An evening with D. Watkins

“I want my stuff back,” says spoken word artist Lady Brion.
“Uh uh, Miley! You ain’t slick, bending over Robin don’t make you thick.”

This was the start of the evening for D. Watkins’ book release, The Cook Up. The evening consisted of poetry, history, comedy, and lessons from East Baltimore life. The reading was in the Learning Commons building on Maryland Avenue. Many guests who attended left with something insightful or something to ponder harder about. The room was brightly lit, with guest pouring in minute after minute.

Lady Brion was one of the three poets introducing the author with vivid descriptions of emotions Black women feel. The evening consisted of this theme: the lives and emotions of Black people. Lady Brion opened with “The Twerk Poem.” She reclaimed culture while defining misappropriation of Black culture and Black bodies. Her poem grew from the connection twerking has to ancestry, being labeled as a “hoe”, and finally the famous quote from rapper Nicki Minaj, “Miley What’s good?” She introduced two other poets, detailing the plight sexual abuse of young Black women while the other contrasted with female sexuality.

She spoke on being abused, saying:

“[This poem] was a way to reclaim my body against my sexual abuser. I shoot the man that made me victim. I shoot the man to make him victim. I shoot the man that told me my womanism is of the devil as if he knew the demons that troubled me.”

The contrast came with the following, “I wear this black ink over my body like henna or hickies.” The final poet used the distance of the metaphor, equating words to sex and the excitement she feels when writing a poem. These poems encompass pleasure and pain- themes discussed in “The Cook Up.”

Nia Johnson moderated the rest of the evening, introducing the person we had been waiting for: Mr. D. Watkins. Watkins has a particular charm found  in Baltimore natives, displayed in his use of humor to break the ice. He describes the walk onto the stage like, “I walked into class late.” It was his choice to start the evening with the female poets and female moderator because, “Males dominate panels. I am tired of the same male voices. Give respect to the women voices.” Watkins explains how the women is his life have been a driving force and a key factor in the Black community. He then begins to describe his newest creations as a book about humanity.

He wants to give a voice to the dead but more importantly, Watkins’ wants to encourage literacy and extracurricular reading for his students. Watkins acknowledges the importance of education and reading comprehension. He made a joke in which he says generations and generations of people do not read could be referred to as Trump supporters. He goes deeper into meanings and ideas in his book like the war on drugs/drug trade, life after being arrested, and the “crabs in the barrel” phrase.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase crabs in a barrel can best be described as: “If I can’t have, you can’t either.” A crab that crawls to the top is pulled down by other crabs. Most often used when describing social situations referring to those in less affluent areas and mostly areas filled with minorities. He hates the phrase, giving audience members this idea to think on- is a barrel a crab’s natural habitat? Are the crabs pulling each other down or trying to save the crab from what is on the other side?

“War on drugs was created to get rid of hippies and Black people. Nixon planted the seed,” Watkins says, “Nixon planted the seed. Reagan and Bushed fertilized and the Clintons harvested it.” He drives the point home about the drug trade that many people are caught in- “We don’t blame the victim. Blame the society that creates these issues.” He neither demonizes nor glorifies the way of life. He then spoke on his writing process.

“I rewrote the book four time, due to legal reasons. Some things you can and can’t talk about. [Initially] the book had 45 secondary characters. Growing up in a city like Baltimore, your life is full of secondary characters.”

This book is a quicker, easier read with short 2-3 page chapters. He reads excerpts from the book, detailing “bullets ripped through adolescent faces,” and the “rules of the game.” While the evening was bigger than the release of his newest book, both furthered the discussions of life in East Baltimore and the importance of understanding the lives that many Baltimore natives have to live.

The archaeology of a poet

By Belinda Sacco

Baltimore’s first Youth Poet Laureate Derick Ebert sat down after the release of his first collection of poetry “Black Boy Archaeologist” to discuss origins, influences, and how far he’s come as an artist in the span of two short years.

When and how did you get interested in poetry?

I got into poetry around my sophomore year at UB. The generic story I always like to tell is I was in a two-year relationship and then, after we ended it, I couldn’t find an outlet, and Anthony Moll, who was my professor freshman year always showed spoken word videos before he started class… and I always found spoken word very interesting. So I said, “Let me Google some spoken word artists and just listen.” I listened for a few weeks and was like, “Wow, this is really cool. I think I’m going to give it a try.” Eventually, I just started to write and write and write. I didn’t perform a whole lot until about February of 2014. I would go to very few open mics, get cold feet, and leave, but that was my start. That was my beginning. It was Open Mics, and then finding Dew More Baltimore.

Who or what are some of your main inf luences in writing your poetry?

I would definitely say hip-hop influences a lot of what I talk about. It at least influences the message. Certain rappers and hip-hop artists like Kanye West, J. Cole, and even Kendrick Lamar kind of all talk about the same theme and have the same message. They just do it a different way because, you know, their styles are so different. When I listen to music I’m always influenced and I take what they say and I try to apply it to how I connect to that topic and how I relate, and if I can relate in any way, if I’ve experienced what they’ve gone through in their raps then I apply it to my poetry. In addition, what really influences me is just being out, talking to people– the stories that come from that and the stories that are worth sharing are what influence me the most. I want to tell other people about it instead of just talking how we’re talking right now. I try to find a creative way to present it to the masses in the form of poetry… Also, James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers. He’s influenced a lot of my endings because how James Baldwin ends in a lot of his essays… is so impactful because they just leaving you hanging or they leave you with this sense of closure. So I adopt that style from him in ending with a powerful, breath-taking, drop the mic, walk off the stage message.

And what happens when the people who are in the poetry hear the poetry? For example, I know in your poem “Archeologist” you talk a lot about your father. Has he heard that poem? How did he react?

He has heard “Archeologist.” There is some conflict with that only because he doesn’t really understand what the poetry is saying–or maybe he does; we haven’t really talked about the poem before. He just feels like in the poem I’m telling him he’s not doing a good job of being a father, but really I’m not. It’s just that we have separate interests. The poem even starts off with him telling me and my brothers “How about you be interested in something like this? Something like…” Something like what he’s interested in. And at the end of the poem I talk about how he’s always given us everything and that I’m appreciative of that, but, even though he’s always wanted me to be these things, I wanted to be something completely different. I want to be who I am. It’s really a poem about that. But I think he’s still getting into the groove of me being a poet. Eventually, he’ll just grow into it.

What’s your writing process like?

With being a poet for two years now, my process has changed. Before, I would just wait for poetry to come to me and that would give me a poem a month. A lot of my coaches were telling me “you just have to write daily” and I was like “no, I like when poetry comes to me; it’s hard to just push things out.” And then, it got to a point where I was doing the same poems over and over like “Archeologist” and “Animal,” so I was like “Okay, maybe I should start to write daily.” I would listen to a lot of spoken word artist’s workshops on YouTube and I would adapt the style of my concept of how to write–I tell other young poets this at the Baltimore Leadership School for Women where I teach–of just writing. Writing poetry is almost like writing in your diary and getting all the concrete things out, getting all the messy things out, getting everything you have to say out, and then you can let it rest or you can look at it and some of the things that don’t flow you can cross out or add more in, because once you push all the fluff out of the way and you really get to what you want to talk about, you continue to write. And it’s fine to make a little more scribbles and waste some pages. Don’t rip the pages out, just keep the pages there to see how far you’ve come. My process now is to write a lot of concrete things about whatever I’m going to talk about and eventually I’ll get to the point where I know exactly what I want to write about and incorporate literary devices and go to poem.