leads a beautiful life and I look up to her and respect her a lot for that...My father, he was human, so he made a lot of bad decisions and a lot of good decisions but the things that he did that he did that were so good--he was a great father and he was a great person and so I really respect him and look up to him a lot.”
Do you have a celebrity crush?
“I mean like, yeah, I think. Chance the Rapper. I kind of like, don’t have celebrity crushes in the sense that--well, yeah, all of them are cute, but I more crush on them and the fact that like, oh my God, their minds are like, just freaking wow. Their minds are gorgeous. Chance the Rapper, FKA Twigs, Princess Nokia. Oh my God, if I ever met that woman in real life I’d faint and die...Oh, Kehlani...That’s all I can think of right now, I’m literally blanking out. It’s like 1:30 in the morning.”
If you would like to get in touch with Victoria, she can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.