We checked in with Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie for more insight into her artistic endeavors.
What are some career highlights of the past year?
Getting to meet students and dedicated educators across the country. I have read poetry and conducted creative writing workshops at universities in Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, and Oklahoma over the last several months. I also visited a high school in Whitehall, New York. These journeys have made me a lot more hopeful about the future. There are talented, creative people who are engaging in making this world a more livable place. I feel as though I have family and allies everywhere. Having a letter I wrote to a young poet published on the HER KIND blog [sponsored by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts] has been really special for me. That is a piece of non-fiction that comes from my heart, and I hope can guide younger poets and remind those of us struggling to be heard why we do this. Getting to be one of the poets who opened for Amiri Baraka when he read at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre was a highlight, too.
What is your creative process?
It starts with a feeling, a song, an event, a longing—a stirring of some sort. Then I sit down and let that stirring come out on the page. I always write poetry by hand first. Then I go back over it. Reading it aloud has become an important part of the editing process (I learned this from hearing the poet Sonia Sanchez talk), and so I read the poem out loud and edit. Then I usually let it simmer in my journal for a while. I’ll go back to look at it days or weeks later and decide whether or not the piece is salvageable. If it is, I’ll type it and edit it some more. Now my process is totally different because I am involved in a thing called 30/30, where I write a poem and share it with a group of poets doing the same thing. Then I just write the poem, type it, and send it out. We are not supposed to edit. Scary stuff on one hand, liberating on the other. Doing 30/30 has shown me that writing is not about inspiration, it is about sitting down and being available, listening to what is already there in you that needs to be written down. It’s about doing the work.
Finding the time to nurture your talent and practice your craft is a challenge amid real world demands. How do you juggle it all?
Ah, balance. I was just telling a group of students I don’t think I have any real balance. I just do my best to be present in whatever it is I am doing. That is the best that I can do. If I am teaching, I am fully present in the classroom. When I am with my daughters, I don’t do schoolwork or spend all my time staring at my phone or the computer, I do my best to truly be with them. My husband and I work together, so we have to be careful not to allow work to dominate our interactions, but we support each other a great deal and laugh together a lot. I read something that said you don’t have balance in a day or month, but you get it over time. So if I spend three days away from home, I’ll spend the weekend with my family. And for part of the summer, I shut the world out. It’s just the family at camp, enjoying life. Oh, I also meditate every day. That has been a critical component of my self-care.
Describe how writing poetry makes you feel.
Writing poetry makes time stop. It feels as though everything outside falls away. Everything is blurry but the poem is clear. I feel very clear after I finish a poem.
What are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to my vacation. Being able to spend time taking care of plants is one of the joys of my year. I am also excited about my upcoming readings and classes in Mississippi and Manhattan, and longer term, collaborating with my best friend Mirlande on a children’s book, and spending time with my fiction and non-fiction.