BrassyBrown.com chats with NOLA Spoken Word Artist FreeQuency for National Poetry Month. FreeQuency AKA Mwende Katwiwa was born in Kenya.
1) How have you been celebrating National Poetry Month?
I’ve been celebrating National Poetry Month by taking part in the 30 day/30 poems challenge, but it’s hard! April is usually a really busy month for me as a college student since classes are ending and finals are starting, so I write every day. But I don’t get to spend time editing and perfecting each poem. As a poet, I have real reservations about putting out work that’s not complete, or at least, complete enough to be tested against an audience to receive feedback, so I only end up posting a few working drafts or short pieces on my blog during the month. I enjoy the 30/30 challenge, though, because it allows me to explore the different ideas that have been floating around in my mind that I probably would not have gotten to if I wasn’t writing a new poem every day.
2) How long have you been writing poetry?
I started writing poetry at the end of middle school, but I’ve been writing since I was a child. Back then, I was more into creative storytelling, and I think elements of that carried itself over when I made the transition into poetry. I joined a youth social justice arts initiative called Project 2050 that allowed me to develop my understanding of art as a tool of critical resistance and explore how spoken word poetry can be used as a tool for activism and telling counter-narratives, and that’s when I began to consider myself a spoken word artist. I wrote throughout high school, but when I entered college I took some time away from poetry to focus on getting my degree. Towards the end of my junior year in college last April, I stepped out into the local poetry scene in NOLA and have been an active part of it since.
3) What have you learned about yourself from your SLAM experiences?
I actually don’t have much SLAM experience. Over the last five years, I’ve only done a few slams here and there in New Orleans and D.C. Last fall was when I went to my first regional SLAM, the Texas Grand SLAM where I made it to the second round of the finals stage. This year, I was fortunate to make Team Slam New Orleans (Team SNO) and be their representative for the Women of the World Poetry SLAM where I placed 16th overall out of 72. What I’ve learned from these SLAMS has been the importance of remembering why I write and why I put myself on a stage. It’s not to get a 10 or to win some accolade; it’s to get my message out to a larger audience. Even if I don’t win or advance to the next round, it’s important to honor that I shared my work with people, especially if it had an impact on them.
4) I’ve experienced sexism as a poet. Do you think women poets have challenges in performance poetry that men don’t experience?
Yes, I do. I think because we live in an inherently patriarchal society, women will always have to face additional challenges no matter what it is they are engaging in when compared to their male counterparts. I’ve noticed outside of the poetry community that audiences aren’t immediately ready to accept that a woman can demand so much space and attention on the mic with her words. Internally, there are times when I’ve been in shows that I’ve heard men do what I viewed as incredibly sexist or inappropriate poetry, given their identities, thinking they are empowering women. Learning how to navigate these situations has been the biggest gender challenge that I’ve faced so far in poetry.
5) What’s your goal as a poet?
My goal as a poet is to have my work reach as many people as possible. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. There are some poems that I write that I choose not to share on the stage. Those poems are written with different goals in mind, and those goals are often personal and achieved through the process of writing. But beyond the personal goals I set in my poetry, reaching others and having it speak truth to them.