NPR’s Michel Martin speaks to poet Ayanna Albertson, whose videos have gone viral on TikTok, about what inspires her work. She also shares an original poem she wrote for #NPRpoetry.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It’s almost April and that means it’s time for NPR poetry. This time around, every year to celebrate National Poetry Month, we ask for your original poems, which you post on the Twitter hashtag #nprpoetry. Well, this year we’re adding TikTok, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
But to make the start of this year easier for us, we are supported by Ayanna Albertson. Her poetry has attracted millions of views on TikTok and she is here to tell us more about her work. Welcome.
AYANNA ALBERTSON: Hello. Many Thanks. Thanks for the invitation.
MARTIN: All right. Well, don’t be kidding, but we want to get everyone involved, so I’m going to ask that you start with the basics for people who don’t know. What is TikTok and how does it work?
ALBERTSON: It’s a performative social media app. So people go upstairs and you have either 15 seconds or 60 seconds or anywhere in between and you can record pretty much anything that is entertainment or performativity based, from dancing to thinking pieces to singing and poetry and beyond. So I got into a bit of everything but definitely found my niche on TikTok through my poetry about the spoken word.
MARTIN: What inspired you to put your poems on TikTok and why do you think it works?
ALBERTSON: I felt like 2020 robbed me a bit of my personal, professional development in poetry. And so it happened in 2021, and I’m like poetry, poetry, poetry, poetry.
ALBERTSON: Actually, my first poem worked very well. And when you have that momentum, you really need to take advantage of it. And so the next day I published another poem and it worked very well. And then maybe I posted a poem a few days later. And it was just starting to be like a snowball effect. And it was so enjoyable because I like to do it.
MARTIN: I understand that you wrote an original poem for us to help us …
ALBERTSON: I did.
MARTIN: … start the month of poetry. Many Thanks. Yay. I am so flattered.
ALBERTSON: Of course.
MARTIN: Let’s hear it. Here it is.
ALBERTSON: (reading) I have a hard time naming a space safe, how everywhere can feel like a haven until it’s not how everywhere can feel like home, until it’s not how my ghost is the scariest Place is where i am. I was and am the most beautiful place I go, as every war zone once knew peace.
MARTIN: That’s beautiful. Wow.
ALBERTSON: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thanks for that. Tell me about it. What did that inspire you? And thank you for letting us know.
ALBERTSON: No problem (laughter). This poem is really fair – you know, I think in this day and age in society we tend to – we have this thing where we’re really trying to put an emphasis on safe spaces. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a fine effort. But I once heard someone say that a room is only as safe as the least safe person in it.
And I think this is really proof that we understand that we cannot swear a room to have protection. We can’t swear that a room is inviting or inviting, that, you know, everything is just a moment or a situation to be a threat. And I made this comparison with my mind because it’s like – you know, it’s a beautiful place, but sometimes it can be a very tough, very destructive place when you get too much into your head. So really just to say, you know, we really have to be deliberate in what we call a safe space.
MARTIN: That’s really why – and it is – well, I find it resonant on so many levels because, on the one hand, you – we ask people to share their work. And the process of sharing implies some trust and …
MARTIN: And you don’t – we can’t predict how people will react to that, you know?
ALBERTSON: Right. Absolutely.
MARTIN: And I think that’s really an important point, especially about how you can get your ideas out there. You know, some people are obviously very gifted, and they’ve always written, and they’re really dedicated to that. It’s part of their craft. Some people have just started getting into it. So do you have any advice for people who might just want to try it out?
MARTIN: How do you start?
ALBERTSON: Yes, absolutely. So I tell people all the time, we’re all poets. And when I say we are all poets, I don’t mean that to minimize the art of poetry. But there is always someone who needs to hear what you have to say. And so I just say, do it. It is easier said than done. I know a lot of people are scared of writing. You know, we always worry about what other people think.
But I think first you have to feed yourself, give yourself that satisfaction. And if you share it with the world because you are already satisfied with yourself, and you are already satisfied with the work you put into it, even if there are a million people who – I mean there won’t be a million people who don’t like it. It is, of course – but even if there are people out there who don’t really get it as long as you have a people or two – it’s almost like being in church. I don’t know if everyone was in church (laughter). But sometimes when the pastor finishes he will – appeal and say if I can only have one. I think that’s my approach. It’s like there’s always only one person – if there’s only one person that I can reach and influence, empower, and inspire, then it makes everything worthy and it’s not in vain.
MARTIN: Ayanna Albertson is a poet. You can find her poems on TikTok at @untouchableyann. That’s @untouchableyann. Ayanna Albertson, thank you for joining us.
ALBERTSON: Thank you. I appreciate it so much.
MARTIN: And if you want to join our Poetry Month celebration, we’re expanding on TikTok. You can send your original 15-second poem to TikTok using the hashtag #nprpoetry. Please remember to keep it radio friendly and 15 seconds or less.
And of course we will continue to use your original Twitter poems. You can tweet this to @npratc, also using the hashtag #nprpoetry. And the original Twitter rules also apply. Poems can have a maximum of 140 characters. Every weekend in April, a professional poet will take us up in the air to discuss some of the posts they have noticed.
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