I wasn’t a spoken word artist. The words moved out of me with a tangible rush as I read, but as much as I loved vowels I didn’t stretch them out over my tongue and colorfully use my hands and body while I read. I wrote poems we writers call “for the page,” about childhood, the color green, riding on the bus, or a tree that fell outside my dorm during a storm. I sat in the crowds of spoken word events, marveling at the performers that entered the stage, bravely and confidently commanding the room.
By the time I entered my first poetry workshop, I was in emotional recovery as stated in an earlier post. It was fall and while I was still struggling, I looked forward to every class. I’d wait for my poetry class on a bench outside the building for as long as an hour. I wanted every drop I could squeeze from it. My instructor was Abraham Smith, a fierce-eyed man so in love with poetry it left one with no doubt of its importance in the world. Abe was a poetry-zealot. Everything he wrote, from our class assignments to an email, appeared in poetic form. He even spoke poetry. I soaked it all in. How blessed I am that he was my first poetry instructor.
When the class was over, Abe offered to continue responding to my poems. I would put a poem in his box every week or so, and he’d put it back in his box with comments. Then, I didn’t understand what a sacrifice that was of his time. (I thanked him, of course, but I had no idea.) By spring semester I was taking my second poetry class with Joyelle McSweeney, and a fiction writing class with Maraya Cornell. Maraya was aware of my interest in poetry, and she nominated me for a departmental writing prize. Imagine my astonishment when a few weeks later I received an email that read: “Congratulations: Best Undergraduate Creative Writer.” And a few minutes after that, “Best Undergraduate Poet.” I couldn’t believe it! The University of Alabama’s Creative Writing faculty had awarded my poetry two significant prizes in one day.