interviewed by clare murphy
Clare Murphy: We met at a festival in Ojai, California. But I met the real you when I watched you perform your poetry for the first time. As you stood there in the Californian sunshine, I watched you transform yourself and us. You used words that cracked us open, as if the words themselves in your voice opened dimensions in our ears and hearts. It was incredible. You seemed to me to be about seven foot tall in that moment, and you slipped between dimensions with such dexterity and grace. So, my first question for you is, when you are there, in that live moment of performance, how does it feel to speak your words out into the world? What happens for you in performance?
Glenis Redmond: People do not believe me when I tell them that I grew up both shy and introverted, because I talk for a living. Now, I never meet a stranger. I still do not relish small talk. I love to talk about meaningful moments: nature, social justice, books and magic. If I do not sense a connection, I will revert to the quiet self as a child. On stage, I come alive as I perceive being on stage as being in conversation with the audience. The poems that I have written are my way to respond and interact with the world around me, so it brings me alive even if I am having a down day or if I am sick.
CM: We have had a couple of really wonderful conversations since then, and I’ve noticed that you have a deep and active relationship with ancestry. In terms of your position in your family to your mother and grandmother, and also as a mother and a grandmother. You seem to me a beacon, clearly celebrating your connection in the line of where you come from and where you and your descendants are going. Can you talk to us a bit about your understanding of these familial lines and how they nurture you?
GR: My matrilineal line activated and activates me. I learned so much from those women. How to cook, grow things and sew and how to stand in the world. They connect and root me. Their lessons help me to grow myself. I am a very different woman than they are, but I’m very much made up of the same African Cosmic Cloth that they are made from. They stitch with thread, I do so with memory.
CM: You’re also a self-proclaimed “sensitive person” and, like me, you are very sensitive to the energies of place and of ancestral memory left in place. Your new book on ports speaks to this. Can you talk a little bit about what you have found as you travelled to different places and what that made you think about?
GR: True, I am a highly sensitive person. This means I pick up on sensations in the land, ethers from other people. I had to learn to discern what was emanating from me or elsewhere. I listen with my whole self; this is how I know things, because I listen with my whole self. Ideas, thoughts, feelings and impressions come from these experiences. While traveling, I stay open as a vessel to learn what I need to learn. Often it is the first part of my research. What bubbles up, I write it down and continue to be in conversation and interact with what my spirit deems important. My research is unorthodox. It rarely begins in the library. It begins in my bones––in my blood.
CM: John O Donohue, Irish poet and mystic, said “Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness, like. Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So, I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life”. I see a deep connection between you and beauty. You are an avid gardener, a collector of art, an incredibly stylish human, you strike me as someone who celebrates beauty. Is this a very active practise for you? Tell us about your relationship to beauty.
GR: Beauty is a life-saving practise for me. As a dark-skin girl turned woman, I was told I was not beautiful. I had to fight to own my beauty. I was also born to impoverished circumstances, so as I grew up, intentionally surrounding myself with beauty became a healing practice for me. Beauty starts as a frame of mind. With seed I plant it in seed, and deed, and how I be. How I present myself. The more color, the more life. I seek beauty daily––not superficial, but deep-down organic blooming.
CM: You work as fluidly on the page as you do on the stage. Within the act of writing, what do you notice happens in your mind and body? Or share any insights on the act of writing.
GR: Writing comes from my core through dreams, thoughts and feelings. My poems chase me around as ghosts long before they make it to the page. If I am dutiful, I will listen. I will do their bidding and write it down. It is a dance. This haunting can last 10 to 15 years. Sometimes it takes that long for me fill up and be reading to pour onto the pages. Sometimes writing is trance-like. Other times not so much. Eitherway, I write. I am committed to the practise.
CM: We have both worked a lot with young people in our different artforms. I love what happens when a kid or teenager releases/discovers their voice, the power of that and the empowering of that. What draws you to this work?
GR: I want to be the teacher I never had. I realize it takes so little to empower the youth. My goal is to give them tools of creativity to add to their agency. I find adults are the same way. They want to write. They want to express themselves. I am just a catalyst, a creative Firestarter.
