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The International Magazine of Poetry & Graphics ▪ Bi-monthly ▪ March/April 2008

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Unoma Azuah is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Author of Night Songs and the novel Sky-High Flames. Here she talks about one of her favourite poets for our Poets on Poets series.



Who is your favourite poet?


Unoma: I have a bunch of favourite poets - David Mandessi Diop, Ifi Amadiume, Li Young Lee, Nia, Staceyann Chin, Masizi Kunene, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Derek Wilcot, Pablo Neruda, etc. The youngest of them all is Staceyann Chin. She is the one I’d like to talk about.


How did you first encounter Staceyann Chin?


Unoma: She was a guest poet at my University then - Cleveland State University, Ohio. And I had the opportunity to interview her for the school magazine called Vindicator.


What are the elements of this Chin’s work that make her work stand above others for you?


Unoma: Stacey has a strong forte for sprinkling humour into intense issues; she is fierce, confrontational, defiant, brave, and raw. I think though that some of her explicit poems may alienate her conservative audience. However, she makes poetry enjoyable because she transforms pedestrian subjects into something extraordinary, especially with her use of crisp figures of speech. In other words, she effortlessly merges the mundane and the profound and comes out with a fine tapestry of poetry.


What do you know about the writing habits of this poet?


Unoma: I know she is very passionate about writing - perhaps she sees her poetry as a calling. From her journal entries there are indications that she'd rather not sacrifice her passion for writing for the glitz and glamour performance poetry has brought her.


Do you know the poet your favourite poet most admired?


Unoma: If I am not mistaken, she loves the poetry of Lorna Goodison.


What is your favourite poem by Staceyann Chin? Please share your best lines from the poem, discussing what those lines represent to first as a person and second as a poet yourself.


Unoma: My favourite poem by Stacey Ann Chin is entitled "Passing." I don't have a favourite line from the poem and the whole poem would be too long to quote. I do however have favourite lines from one of her other poems entitled "Red Meat." It goes thus:


     "...our cups are filled with new possibilities

      other comic tragedies are yet to be conjured

      let us push our injured carcasses toward healing

      let us forsake this glut of obligatory feeling

      threatening to leave us heavy and poisoned by our choices."


As a person, I like the frankness in these lines and the way it connotes the need for a sacrifice in place of a greater cause. And as a poet, I like what she does with “our cups” being filled with “new possibilities”; the personification of “cup” and “possibilities” is striking because it makes me visualize such a concept as abstract as “possibilities.” It is also interesting to note what she does with “carcasses” and “healing,” as a paradox, it is as fresh as they come. Further, she adds music to these lines with her subtle use of internal rhymes and consonance. For example, this line: “us forsake this” attest to that. Then there are words like “glut of obligatory feeling,” and “healing.


Kindly offer up to a 100-word review of your favourite collection of poems by the poet.


Unoma: My favourite collection by Staceyann is her volume entitled, Stories Surrounding My Coming. It’s a collection that chronicles her experiences as a growing girl in Jamaica, being raised Roman Catholic, being abandoned, living with her grandmother and relatives. The poems are testimonies to these encounters. It’s also a collection that explores her growth and her restless questioning of a world and society that threatens to make her invisible because of her nonconformist stance. Staceyann is able to transcend the pain, the past and the burden of her being by remoulding these experiences into triumphant and evocative lines. Each and every one of these poems pulls one in to be entertained, educated and altered; her life and history become a song in this collection.


What is the most stirring thing a notable poet or critic has said about your Staceyann Chin?


Unoma: Sonya Shields has said this of Staceyann: “All the name-calling, discrimination and confusion about how to categorize Staceyann never stopped her from using “words” to educate people about injustice.”


Do you think that Chin’s work is or has ever been misunderstood?


Unoma: Yes. Some have called her angry, man-hater, and extremist feminist, etc. But I think what turns some people off, especially conservatives, is her ability to have the nerve to challenge the status quo; her ability to be loud and vocal about her “tabooed” sexual orientation. In my opinion, she is a dan-good-poet, an activist and a revolutionist.


What do you consider the legacy this poet will bequeath to the literary world?


Unoma: Innovative poetry, spectacular art performance and the courage to fight for integrity.  





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