Poet, Student, Intern – Me!

silly dress clothes

The most serious, dapper-est of selfies.

This summer, I’m curating the Poetry at 1600 Feet series for CMF. Carolyn asked me to do it since she knows I’m a writer myself, and later insisted that I be a featured poet. I was shocked, but of course immediately agreed. I do a lot of marketing and social media work for the Foundation, so I’m always doing interviews and articles; naturally it follows that I would do something similar to promote the series. Then again, if I’m the subject, who would interview me? My awesome mentor Carolyn jumped in once again, told me to do a self-interview, and, well. You be the judge of how that went.

How did you get into poetry and art?

Honestly, I have no idea. Art classes are required in school when you’re younger, so maybe that kind of stuck with me. My art teacher in Selden Middle School, Ms. Hughes I think was her name, was awesome. I always went to the art room during lunch to help her with projects. As for poetry, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t writing something. I used to write really, really bad songs in Elementary school. Unfortunately I remember those quite vividly.

What introduced you to spoken word?

I can tell you exactly how this one happened: Selden [Middle School] had a club run by the English teachers, called “Who I Am.” It was an after school club that was basically for self expression; people would be drawing, playing instruments, writing poetry, anything creative. At the end of each meeting we could present whatever we had been working on, and lots of us wrote poetry. Ruth O’Shea was my English teacher and co-founder of the club, and she said to us one day, “You guys should think more about how you’re presenting. You’re performing your poetry, not just reading it.” She sent us home on a mission to look up Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make,” and from the moment I watched that video, I was done for. That poem was put up online eight years ago, and people still talk about it. That teacher, that club, and that poem, those three things changed my life. That was the first place I felt I truly belonged, and it inspired me to create a similar club in Gilboa-Conesville High School.

Where do you find inspiration?

Literally everywhere – give me an idea, a sentence, a picture, or a word, and I’ll usually want to write about it. I make connections in very different ways than most people do, I think. There’s beauty and poetry and art in everything, and I find it sad that sometimes people struggle to see that. You just have to look deeper. For example, I used to drink hot chocolate or tea every morning before getting on the bus. My dad woke up way earlier than me, so he would put the water on the stove so I didn’t have to wait for it to boil. I could just get up and make my tea. I don’t think many people would see the incredible amount of love I see in that, because by looking a little deeper I’ve also found that my dad will never, ever say no if you ask him for a grilled cheese sandwich. Dad shows his love through food. There are so many little things that people do that are heartfelt and beautiful. There are little things about your surroundings, too: I love driving down Warren Street in Hudson at dusk, because the sun is going down, the streetlights come on, people are milling about. Something about that really moves me, and other people just see the stoplight turning green. I’m also really inspired by the people close to me, and their experiences. I write about my friends a lot.

so i will remain the mysterious girl

An example of “Flarf”

Are you exclusively a poet?

I’m sort of a widespread artist, I just like to do anything creative in general. I mainly write poetry, but sometimes I’ll write music or songs. I take a lot of pictures to make into Flarf, which I like to think of as a form of Alternative Literature…but you’ll have to come to my workshop to learn about that! I draw on my returned homework assignments all the time. That being said, I don’t think doodling is a widely recognized artform, but it should be.

Is this how you’ll make a living?

Yes and no. This is my passion, but I’ve always wanted to tangibly help people, so I really want to be in the NYPD. A lot of people think I’m crazy for it. “You want to be a cop in the city? Do you know how dangerous that is?” I know that it’s dangerous, but it’s necessary. I love the concept of community policing and foot patrol, and that’s huge in New York. I dont’ want to fight crime, I want to stop it before it starts. I also love the city itself; it’s filled to the brim with art and music and everything I’m passionate about. Right now I’m almost done with an Associates degree in criminal justice, and the plan is to transfer after graduation and get a bachelor’s in criminology. Hopefully when I transfer I’ll be able to minor in theatre.

Do you have a catchphrase, or a motto?

My catch phrase is probably “I got you.” My motto is pretty simple; “You do you.” So basically you do you, and I’ll do me, and we’ll all be alright. Just coexist. People are so judgemental sometimes, we just need to learn to let people do what makes them happy if they’re not hurting anyone.

What would you say to young poets like yourself?

Don’t ever stop. Read all different kinds of poetry. Read novels. Don’t get discouraged. Go to opening receptions at art galleries (lots of times they have free food, and the art is great, too). Go to slams. Experience as much as possible. Beware of closed minds. You are your own limitations; you are the box. Look into yourself, think outside of yourself. Don’t ever restrict yourself creatively. Be true to your box.

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photo by Jo Arroyo

Sometimes people can be really condescending towards our generation, so always remember that you are a person, too. You are just as important as anyone and you are capable of so much. Keep on going, no matter what you do with your work. You just have to keep going, and growing, and learning.

On August 8th I’ll be hosting a workshop and performance, as the next featured poet in the Poetry At 1600 Feet series. Come on down and learn about Flarf, listen to some poetry, and even perform your own piece. Call 518-263-2030 or email uhaldem@catskillmtn.org to reserve a seat (walk-ins are fine, too) or for more info. See you there!

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