Ciona Rouse is a poet and author of Vantablack (Third Man Books, 2017). She is also the poetry editor of the literary journal, Wordpeace and cohost of the upcoming Re/Verb podcast from Third Man Books. Her work can be found in Native Magazine, Gabby Journal, Matter: a journal of political poetry and commentary and Talking River. In addition to curating many poetry experiences and workshops in Nashville, she also collaborates with various artists to create multi-disciplinary performances including: The Longest Night with saxophonist Jeff Coffin and composer Jason Shelton at Oz Arts and the Blair House Collective with musician and poet Adia Victoria, plus poet Caroline Randall Williams. Rouse also collaborated with Nick Cave an American fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist in the event, Nick Cave: Feat for the Frist Art Museum. This performance was at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2018, and was recognized as the year's best poetry performance in the Nashville Scene.
What Does Black History Month Mean To You This Year?
Though I've read James Baldwin's essays and poetry before, this is the first year I finally read his fiction. I started with IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, obviously, in anticipation of watching Barry Jenkins's gorgeous film adaptation. My goodness, it's brilliant. I loved literature all of my life and studied it in college, and I can't believe I only now read this quintessential "great American novel." I'm grateful Baldwin's reached a renewed level of popularity that puts his wisdom and craft on our radar more often these days, but I'm sad it's taken me so long to see his great contributions to the canon. This is what Black History Month means to me; it means interrupting the canons of literature, art, music, film. It means questioning the standards in politics, medicine, chemistry, engineering. It means seeing how great contributions across numerous disciplines have so many more shades than what we typically venerate. It's recognizing how resilient my ancestors have been. How bold, how forgiving. How we could have let our ire rule us to destroy but we have let our brilliance and resilience guide us to create a more perfect union. It's a month to remind the nation that there's a "We" at the beginning of the Constitution, and hopefully it can inspire us to keep seeking the "we" throughout the year.
Where Are You Finding Inspiration To Create This Year?
Reading is always one of a poet's major inspirations. I'm reading voices from other parts of the world this year, and it's been pushing me to consider my voice as a member of a larger world family, and also making me think about how much this soil contributes to my voice. It's deep within me--the dirt and grit of the U.S. South. And also I can speak to and resonate with universal experiences. Some of my favorites are Canadian (by way of Trinidad) poet Dionne Brand, who is masterful with language, South Africa's activist and poet Dennis Brutus, New Zealand's James K. Baxter, and Poland's Marta Podgornik. I want voices from everywhere.
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