Poet and author Bri Blue took to the Another Type of Groove (ATOG) stage this month to add to ATOG’s, HERstory series.
Blue is a written and spoken-word poet from Berkeley with three published books of poetry to her name. She was named Best Female Spoken Word Artist in the 2014 and 2015 Bay Area Black Music Awards, and named the Most Inspiring Writer in the Bay Area in the 2014 H.O.P.E. Awards, according to Blue’s website.
She also recently launched her Unapologetically You campaign to “empower, inspire and uplift women from all walks of life whom have ever found themselves unsure of their value, worth or purpose,” according to her website.
The following is a Q&A with Blue, which has been edited for space and clarity.
MN: What’s the last book you read?
BB: Oh, boy. What is the last book I read? I’m a reader too, and I haven’t had any time. I’ve been re-reading, you could say, “48 Laws of Power,” at the insistence of my husband. And trying to actually get something from it other than just reading it; trying to apply it … to the journey that I’m currently on, creatively and artistically. And taking it away from just being about poetry and actually learning what it means to have power in words, both written and spoken.
It’s pretty intense.
MN: How did you start creating poetry?
BB: Let’s see — I wrote my first poem in the eighth grade, and my teacher accused me of plagiarism. It was the oddest thing, I guess, because people didn’t think I could do that kind of thing.
I went to a predominantly white prep school for junior high, and she said: “There’s no way someone like you could have written a poem like that.”
So, for me, it took off from there. I kept writing after that. I performed for the first time when I graduated from high school, and then I started performing publicly in college. So 2001, I guess you could say, was my jump-off.
MN: How do you write a poem?
BB: I write when I’m going through it. I, unfortunately, am not one of those people who can write during happy times. Maybe I’m too busy enjoying the happy times.
When I’m feeling at my lowest, between a rock and hard place, and don’t know how to bring myself out of it without some outside force, I have to write. I write when there’s something happening to people close to me, or around me, that make me feel like if I’m silent, then I’m a part of the problem.
Those are the times that I write, because those are the times that I’m most passionate.
MN: How would you explain what your poetry is about to someone who’s never heard it before?
BB: I’ve come across a lot of those people. I always say I’m not a stereotypical poet. I don’t write about the birds and trees, and I don’t expect snaps and incense burning or the things you hear associated with spoken word and with poetry.
I tell people I’m the type of poet who writes about what is. About what is unpopular. What is best left unspoken by a lot of people. What is uncomfortable for some. What is necessary to say, but not often said. I’m the poet that will make you think, and make you upset about the fact that you have to think sometimes. But you’ll remember it, and it’ll stick in your mind, and you’ll relate in some shape or form.
I guess you could say I am what people would never expect a poet to look like.
MN: What inspiration do you draw from other poets?
BB: One of the things I think I lacked when I started out was reading other people. I didn’t learn my craft the way that I needed to.
But now, I joined my first slam team last year, so I was on the Oakland Slam Poetry Team, and I had never slammed before. And I watched these people … and I was like, “This is a whole other world!”
I had never been exposed to the competition side of poetry and the people who are able to get that passion out in three minutes.
When I first started out, Scorpio Blues … was someone I was immediately drawn to. She was speaking with a voice that I could only hope to get at some point. Mahogany Browne … she’s phenomenal. She’s won all kinds of awards from the city, from the community — she’s jump-started people’s careers.
My husband — he’s a better writer than I am. He’s a much more profound and prolific writer. But he doesn’t have the passion behind it. So, for him, he’ll write hundreds of pieces and it’d be the rawest stuff I’ve ever heard. And then he’ll put it in a notebook and nobody will hear it.
And I’ll be like, “Dude! Can you be my ghost writer?”
I get a lot of my inspiration from him. Because I see that other side of it — the side where you’re really just writing for you. And I didn’t get how that could resonate with someone else. So it inspires me to push.
MN: How has your idea of poetry changed since you started?
BB: Man. I didn’t know poetry could be fun.
But I also didn’t know that poetry is cutthroat. Especially the slam scene. It’s reminiscent of the music scene and entertainment all around. I didn’t view poetry as entertaining like that before.
I think everybody will give the cliche: “It’s healing, it’s therapeutic, it’s putting your soul out on paper.”
I didn’t know it was a genre of its own, so completely widespread, that it was exciting to me. I used to be an athlete — I was a basketball player. So, for me, that camaraderie, that teamwork, that coming together and being on display and performing was — I lived for that.
Being able to see that in poetry? I was like: I can really do this! And I can have fun with it, but still get my point across. And meet other people who have the same level of passion and drive that I do. And I never would have imagined that in high school.
I always say I’m not just another poet. I have a lot of higher ambitions. But poetry has been a stepping stone to where it is I’m trying to go.
MN: What did you think of the student performers?
BB: I was actually quite surprised! You never know what to expect at an open mic. I’ve been to so many open mics that some, you just end up tuning out.
But there were some people up there who I said, “She’s a fantastic writer.”
Like, I can hear the writing in what she said. It wasn’t just the performance aspect.
And the guy who got up there — Paul. The fact that, especially with men, they get up there and express themselves so candidly, it’s not expected. Men aren’t supposed to display emotion. Especially if they’re not considered weak.
The young lady — she was one of the last poets who went up — was phenomenal. Because I know how it feels to get up and say things that you know you can be ostracized for in any other environment. And to be comfortable enough with yourself … to be like, “This is me. And this is who I love and what I love, and I don’t give a shit whether you appreciate it or respect it or approve of it. I am comfortable with that.” That was commendable to me.
I love the fact that so many of the artists who got up there tonight were unapologetically them. And it resonated with me. It made me feel like I was in the right place at the right time.