Porsha Olayiwola Shares Her Experience Using Poetry As A Form Of Self-Expression


Porsha Olayiwola

This week we celebrated Black Poetry Day, a day that honors the contributions and legacy of Black poets while shining the spotlight on poets pioneering conversations today. So, to celebrate the occasion, we spoke to the incredibly talented, lyrically blessed, Porsha Olayiwola, a poet laureate for the city of Boston whose poetry probes societal norms with frank honesty. Porsha is also the author of the book, I Shimmer Sometimes, Too, a collection of poignant poems that explore the fabric of Black womanhood and her self-observations.

Her thought-provoking, one-person choreopoem, Black and Ugly as Ever, scrutinizes societal norms of beauty while following the journey of self-love as a queer, Black woman. Her work is real and honest, and her captivating performances bring her words to life to shake home their power and meaning – we couldn’t stop watching!

As well as writing, reading, and teaching poetry, she’s also a playwright and a self-proclaimed Afrofuturist/ pessimist. We spoke to Porsha to delve deeper into how poetry empowers her, and her journey as a queer Black woman making her mark with poetry.

1. How did you get into poetry and how do you use it as a form of self-expression?

I always was writing when I was younger, whether it be theories or poems, but I didn’t first start actively, knowingly writing poetry until high school. I had a high school teacher who took me to ‘Louder than above,’ which is the world’s largest youth poetry festival. And I was blown away from what I heard, what I saw, and then I went home immediately and started writing – and have been pretty much writing ever since – as a form of self-expression, as a form of remembrance, re-memory, as a form of permanence, as a form of expansion.

2. What do you feel most passionate writing about, and how does this empower you?

I think I’ve been writing mostly about the past and reconciling the past, making reparations via writing about the past. I write a lot about history, and it feels righteous. It feels very righteous to remember and to know that those unremembered will go remembered if only I write it.

3. Tell us a bit about your experience as a queer Black woman and how that affects the way that you move throughout the world?

You know, I am queer, I am large, I am fat and dark-skinned, and queer presenting, masculine of center. So people, often, if they’re not mistaking me as Sir, they definitely know that I am some kind of queer or disrupting gender norms as we know it, and it affects every aspect. It’s how I see myself as I move through the world, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing; it definitely feels like a superpower sometimes, but also, it causes a lot of ‘the gaze,’ if you will.

4. Tell us about your journey to where you are now? What have been some of the most pivotal moments for you?

Listening to that poetry slam when I was in High school; it’s something that is unforgettable, and something that I will always remember as the starting point for my writing. Another was the move to Boston: to be able to step into my own self without the context of anything that I thought I knew holding onto me was great. Moving and relocating to Boston as an individual soul person has been incredible, and I will also say serving as the city’s poet laureate has been pivotal. It has allowed me to give what I feel like I have in my heart, of serving in the form of poetry. It has been kind of defining!

5. What have been some of the most challenging moments, and how did you overcome them?

One of the toughest moments was probably the deportation of my father when I was younger; it’s something I write about sparingly. How did I overcome it? I don’t have the end to that answer yet; it’s something that I’m constantly, repeatedly overcoming. I’m constantly moving through the world, thinking about ways to undo some of the borderlands that we’ve created to call my father and to visit my father.

6. How do you use your life experiences to inform your work?

They’re very much so embedded into it. Not only in content and thinking about what I’m writing about, but also in terms of the energy the poem provides, like how can I implement a fast-paced day into a poem crafted with fast-pace as intention – so it informs every aspect.

7. What message would you like to share with our readers on Black Poetry Day?

I did not know that it was Black Poetry Day, so Happy Black Poetry Day! This is super exciting! As I lean into this, it means a legacy. It’s a legacy, it’s a lineage, it’s ancestry and an infinite future, and more specifically, I’m thinking about June Jordan’s “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America.” Most poets speak in their own native tongue, and as Black folks in this country, our native tongue is our oppressor’s tongue. And so trying to exist in the soil that has unwanted you for so many years and trying to exist as a liberated, free-thinking poet – a crafter of words and of human essence – is a difficult miracle, as June Jordan says. I’m so infinitely grateful to be a part of that lineage.

8. What advice would you give to other Black poets who want to follow in your footsteps?

Read! Reading is always the answer. Read and then write and then write and then write. And then find you a group of other poets you admire or might be your peers that you can work with. I think sometimes poems grow best in community.

9. What are your goals and dreams for the future?

My goals and dreams for the future are vast and endless. I want to travel the world; I want to write five more books. I want to write for TV and contribute to something that is overall beyond myself. And that’s just a few of them. The list goes on.

Watch more of Porsha’s powerful performances here and follow her on Instagram here.