In this episode, we get into conversation with Brittany Rogers. Brittany is a poet, creator, educator, and proud native Detroiter. She is a fellow of VONA, The Watering Hole, Poetry Incubator, and Pink Door Writing Retreat. Her writing has been anthologized in The BreakBeat Poets: Black Girl Magic and Best of the Net. Brittany is also Editor-in-Chief for Muzzle Magazine, an M.F.A. candidate, and a Blackburn Fellow at Randolph College.
Together, we celebrate the work of Aricka Foreman. Aricka is an American poet and interdisciplinary writer from Detroit MI. Author of the chapbook Dream with a Glass Chamber, and Salt Body Shimmer (YesYes Books), she has earned fellowships from Cave Canem, Callaloo, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. She serves on the Board of Directors for The Offing, and spends her time in Chicago, IL engaging poetry with photography & video.
We thread the needle between Foreman’s practice of protective truth-telling with Roger’s rituals of delight. Brittany also discusses how she exercises creative risk-taking by infusing a sense of wonder and delight.
In this episode, we talk about:
- The Great Migration in the context of Detroit
- Infusing honesty with a sense of protection & care
- Creative Risk-taking
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[00:00:00] Brittany Rogers: I think that our imaginations are boundless, right. And I think that when you don’t take risks, you don’t really have a full idea of what your capacity could be.
[00:00:23] (upbeat piano music)
[00:00:31] Michaela Ayers: Hello there, and welcome to Black Her Stories, where we tap into the lineage of Black women artists who inspire us and shape our stories.
Join us for nourishing conversations with leading writers, storytellers, and entertainers that center the lived experiences of Black women, past and present.
[00:00:59] Together, we will explore what possibilities exist when creativity meets history, when we harness our creative power to unlock our purpose.
I am your host Michaela Ayers.
[00:01:21] Travel back in time with me for a moment. A person stands near the edge of a crowded train platform, a wrinkled one-way ticket in hand.
Dressed in their finest suit, nervously, eagerly, awaiting the train that will change their life, and this country, forever.
All aboard for New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
[00:01:58] At this segregated train station, a sea of Black people stand shoulder to shoulder, pushing towards their own human potential, drawn to the dream of safety and success.
From Southern soil to urban centers in the North and West, we now call this seismic shift, the Great Migration.
Between 1910 and 1970, the African-American population in Detroit surged by over 600%. The motor city swelled with factory jobs that transformed molten steel into automobiles that put the world in motion.
[00:02:46] At the turn of the 20th century, over 6 million Black people chose to migrate, to escape the oppressive conditions of the South, to leave everything that they knew behind.
There was no single leader, just hope and many heartbeats.
[00:03:11] Fast-forward to now.
52 years later, Detroit still holds its place as one of the largest cities in the United States with a Black majority. This lineage of movement informs the conversation you’ll hear today with Brittany Rogers.
Brittany Rogers is a poet, creator, educator, and proud native Detroiter. She is a fellow of VONA, the Watering Hole, Poetry Incubator, and Pink Door Writing Retreat.
[00:03:46] Her writing has been anthologized in The BreakBeat Poets, Black Girl Magic, and Best of the Net. Brittany is also co-editor in chief for Muzzle Magazine, an MFA candidate, and a Blackburn fellow at Randolph college.
In the weeks since this interview, I have been indulging in some of the delightful ideas that surfaced in our conversation.
[00:04:15] There are two seeds that I’d like to plant in your mind.
The first is a sense of place. As an educator, I am always curious about how identity changes as it touches different environments.
As you listen, consider how the quality of your interactions and your sense of belonging shift depending on where you are.
[00:04:46] Second is truth-telling.
Dominant culture tends to tell us that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. But what does avoiding hard truths cost us in our learning, our growth, and our relationships? What values support difficult yet necessary truth-telling that is actually rooted in love?
[00:05:17] So without further ado, here is my conversation with Brittany Rogers.
[00:05:31] All right. I’d love to start with just a warm-up question, which is how would your friends describe you?
[00:05:39] Brittany Rogers: My homies, I think that they would describe me as nurturing, probably. All my friends say that I work too hard. I’m always busy. I need some rest. That I am a Detroit girl.
Most people describe me as like, kind, which I think it’s true to a degree and that I’m almost always in a position of like caregiving, but Ajanae loves to remind me that I am more than the care that I give for other folks.
[00:06:13] And so I feel like when she describes me, she’ll basically be like, Brittany’s funny, Brittany’s a great cook. She’s like, I want to remind you that you are more than what you do for others.
[00:06:21] Michaela Ayers: What a great friend to reflect back to you that you’re more than just the care and the nurturing that you offer others.
[00:06:28] And I think we all need to hear that, especially as Black women like, that, that truth right there already cuts me pretty deep. So thank you for that offering.
