What is poetry? What is a poet?
For some, the response to this would be composed of fancy metaphors, complex imagery and, on occasions, the articulate planting of novel-like plot twists. Each word would, in the literary aspect of it all, most resemble the loading of a cannon. The anticipated ”Boom!” is heard—yet the majority of the crowd is standing there wondering if the target was even hit. ”Did you catch that?” someone mutters. ”No,” another voice chimes in. ”But that was a pretty cool noise.”
So is there really an answer? Or do all we have is philosophy? In my opinion, the most reliable definition is derived from the following. The first is a quote by Robert Graves, who once said in 1946 that ”to be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” The second is the essence, brilliance, and work of ZaMari Love.
When I first came across Love’s work earlier this year I was taken by her reflections on love, wellness, and recognition with one’s self (just to name a few). Poems like A Poet’s Nightmare and An Ode to Day Dreamers made me feel alive. There was a sense of familiarity in her words. There was soul. There was feeling. There was emotion. There was location. In other works, like A Poem About Nothing, remarkably there was absolute vision despite the portrayed confessions of an artist who battled writer’s block.
With her upcoming poetry collection Forget Me Not coming out on April 1st, I thought about talking to Love on not just poetry but her creative roots and writing as a whole. Does the pen drive the writer, or does the writer drive the pen? Does the writer seek inspiration, or is inspiration already accessible? As mentioned before . . . this is time where those queries like ”What is poetry” and ”What is a poet?” are also answered in the most brilliant way: silently yet thunderous.
Hughes: Tell us about yourself. What was your childhood like? Where are you based?
Love: My childhood was interesting. My mom had me pretty young, nineteen. I’m the oldest of three, well four. Its complicated. I grew up with both of my parents for the most part, but I played a motherly role for a lot of those years. I think that’s why I’m kind of bossy. As a child, I was very argumentative. I had to have the last word, but I was very smart. People always asked if I would be a lawyer.
There was a test that kids had to take in first grade to determine if they were “gifted.” I failed, but they put me in gifted classes, accelerated reading, and all of that, anyway.
Being the only black girl in the class until high school was rough because kids are mean, and they repeat what their parents say. In sixth grade I was told I was only in the program because of affirmative action. I knew that wasn’t true, but it hurt me anyway.
”Art was always my outlet. I was always singing, in the choir, theatre. I never liked to play outside. I preferred reading or doing something creative.”
Hughes: Is anyone else in your family creative? Or did you develop your passion for writing on your own?
Love: My passion for writing came from the music my parents played. I was always fascinated by the literary devices of neo-soul and hip-hop music. The imagery, metaphors, similes, rhythm, allusions, alliteration—all of it blew my mind even as a child. I loved studying lyrics to uncover artists’ messages. My dad was a rapper too, one of the best in my opinion. His wordplay amazes me and motivates me to be a better poet. My sister is an all-around creative. She sings, dances, acts, writes, can play instruments. She’s an empath, so she feels a lot. I think that’s why she can do it all.
Hughes: Describe the first moment when you realized writing was more than a hobby.
Love: I realized writing was more than a hobby when I was eighteen. I was applying to college and trying to decide on a topic for my personal statement. I wanted it to be interesting so instead of talking about my academic accomplishments, I wanted to talk about something I loved and what college would mean for it. I thought for days and realized that thing was writing. I wrote one of my favorite poems to date as an introduction to that essay. It’s called Legacy, and it’s in my upcoming book.
Hughes: Some writers insist that their best writing was derived from a period of personal setback—a time when they tripped and rose above the occasion. Do you relate to this claim? If so, could you touch on the events leading up to your revival? If not, where do you (mostly) get your inspiration?
Love: I agree with that. Some of my favorite pieces were written in times of personal turmoil, when my feelings were too negative to say aloud, or when explaining them in regular conversation would not adequately portray what I was feeling. The same goes for love, too. Sometimes poetry is the only way to paint it just right. I write about love a lot. When I am in love, I write better about all topics because I’m vulnerable then. For my most recent project, I forced myself to write about things I hadn’t before like family and childhood trauma, but most people wouldn’t know what the pieces are actually about unless they knew me well.
Hughes: Your upcoming poetry collection Forget Me Not features poetic memoirs and mental notes for self-preservation. Can you expand on this? For example, what should a reader expect and NOT expect in the book?
Love: I can recall the distinct memory that inspired almost every poem and affirmation in FMN. That’s why I call them poetic memoirs. The mental notes are affirmations that I tell myself whenever I need motivation. I hope someone will find them helpful and add them to their list of personal go-to’s.
With Forget Me Not, readers can expect transparency. They can expect a story, a progression, a journey from how life starts out for most of us. We are just products of our environments. Then we start developing into our own beings, and we undergo a variety of experiences. From there, it is our choice to become who we want to be. In the last section, I hope readers will feel motivated to reflect on what events a have molded them and use each and every memory as momentum to blossom into whatever flower they want to be.
Hughes: Describe Forget Me Not with three adjectives. Then explain why you picked these each words.
