Your Poem is Yours First: An Interview with Kwamesha Joseph, FCRH '18

This spring Kwamesha Joseph (FCRH '18) represented Fordham at the historic Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition at Mt. Holyoke. We're pleased to feature an interview with Kwamesha and her poem "Lemonade."

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Fordham was so pleased to feature you as our representative at the Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition at Mt. Holyoke. What was the experience like for you?

It was amazing! When I first received the email that I was nominated to represent Fordham, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  It was probably one of the most emotional moments I’ve had in a long while, because the nomination came at a time when I was beginning to doubt my talents.  Being chosen to represent Fordham at the Glascock Intercollegiate Poetry Competition was a unique opportunity for me to hone my voice as a poet, and to present it in a space that was completely unfamiliar. Upon arriving at Mt. Holyoke college, I saw a magnificent photo exhibit of poets who had competed in the same competition many years ago, and who have gone on to become some of the most distinguished writers in the world. Beyond that, I was given such valuable feedback on my work from Ronaldo V. Wilson, Ari Banias, and Marilyn Chin, and I met some extremely talented contestants with whom I still communicate today. What struck me the most, though, was that I felt a connection with the audience that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, and it was at that moment that I realized that I found my voice. I believed in my poems, and my message touched other people. I’ll never forget my experience.  I appreciated every single moment of it.

What books have been an inspiration to you? Why?

Robin Coste Lewis’ book Voyage of the Sable Venus is a collection that I’ve been unable to put down recently. I’ve read it cover to cover maybe nine times since I was introduced to it during the fall semester, and each time I read it, I walk away with a different experience.  I think what inspires me the most about Voyage is that it is such an open and eloquent rejection of the kinds of images that have been projected onto black women.  Voyage is extremely unapologetic, and as a young black woman, who is on my own journey to celebrating black beauty that is too often hidden behind those projected images, I simply cannot put that book down.  I’ve also been following a poet, who is around my age, for quite some time now. Her name is Kai Davis. She published a chapbook called The Falling Action that I’ve fallen in love with. Kai Davis is so centered in her identity as a queer black woman, but she gives readers snippets of vulnerability when she asks God questions like, “If I was created in your image, then why do I look so ugly this morning.” The Falling Action is a chapbook that I would definitely recommend adding to your summer reading list.

What advice do you have for students who want to take poetry writing seriously?

One of the most important things I’ve learned about poetry writing is that while you will share your work with others, your poem is yours first, and it will always belong to you.  As cliché as it may sound, it is tremendously important to be true to yourself.  Do not stifle your creativity by assuming that your poetry needs to be like everyone else’s in order to be good. Engaging with your audience is important, but in the initial stages of your poem, the audience does not matter. The only things that matter are you, your experiences, your passion, and your poem.  Second, do not be afraid to say what needs to be said. There is something special about being uncomfortable, both on the part of the poet, and of the audience. When you are uncomfortable, you are forced to think about why that is, and what needs to change to avoid experiencing that feeling again. I truly believe that anything that encourages that kind of self-reflection is authentically beautiful poetry. Lastly, do not stop writing!

 

Lemonade

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is often characterized
as the visual album that got all black women into
Formation.
But when I hear the title alone it conjures up
Memories.
Vivid visuals from my childhood,
And lemons,
And I cry.
And like alcohol on a sordid scrape
Or tight jeans on sunburned flesh,
My silent tears sting this skin I slink in.
She still smells like the sour lemons I used to try to bleach her.
It’s as if the citric acid has sunk into the small pores of this body,
And settled into my bloodstream in search of the genes that confess my
Blackness.
To war with its resilience.
But this skin taunts,
Don’t Hurt Yourself.
And watches the acid dry until she can make Sandcastles
From its unsuccessful remains.
So I agree.
Despite everyone’s focus on
Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s spilled tea,
Lemonade is meant to be celebrated.
I no longer use those lemons, but I love Lemonade,
It’s a refreshing sip of songs I cannot silence.
I sip and I am reminded that though this skin is
Weary, she won’t wear off.
She is confident and unapologetic,
She holds me closer than the clothes on my back,
But she does not suffocate me.
So as long as I am breathing I will sing at the top of my lungs,
I Ain’t Sorry!