Behind the Mic: Elizabeth Acevedo
November 18, 2014 at 4:26 am
Elizabeth “Liz” Acevedo- is born and raised in New York. She’s ambitious, passionate, and full of life. She’s been putting words together for as long as she could remember. Liz has performed in many historic places such as Lincoln Center, Madison Square Garden, and the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts. As you can see she’s talented and dope! I got the chance to get inside her head about her liveliness as a spoken word artist. Check her out below.
What inspired your poem Hair? Why did you write it?
Hair was inspired in large part by a conversation I had with my mother about my African American partner. She’s a wonderful woman. She loves big and hard and worries too much about her kids. And her biggest worry was that we’d be discriminated, that if my partner and I had kids they would have it harder in the world because they wouldn’t have any one group to claim. But Dominicans, we’re black people. It’s just we have such a tangled history with anti-Blackness and a history of genocide against black descendents that most folks want to keep concepts of race at an arms length. It’s tough. And the poem Hair tries to encompass all my complicated feelings of pride, love, respect, and disappointment, in a one page poem.
What inspired you to be a poet?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint it, really. I was raised amongst storytellers and great music and all of that fused together. As far back as I can remember I was making up rhymes and singing. When I was twelve I decided I wasn’t a good singer and so I wanted to be a rapper that morphed into performance poetry and now I am a writer in many of the forms that title encompasses.
What do you find the hardest when writing a new poem?
Getting started. Sometimes a poem arrives, a great image or bit of speech, and the lines flow and I can’t get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) fast enough. But that’s rare. More often I need to sit down, stare at the blank page, and try to coax the poem to play nice, to take pity. Oh, another difficulty in writing a new poem exists in the doubt of creation. The voice in the back of your head questioning if it’s even a good idea. Is it contrived? Can I accomplish what the poem needs? Revision is a bit easier because you arrive at something to mold. But a blank page? Nothing but doubt and hope.
Which one of your poems touches you the most?
I have a poem called Spear that I literally could not perform without shaking and I would cramp up after leaving the stage because the entire time I was reciting I was trying to keep my emotions from taking over. It took me months to learn how to work through that poem. But the poem deals with a difficult subject matter and so I doubt I’ll ever fully get over the edge of that piece. It’s a poem about rape culture and the fear I have of raising a daughter in this world. It’s a poem about vulnerability, and strength, and ultimately, it’s a poem I hope I won’t ever have to read to my children. I don’t want to raise them afraid of the sexual harm another human can inflict upon them.
Is there a poem that you are most proud of? If so, why?
I think I’m most proud of my most recent work because often it’s showcasing my experiments with writing, the ones I get right. I have a poem called Rat Ode that was inspired by a renown poet saying that rats aren’t noble enough creatures for a poem. And I think about the politics around that statement, how a poet can try to create a hierarchy of topics and make certain things un-writable and it really struck me. I was raised in a very rat-infested neighborhood. I know rats better than most people know deer or blackbirds or whatever creature is “noble.” So I wrote the poem as a kind of ars poetica. And ode to writing my authentic experience and not subscribing to notions of what’s canonically appropriate poetic content.
Who is your favorite poet that we wouldn’t have heard about?
Natalie Diaz. She only has one book, When My Brother Was an Aztec with Copper Canyon and she is an absolute beast on the page. Also, Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm. I look to fierce and fearless and generous writers and these two poets provide that time and again..
Who are your favorite poets in general?
In addition to the above mentioned poets, I love Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Yusef Komunyakaa, Nancy Morejon, Natasha Trethewey, Jeffrey Mcdaniel, Patricia Smith, Sandra Cisneros, Rhina Espaillat, Aracelis Girmay, Jamaal May, Denice Frohman, Clint Smith, George Yamazaw , Pages Matam, Drew Amin Law, The Peace Poets. Too many to name, honestly.
What has been your favorite performance of your own and others. Why?
My favorite of someone else’s might be a tie between G. Yamazawaa and Denice Frohman. Mainly because I know both poets so well and to see them transform on stage and embody a poem…it takes my breath away. It makes me want to level up.
My favorite performance of my own, would have to be one of the preliminary bouts at Nats. Something about having a team counting on you and having to perform a poem as if you’ve just written it, as if you’re living it in that very moment, remembering that the slam doesn’t actually matter, only this moment where you’re connecting with people, it was a beautiful feeling.
How was performing “Unforgettable” with Pages Matam and G. Yamazawa different from performing alone?
Oh, Jesus. I haven’t performed on a slam team in exactly ten years–since I was a teenager. I didn’t even remember what it felt like to perform with other people, to have to learn cues, and gestures, and last lines. And I was definitely the last one to learn all of the parts and be on point. But dang, once we got it down? It was incredible to feel two people alongside you putting energy into a room. The stage can be lonely. Your successes and failures solely yours. But with a team, you share all of that. You hold one another up and it feels good. Especially since that poem in particular was the last group poem our team put together with only two weeks left until the National Poetry Slam!
Are you currently in school?
Yes! I am a third year MFA candidate in poetry at The University of Maryland.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming artists?
Hard work beats talent when talent hardly works. It’s an overused line, of course, but absolutely true in sentiment. I believe in inspiration, in a muse, in channeling. In an artistic calling. I think all of that is part of being an artist. But the other parts are about showing up. Showing up to the page, showing up to shows. Listening to other poets, reading all of the time, watching performances, writing, writing, writing. Always chase your next best piece of writing.
Do you have a performance coming up?
I’m still activiely booking for my tour in the spring and my full schedule can be found at www.Acevedopoetry.com but you can find the soon approaching dates below:
November 25th— Sidewalk Cafe: feature at Urbana Weekly Slam. New York City, NY. 7pm.
As you can see, Liz is inspirational and knows how to connect with people through her words. You can continue to check her out here!