Love: Refreshing because there are poems depicting different times in my life. Poems that I wrote years ago and even weeks ago. There are many voices, and you never know which one is going to be on the next page.
Magic because there is a mystery to it. Some people have called it awe-inspiring. Others have said that certain pieces make them feel something. They can relate to the poems, but their connection to it is inexplicable. That sounds like magic to me.
Unapologetic because I was afraid to compile this book. Then, I was afraid to publish it. I’ve battled with myself about what I would disclose out of fear of judgement or backlash from people who might feel offended by my truth. But in the end, I decided my catharsis, my sanity is more important than those opinions.
”No one gets to decide how I cope with the things I’ve endured, and I don’t have to apologize for being upset about what wrong has been done to me. It is my right.”
Hughes: Is there any connection between the forget-me-not flower and your book? For example, is it possible that the flower’s symbolism references a reoccurring theme?
Love: I would not call it a recurring theme, but it is a symbol that synthesizes the recurring themes of love, memories, remembrance and legacy. Forget-me-nots are symbols of undying love. My last name is Love, and I love deeply. They are a symbol of memories which I address frequently throughout the book. They also symbolize remembrance of passed loved ones, which I experienced recently and often as a child.
Coincidentally, the flower is a symbol for Alzheimer’s which a close family member is experiencing now. I say “experiencing” rather than “suffering” because I like to think he is not suffering but rather experiencing life differently than he did before. Last, I use the phrase “forget me not” to represent a person’s legacy. I have compiled a book that I think portrays my whole life story, and this is how I want to be remembered. At the same time, I don’t want to forget the experiences that have made me who I am or the mantras that keep me pushing from day to day. In short, yes. The flower is very much related.
Hughes: The following is a quote by American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: ‘’Revolution is not a onetime event.’’Do you believe this is true? If so, how might this relate to modern American society?
Love: I wholeheartedly agree. Revolution is ongoing. It’s a sequence of events that push and push and push in the opposite direction until the new position becomes the norm. Technological revolutions are happening more and more, but changes in our concept of time have affected our ability to lead a social revolution. Our attention spans are so short. We have become so accustomed to immediate gratification that if the goal we are seeking doesn’t stick after one or two tries, we move on. We get bored, or the next issue grabs our attention. It’s unfortunate because at the moment or giving up, we never know how close we are to the goal, and all the work we did just gets unwound back to where we started.
Hughes: Use three authors to describe your overall writing style.
Love: I’m not sure what authors’ writing my work resembles, but I’m inspired by that of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes and of course many more.
Hughes: Some poets and novelists insist the hardest part of writing is Have you ever felt this way?
Love: Of course! I can think all day, but sometimes when it’s time to put the pen to the paper, it seems like there’s a disconnect between my heart, mind, and hands. They’ll all be on different pages, and it makes writing difficult. I combat this obstacle by never forcing myself to write but to write whenever I can. When I feel inspired, I try to ride the wave as long as possible. Then I put the pen down until I feel it again.
”If something comes to me out of nowhere, I write it down no matter where I am. I try to take advantage of every bit of inspiration I receive.”
Hughes: What advice would you give to a writer who is afraid to open up about personal aspects of their life?
Love: Do it anyway. You don’t have to show anyone but get it out. And if you want to share it, explore ways you can express your thoughts without being obvious. That’s the beauty of poetry. Metaphors can be the best hiding places for our deepest, darkest secrets. I have a poem called ”Child’s Guilt,” I think it can be applied to several situations, but no one is going to know what its about.
Hughes: If you were a flower which would you be?
Love: Realistically, today I would describe myself as a dandelion. I’m a mess. I’m everywhere, and very little of my life makes sense. I’m changing with the wind. I call myself an “aspiring sunflower” though. So maybe it’s safe to say that I’m a sunflower seed. Sunflowers are fascinating plants. They actually have the ability to turn their faces toward the sun when they need more light. I hope to be that way one day, to identify what I want or need to excel and just go get it.
Hughes: The following is a quote once said by American poet, novelist, and short-story writer Sylvia Plath: ‘’Is there no way out of the mind?’’ What is your answer to this?
Love: I can ruminate on the same thought all day, so if there is a way, I haven’t found it yet. Ruminating thoughts can be debilitating so if someone finds the answer, call me. I have a poem about this in FMN. But no, I don’t think there is a way out, only ways to exist in it more peacefully, more aware, more in control. You are always in your mind, even when it is quiet.
Hughes: A friend of mine once said that they wrote more during autumn due to the amount of color inspiration and overall mood. Do you relate to this? For example, do you find yourself writing more in summer than spring, spring than winter?
Love: Summer is my favorite season. I’m generally happier when its warm, and I go to the beach and take long walks which make for great meditation. I probably write more during the summer.
Hughes: Now for a fun one! Extraterrestrials have invaded Earth. The leader approaches and demands you to recommend the one person who can give them one reason to abort their mission of destroying mankind. Who would this individual be? Why?
Love: T. I. They probably wouldn’t even know what he said, but his vocabulary would make it seem like a reason they should strongly consider.