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Harmony Holiday On Finding Poetry In Her Biracial Roots

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In celebration of National Poetry Month, Weekend Edition is hearing from young poets about what poetry means to them. This week, they spoke with Harmony Holiday, a New York poet and dance choreographer who's spending this month archiving audio of overlooked and often misunderstood poetry for The Beautiful Voices Project.

Interview Highlights

On why she first started writing poetry

"I first started to write poetry, I think, as a way of dealing with the meta-space between racial identity: having an African-American father and a white mother and trying to negotiate the language.

" ... As a kid, I would write little slogans and show them to my mom, like little advertising slogans. I think she used to smoke for a few years when I was younger and I wrote some anti-smoking slogan. That's my first memory of writing a piece of language that I actually showed to someone as a kid that was like poetry."

On where she found inspiration

"I think I was inspired first by jazz music and by a lot of jazz vocalists, like Billie Holiday and some of her more poetic songs — "Strange Fruit," which she didn't write, but the way she interpreted it with her voice. And Nina Simone: just inflection and jazz intonation and giving the semblance of improvisation though you might have given it a little bit more thought, and trying to make it different with inflection each time you present it."

On her poem "Motown Philly Back Again"

"It was sort of inspired by reading about Marvin Gaye's history with his father and the relationship between being an artist and being an entertainer."

'Motown Philly Back Again'

We're all pagans and shamans and clap your hands now we won't stop the beat
We believe in divine healing and we hate to see that evening sun go down
We know when the sight of our women dressed in white each ritual night, is touching, hypnotizes
The animals blush and split for us as revival, as revealed to themselves
These are triumphant women.
Even Sister Fame hiding out in the alley turning tricks and singing verses from the undid scripture, is touching
Thank you jesus, thank you jesus, that you jesus, baby, is that you, she mutters up high between rocks and lace — his eagerness — it
was all night long
Sometimes he'd interrupt a recording session to tell us about his early Motown days or expand on his views of Heaven and Hell
One time he was saying how important it was to love one's father.
Do you love yours? I asked him
Why don't you tell him
Why don't you tell your father, he said
I will if you do
You go first

Copyright 2013 by Harmony Holiday. Used with permission of the author.

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