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Alyssa Bardge and the Jazz of Poetry

Alyssa Bardge and the Jazz of Poetry

Artist and poet Alyssa Bardge has always been a writer.

While she got her start journaling, writing to-do lists and diary entries, she expanded this into an interest in poetry and other creative writing pursuits after taking high school and college English courses. In honor of Women’s History Month and the recently-passed World Poetry Day, we interviewed Bardge via email about her first poetry collection, To Whom It May Concern, her more recent collage work, and her upcoming second poetry collection.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get started writing?

[Besides journaling and school], me and my siblings grew up listening to good music thanks to our parents. My dad’s music taste heavily influences my writing because he listens almost exclusively to jazz, like John Coltrane, Grant Green and Chick Corea. Jazz is extremely interpretative, and I feel as though poetry has that same effect. 

Your first poetry collection was self-published. How was that process, and why did you take that arduous step?

Surprisingly, the process was fairly simple as far as the production of it. Barnes & Noble has a pretty straightforward publishing process that was easy to follow. The actual writing of the book was a culmination of about four years of writing that I felt was time to release. In a way, publishing the book was healing for me because during that time of writing and editing, I was experiencing deep heartache from ending a relationship with somebody in which I felt my voice did not matter. So, the step of publishing my book myself and having it received so beautifully was the confirmation that I needed to know that what I say matters, holds weight, and is welcomed.

The largest block of writing on your website is not your bio or something akin to that, but a quote by Alice Walker about “changing and growing…for the good of more Black people.” Why was it so important to place this on your site?

Alice Walker is one of my heroes as a writer. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens [the book from which the quote originates] single-handedly is the reason why I wanted to become a writer. That book launched my own self-discovery as a Black person experiencing this life as a Black woman. The reason why I chose that quote in particular is because I always want to emphasize that there is always room for evolution and fluidity in our thoughts, actions, and mindsets. With my artwork, I hope that the changes that I will continuously undergo as an artist exploring as well as combining different mediums such as collages and poetry can reflect those previous sentiments. Also, Black folks are always kept in mind when creating and researching. I truly am just so inspired by us and by so many of our expressions. We are so damn dope to me. 

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

When I create, it comes from a personal reference point. I am a Black femme-presenting person; therefore, my experience is that of a Black woman. Blackness will always be my first reference point because I pride myself in who we are. I pride myself in the fact that there is so much to learn from us and how much we have to give that is so beyond my understanding. 

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Blackness informs my work because there are so many multitudes to explore and appreciate. I genuinely believe that we are some of the most beautiful beings, not only physically but spiritually. There is something in Blackness that is mystical and abstract that cannot be explained in this lifetime. We are some soulful people, and I just want to highlight that the best way I know how.

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

Love is everything and everywhere. It is 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 are always worthy of love, time, understanding  and support from our communities and more importantly, from ourselves. I always say, “Nobody spends more time with me than I do,” meaning, my time spent with me will be for learning how to love me so I can love on the next sister so that they can do the same. 

In one of your latest collages, you quote the opening lines to poet Ntozake Shange’s “Dark Phrases.” That poem delves, in part, into the “infinite beauty” of Black women and girls, but also their struggles, their “interrupted solos / and unseen performances.” Why did this piece stick out to you as something necessary to be included in your own work?

Personally, that quote deeply resonates with me because I have some serious bouts with depression and anxiety. Some days, my thoughts take dark turns and I have my “unseen performances,” or moments where I feel I am alone with my thoughts but still functioning in my day to day life. For example, I work a regular 9-to-5 about five days out the week, and it is taxing on me in every sense. While I enjoy it and feel support from those I work with, I still feel pressures to perform to the very best of my abilities because I am one of the few Black folks who work there. Sometimes, I feel like I just have to know what to do all the time, and I don’t. So, the “unseen performance” is me grappling with my emotions and the fact that support is there. The “interrupted solos” relate to not having the time to love on me. One of my favorite ways to express love to myself is doing my hair; hence, the images of folks getting their hair styled. That’s my reminder of my beauty as well as fragility. My hope is that there is someone out there who can find themselves in their beauty when they feel breakable. That is why that piece was so necessary to include.

Finally, what advice do you have for women, whether they be Black, queer, or even our non-binary femme siblings, about why it is so important to publish one’s voice, even if you have to do it yourself?

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

Alyssa Bardge’s artwork can be found on her website, and her poetry can be found at Barnes & Noble.

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