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Alyssa Bardge and the Jazz of Poetry – Black Girl Nerds

Written by: Wayne Broadway

Artist and poet Alyssa Barge has always been a writer.

As she began keeping a journal, writing to-do lists and journal entries, she expanded this into an interest in poetry and other creative writing pursuits after taking English classes at the high school and university. In honor of Women’s History Month and the recently passed World Poetry Day, we interviewed Bardge via email about her debut collection of poetry, Dear, her more recent collage work and her forthcoming second collection of poetry.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

How did you start writing?

[Besides journaling and school], me and my siblings grew up listening to good music thanks to our parents. My father’s musical tastes strongly influence my writing because he listens almost exclusively to jazz, like John Coltrane, Grant Green and Chick Corea. Jazz is extremely interpretative, and I feel like poetry has the same effect.

Your first book of poetry was self-published. How was this process and why did you take this arduous step?

Surprisingly, the process was quite simple when it comes to producing this one. Barnes & Noble has a fairly straightforward and easy-to-follow posting process. The actual writing of the book was the culmination of about four years of writing that I felt was time to publish. In a way, publishing the book healed me because during that time of writing and editing I was experiencing deep heartache at ending a relationship with someone in which I felt my voice didn’t matter. So the step of publishing my book myself and receiving it so well was confirmation that I needed to know that what I say matters, has weight, and is welcome.

In search of our mothers’ gardens [the book from which the quote originates] on my own, that’s the reason why I wanted to become a writer. This book launched my own discovery of myself as a black person living this life as a black woman. The reason I chose this particular quote is that I always want to emphasize that there is always room for evolution and fluidity in our thoughts, actions, and mindsets. With my works, I hope that the changes I will continually undergo as an artist exploring and combining different mediums such as collages and poetry can reflect these earlier feelings. In addition, blacks are always taken into account when creating and researching. I really am so inspired by us and by so many of our expressions. We are so doped with me.

Your own work, such as your collage piece “dark and charming,” explore black identity and the “magic”, “the imperfect[ion]”, and the beauty within it. Why do you think Blackness informs much of your recent work, and how has it influenced your work in the past?

When I create, it starts from a personal landmark. I am a person presenting a black woman; therefore, my experience is that of a black woman. Darkness will always be my first point of reference because I’m proud of who we are. I’m proud of the fact that there is so much to learn from us and how much we have to give, it’s so beyond my comprehension.

Darkness informs my work because there are so many multitudes to explore and enjoy. I sincerely believe that we are among the most beautiful beings, not only physically but spiritually. There is something about Blackness that is mystical and abstract that cannot be explained in this lifetime. We’re soulful people, and I just want to underscore that in the best way I know how.

Besides identity, there is a running theme of love, particularly self-love and caring, in your poetry and art. Why do you think it’s so important as a person, as a black person – and especially as a black woman – to highlight these themes of self-care and self-expression?

Love is everything and everywhere. It’s in our reflections in our mirrors and each other. We have to see it and believe it too. These themes are so important to highlight because I like to treat them as reminders that we always deserve the love, time, understanding and support from our communities and, most importantly, from ourselves. I always say, “No one spends more time with me than me”, which means that my time spent with me will be to learn to love myself so that I can love the next sister so that she can do the same.

In one of your latest collages, you quote the first lines of the poet “Dark Phrases” by Ntozake Shange. This poem delves, in part, into the “endless beauty” of black women and girls, but also their struggles, their “interrupted solos/and unseen performances.” Why did this piece strike you as something necessary to include in your own work?

Personally, this quote resonates deeply with me because I have severe bouts of depression and anxiety. Some days my thoughts take dark turns and I have my “invisible performances”, or times when I feel like I’m alone with my thoughts but still functioning in my day to day life. For example, I regularly work from 9am to 5pm about five days a week, and it tires me in every way. While I appreciate this and feel the support of those I work with, I still feel pressure to give my best as I am one of the few black people working there. Sometimes I feel like I just have to know what to do all the time, and I don’t. So the “invisible performance” is me struggling with my emotions and the fact that the support is there. The “interrupted solos” are about not having time to love myself. One of my favorite ways to express my love is through my hair; hence, images of people having their hair done. It is my reminder of my beauty as well as my fragility. I hope there’s someone out there who can relate to her beauty when it feels breakable. That is why it was so necessary to include this piece.

Finally, what advice do you have for women, whether black, queer, or even our non-binary siblings, on why it’s so important to publish your voice, even if you have to do it yourself?

Honor your voice. Honor your dreams. Someone there is encouraging you to do that “thing” you’re thinking about.

Alyssa Bardge’s artwork can be found on her websiteand his poetry can be found at Barnes & Noble.

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