And I want to transition of course, into getting to know you more. That’s something I’m just really excited about, to be in this space with you in general.
[00:06:46] So my first question is thinking about when you fell in love with writing.
[00:06:52] Brittany Rogers: Ooh, that reminds me of the, when did you first fall in love with hip-hop… Brown Sugar is one of my favorite movies.
I think I fell in love with writing as a high schooler. Detroit has a program called InsideOut Literary Arts that offers this writing program to youth called Citywide poets, and I was a Citywide poet.
[00:07:10] So that would be where I first gathered my own little community of writers, where I first started to do slam. InsideOut is where I met my husband, is where I met my best friends, is where I met my first mentors.
[00:07:25] So probably around the age where I was just beginning to have like a lot of feelings that I didn’t otherwise know what to do with, and looking for a place to put them.
[00:07:36] Michaela Ayers: Well, I appreciate you lifting up Brown Sugar. Cause that’s definitely what, like that question is definitely inspired by Brown Sugar. So you, you nailed it.
[00:07:42] Brittany Rogers: It’s a classic.
[00:07:44] Michaela Ayers: It’s a classic, and I was watching it recently and it just feels like, yeah, it feels like that hug. It feels like that really familial connection that I am always looking for.
[00:07:56] So, I understand that writing has been in your life, it sounds like, since you were a young adult.
And now, fast forward to the person you are today, what are some of the themes that you explore in your writing?
[00:08:08] Brittany Rogers: Detroit is a character that shows up a lot. I think that has evolved to me also being very concerned, with the Great Migration, especially as a Black writer who is trying to be more well-read.
[00:08:24] And something that I’m realizing is that the migration shows up in people’s language, but it doesn’t show up like super overtly.
Family is for sure one of them, I come from a hardcore matriarchy, so they’re always present. My granny is always somewhere in my poems, and my mom, my aunties, my cousins.
[00:08:43] I write some about motherhood, but I think that. So a lot of times when Black women write about motherhood, it’s not just about motherhood, you know what I mean? So it’s about like medical racism, it’s about time, it’s about labor. I think a lot about class and how all of those things intersect with my concerns or what I have going on.
[00:09:04] And I’m trying lately to lean more into like joy, so the things that make me happy. I write about my friends. I write about skating. I write about the hair and rap and other things that bring me a sense of delight.
[00:09:18] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, definitely. And motherhood and mothering is definitely something that I’ve noticed saying across these conversations that does keep showing up.
[00:09:26] And to your point, conversations about motherhood are not always about this mother-child relationship. It is also sometimes how mothering shows up in the context of other practices, systems, you know, our relationships with our friends, how we mother ourselves.
And so I think that that’s something that I’m noticing across these conversations is, motherhood is so multi-dimensional, and it’s important that, to remember that.
[00:09:54] Brittany Rogers: Yeah, I think so. I think I mother my students a lot. As a matter of fact, I got an email from one of my parents, maybe a couple of months ago because her child, the school had been like canceled or there was like something going on weird with the schedule. And so I wasn’t expecting to have any seniors that day.
[00:10:11] So the seniors who were not supposed to come to school got like a last minute message that basically was like ‘come to school.’ And I know myself as a senior, at 10:00 AM if you messaged me talking about coming to school, there is no school, right.
But one of my students like sends me a message on our school platform and it’s like, I’m sorry, I’m running late, but I’m on the way.
[00:10:29] And so when she gets in school, it was like maybe three minutes past the hour. And she was so apologetic, but I really fussed her out because I was like, how did you even get here so fast? What were you doing? Like, nothing was urgent enough for me to feel like you should risk your safety, like rushing and driving up here.
[00:10:45] Like, nothing’s going on like that. And she was like, well I didn’t want to miss class, so I was in the middle of breakfast and I just stopped. And I was like, you didn’t eat? You mean you just came in here, you didn’t eat breakfast? So I fussed, I fussed, I fussed, the next day I got an email from her mom that was like, thank you so much for being a second mom.
[00:11:02] She told me that you were mothering her yesterday and she really appreciated it. And that was so sweet to me. It was like the highlight of one of my days. Cause I do think that teaching is a kind of parenting that often isn’t described as like a kind of parenting, but it’s a large part of what it is.
[00:11:17] Michaela Ayers: Absolutely a hundred percent.
[00:11:18] When I think about my formative years and the teachers that I’ve had, I think about them as, you know, mentors and mothers, in a way, in terms of that, that other ear that you get, the other voice to guide you, that can stay with you throughout time, who sees you in a different way. And it’s so valuable.
So I heard you say that Detroit is a character in your writing, and I wanted to draw that out a little bit.
[00:11:44] And if you could introduce us to your character of Detroit, how would you introduce us to them?