CM: You have been living with Myeloma for a couple of years now. You have been active on Instagram sharing that journey with illness. For those who are reading this on their own journeys with illness, what can you share with us from that road?
GR: Yes, I have been living the illness for almost two years now. I share some of my journey, like I share poetry for the same reason: hopefully it will inspire someone. Multiple Myeloma is a terrible blood cancer. It impacts African Americans 50% more than whites. I had never heard of this cancer before I was diagnosed with it in the Spring of 2019. I want to alert people and make people more aware. It is my belief, I was suffering with the Smoldering Phase of MM, but my previous doctor did not take my labs seriously. I am fortunate that I changed doctors in winter of 2019. I was diagnosed a couple of months later. It is so important to listen to your body and surround yourself with a caring, professional, anti-racist and non-misogynistic health team. It is saved/saving my life.
CM: Signal House Edition is based in Ireland and the UK, but their readers are all over the world. What do you want people to know about what comes next? What are you up to next that people can come see? How do they find out more? Where can they buy your brilliant collections?
GR: I have a new poetry book addressing resiliency despite poverty, racism and abuse. It is called, The Listening Skin published by Four Way Books. I am excited about the essays that I am writing centering on being black in a white world. The latest essay is titled, Field Work: The Past Circling the Present. It will be coming out in Orion Magazine this winter.
CM: We in the Western world are waking up to the centuries of devastation left by us white people and our colonial inheritance. I think language plays a key part in this awakening. What words are resonating for you over there in America at the moment around this?
GR: This has always been so; I was born to it––the devastation. Alice Walker said, “There are some rages so great you have to plan a lifetime around it.” That is what poetry/action/healing is for me. My plan for my lifetime is to create some healing for myself and others, around my work. It is also to be connected to others who are doing the same. It is challenging and disheartening as we have been dealing with colonization since, and before, we were forced to these shores. We make a little progress, then there are days/moments/situations that we have never moved. Some days it feels that what is stacked against us is too high to dismantle. Yet, we get up and do it anyway with whatever tools we have cultivated. We do it for the next generation.
John O’ Donohoe , ‘The Inner landscape of Beauty’. On Being Project. 28 February 2008.
Glenis Redmond, The Listening Skin. Four Way Books, 2022.
GLENIS REDMOND travels (inter)nationally reading, teaching and performing poetry. Glenis is a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and has had two Poet-in-Residence posts at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, SC and the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ. Glenis is a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship Recipient. Glenis also helped create the first Writer-in-Residence position at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC. Between 2014–2020, Glenis served as the Mentor Poet for the National Student Poets Program, preparing young poets to read at the Library of Congress, Department of Education, and for First Lady, Michelle Obama at The White House. Her book, The Listening Skin will be published by Four Way Books in 2022. Glenis has recently been awarded the highest award for the Arts in the State of South Carolina, The Governor’s Award. WEBSITE. TWITTER. INSTAGRAM.
Dublin-born storyteller, CLARE MUIREANN MURPHY has told stories worldwide since 2006. She has performed in more than 20 countries to audiences of 5 to 5,000 people, and her audiences include President Mary Robinson and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team at NASA. Her work ranges from science-stories like UniVerse to socio-political pieces like The King of Lies to her beloved Irish mythology. She also teaches, trains and speaks publicly on the Power of Storytelling. WEBSITE. TWITTER. INSTAGRAM.
CHRIS RANDALL was raised in Savannah, Georgia and now resides in upstate South Carolina. Chris specializes in watercolor and pencil images of places, people, and animals. He is inspired by his 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, and Amy, his wife of 21 years. Chris's portrait of Glenis Redmond is available in print form. Proceeds contribute to Redmond's treatment expenses for Multiple Myeloma cancer. WEBSITE. FACEBOOK. INSTAGRAM.
(Image credit: Poet, Teaching Artist and Imagination Activist–Glenis Remond, watercolor, 2020, Chris Randall, reproduced by kind permission of the artist.)