Sonya Renee, performance poet

One of the great things about festivals is the range of styles you encounter – the variations of eloquences, as an astute audience member described it on the opening night. I have yet to meet Sonya Renee, but here is an interview we did by email – I hope to catch up with her tomorrow in person. Listen to some performances online.

The poetry slam has reinvigorated poetry. What’s more appealing to you – the passion and energy of the performance moment or the well-crafted, considered printed version?

I am in love with both. I am mesmerized by the beauty and craft of language and gifted poetry. I am equally in love with the expression on the face of a person as they experience being moved by a poem and performance. Nothing brings me more joy than watching a talented poet and perform bring a piece to life. Nothing is more painful than having to watch a terribly written poem on stage.

How did you career as a poet come about? Do you have to keep a day job?

After winning the National Poetry Slam in the US, I researched what other past champions were doing with their lives and they were living as writers and performers. I felt like I should explore that possibility. I have been very blessed in that performance poetry is my full time career currently.

Is the poetry scene healthy in the US? Where do we go on the web to find out more about poets and poetry?

The poetry scene is very vibrant in the US. You can find poetry slams, open mics, and spoken-word performance from Alaska to Nebraska. Every year Poetry Slam Incorporated (the national non-profit to promote poetry slam) brings 500 poets from around the country and abroad to compete and it continues to get bigger every year. To learn more about poetry slam one can visit

Who are your favourite writers / poets, and why?

I have such varied taste. I love the writing of Harryette Mullen, Jayne Cortez women who are part of the new African American canon, Yusef Komunyakka whose writing is gritty and vivid, Shel Silverstein who reminds me why I first loved poetry and the light it shines in me, Patricia Smith and Gayle Danley two of the most talented poets to rise out of slam. Their writing and performance make me quake. Rives, Taylor Mali, Andrea Gibson and Rachel Mckibbens all phenomenal poets who I consider my peers in slam and who do not sacrifice craft for stage.

Do you read the dictionary or play word games to help you get better at poetry?

I love reading in general. Thesaurus’ and dictionaries are amazing tools for writers. I love words and what better place to go to find new ones. Word games make me very happy Scrabble, Scattergories, etc. Anything that makes you think about language can only strengthen one’s poetic muscles.

How important are libraries to you?

Libraries are essential institutions in any intellectual society. Particularly in communities where young poor children do not have homes filled with books, libraries are access to a larger world. Libraries offer young people are opportunity to explore places they otherwise might never know existed.

I once read that a writer’s job is about overcoming fear – mostly the fear of boring your reader. Does the same apply to poetry?

ABSOLUTELY! For me poetry is about overcoming my fear of being seen. The idea of being truly vulnerable is terrifying but it is ultimately what we all want, to be seen and accepted. When I give myself permission to be visible and vulnerable I empower others to do the same. It is in the honesty that we are reminded of our shared humanity.

Do you have a favourite phrase or saying you try to work to?

Faith is knowing when you step into darkness, there will be solid ground beneath you or God will teach you how to fly.

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