[00:11:49] Brittany Rogers: Oh, Detroit, let’s see. Okay, so Detroit is a bad bitch, okay. Detroit is my favorite auntie, Detroit can drink me under the table, Detroit has proverbs for days. She got all the wisdom. Detroit is resilient. Detroit is like my mother, Detroit make a dollar out of 15 cents.
[00:12:08] You know what I mean? Detroit makes it happen. And I say that not as somebody like romanticizing some of the less than stellar parts, but as somebody who was taught that you can’t love someone without seeing the fullness of who they are. And I think I love Detroit very much in all of its fullness.
[00:12:29] I don’t know. I think Detroit became a character in my writing because people talk about Detroit very casually and dare I say very disrespectfully. And I could be biased, right, because I’m a native Detroiter, so it could just be my sense of protectiveness over the city. I don’t know, I just feel like people always got something to say and I’m like, do you live here?
[00:12:48] Like, do you live here proper? And that’s something that’s very important to me too. Like, it’s in my bio, like Brittany is a native Detroiter, Detroit proper. Because it makes a difference.
And I think, again, very much in the way that we talk about people who we love, like there’s a way to criticize a space or criticize a thing without completely diminishing everything about it.
[00:13:09] Michaela Ayers: Well, I love to get a visual of some of your favorite things about Detroit. And like, if you could take us on like a, like a visual tour, like, where would you take us? What do those spots look like? You know, what is your, your lens on Detroit culture?
[00:13:24] Brittany Rogers: This is, my favorite spots are mostly associated with my favorite people, right?
[00:13:32] So my granny’s house on Van Dyke and Gratiot. I love Louisiana gumbo. I love K & G deli. I love every gas station on the East side because they are, they carry everything, they make me so much happier. And when me and my husband got married, he moved me over to the West side. And, so before I moved over here, when people would talk about you not like East side, West side, I was like it’s all the same, it’s all Detroit.
[00:13:58] And then I got over here and I was like, oh, y’all are different. Whew, don’t know how I feel about that. But I think, because of the set up of the city, I just kinda always felt like I could go to any store. Like I could walk to any corner and find absolutely everything that I needed, and the West side isn’t necessarily like that.
[00:14:15] I love Chandler park. I like, don’t have a favorite restaurant. I like capers. I like Louisiana gumbo. I don’t know that I’ve developed a fave over here.
[00:14:26] Michaela Ayers: That’s fair. I feel like favorite sometimes is a tricky word because it depends, right. It so much depends on that day or that mood or what’s going on.
[00:14:36] Brittany Rogers: It does. And I’m very much a person who kind of lives in nostalgia, right. So all of my favorite things are things that hold like sentimental value to me.
Like if you ask me my favorite mall, I probably still say Eastland. Does Eastland have everything that it needs to have? No. But is that the place that I’ve shopped at the most?
[00:14:52] So is it the place that I’m the most familiar with and therefore most comfortable with? I’ll say yes. Oh, you know, my favorite thing in city is libraries. Libraries are my favorite thing in the city easily, hands down.
[00:15:04] Michaela Ayers: Well, that’s very on brand, I have to say, as a teacher and as, as a writer and I think something else that’s standing out to me, going back to something I heard you say is this Great Migration shows up, and even how I’m hearing you talk about East side versus West side.
[00:15:19] And I think that the other thing that I’m noticing is like the Great Migration, it’s in the past and it’s also in this present moment, you know? And how you move through the city, and how people like myself as a new Detroiter, I’ve come to understand, like, where do I fit?
[00:15:34] You know? Like how’s the culture shift depending on where you are and the type of interactions that you’ll have with people.
[00:15:41] Brittany Rogers: No, that’s fair. And I, I feel bad cause I do think it’s a, it’s a tricky dynamic, that’s kind of like hard to navigate.
Like once I got over here, my husband was saying things like, you have to stop driving like an East sider here.
[00:15:52] And I’m like, what are you talking about? Like I’m not—none of y’all use your turn signals over here. What, is the turn signal just imaginary?
But I’ll like, we’ll park in the middle of the street or something cause I know nobody’s coming up, but if they do that go around and he’s like, we do not do that over here.
[00:16:04] You have got stop. Right? So, huh, I don’t think I ever thought about that being tied to migration. But I suppose it is.
And I think the Great Migration is still very present for me because I think it undergirds, like even my family history, my granny’s not from Detroit. My granny’s from Georgia. Our grandfather is from South Carolina.
[00:16:25] So my mother, her siblings are the first siblings who were like born in Detroit and they spent their whole life here.
And I’ve always joked to say that if I ever left Detroit, it would be to go someplace South. But I’m not certain that that’s what I’m going to do, you know what I mean?
Detroit has been so historically Black that I don’t know where I would leave and still feel as comfortable.
[00:16:45] Michaela Ayers: Mm. Yeah, that’s real. Yeah, I think that there’s something about it as, you know, somebody who’s new. Like I think I’m coming up on my year, one year anniversary of living in Detroit.
[00:16:56] Brittany Rogers: Oh congratulations! Welcome, welcome!
[00:17:01] Michaela Ayers: (laughing) Yes, thank you.
It is kind of an energetic shift for me to live in such a pro-Black place.
And you were saying like the culture, the history, and seeing all these different flavors of Blackness. I think there’s an interesting opening in particular around Blackness here that I, that I really have felt so grateful for.
[00:17:21] Brittany Rogers: Oh that makes me happy. Yeah, we have a vibe, we’re a little extra, you know what I mean? But that’s my favorite part.
Like my most recent poem talks about the ice cams with the Pistons. Have you seen those?
[00:17:37] Michaela Ayers: No.
[00:17:38] Brittany Rogers: Those are bringing me so much joy right now. Cause I really been meditating a lot in my writing on like vanity and on extravagance.
[00:17:45] And I just like the concept of being like really extra, right, and I think—not, I think. I am an extra person, right. I’m extra. Everyone I know is extra.
I think it almost is like a part of the culture, you know what I mean? Like a lil extra razzle dazzle, right? But I think I also look at the way that other people talk about it and I’m like, oh, interesting.
[00:18:06] Is this like frowned upon? Hmm.
So the ice cams are the Pistons at their games, the jumbo camera thing. And like basically they flash on everybody who’s wearing it, like the jewelry, like they iced out, they doing the blade, they, they got it. Right.
And the pushback, I guess, it has been really, really interesting. And, you know, Black people who make money and they, be wasteful, or, you know, they set themselves up to get robbed or whatever the case may be, right.
[00:18:35] Like lots of critiques are for Detroiters, I’m like, oh no, that’s just Detroit, right? They go like that to the corner store, you know what I mean? If I go to Flood’s tomorrow, I might see somebody who looks just like this at this game, or, you know, the way we dress. The way we do our hair, like the colors, the nails, the flare, the, all of that stuff is stuff that I associate with the city.
[00:18:58] So when people are talking trash about it, I’m like, oh, that’s, that’s not just me. Like, that’s us.
And in the poem it talks about how Cashout had just had like a baby shower and Cashout was like, a Detroit rapper and the baby shower was like Pistons-themed. And so they were like all these basketballs everywhere and like lots of colors.
[00:19:16] I thought it looked gorgeous. And the people on the internet were like, oh my God, this is the most tacky. The most gaudy, the most trashy, like you have money, why would you do this? And she was like, I thought it was beautiful. What are you talking about? So then when the ice cam came out and people were talking about it, she posted it.
[00:19:30] It was like, see, she was like, this is Detroit. Like, this is us.
And I think that that, all of that I think is very much intertwined with the way that I think about Blackness and the way that I think about taking up space as a Black person, a dark-skinned Black person, a super extra fem, right. All of those things in this city.
[00:19:48] I think they’re very intertwined.
[00:19:51] Michaela Ayers: Right, yeah. What I hear in this too is like that, that the power of perception and preference essentially, right? It’s like, there are, there are aesthetics that people just, everybody has their own flavor.
Everybody has their own style and their preference. You know, to say, this is good and this is not good, like this is tacky or this is beautiful, you know, that’s bias in a nutshell.
[00:20:17] And I don’t, I don’t think that that is really offered in the critique or that acknowledgment of, of preference and bias. And I think that that’s what I see in this also framing of Detroit from the outside versus the inside it, or, you know, even thinking about Blackness and woman-ness, what is the perception?
[00:20:35] What is the dominant? What is the stereotype versus myself as an individual, who am I?
And, you know, picking up what I want and not taking what doesn’t belong to me. And I think that that’s something that I know, well, I know we’ll get into more, but, you know, I think that’s already what I hear so much of and just, just thinking about the ice cam.
[00:20:57] Brittany Rogers: It’s my favorite thing right now. Every time I see it, I’m like, yes, y’all flex.
[00:21:03] Michaela Ayers: Well, I’m looking forward to seeing that. I haven’t seen a Pistons game yet, but I am here for the ice cam for sure.
And now that we’ve kind of set the scene of this place where we both are, I would love to segue into thinking about your icon, Aricka Foreman, who is also a Detroiter.
[00:21:20] And so I want to talk about. Why did you select Aricka? Why does her story stand out?
[00:21:26] Brittany Rogers: Aricka is formative to who I am as a writer. When I joined InsideOut my very first mentor or instructor, none of those are terms that they use, but my very first person in that capacity was Matthew Uzman. And then after that, it was Aricka Foreman.
[00:21:43] And she’s been a person who’s been wildly instrumental, path-wise, personally, in a familial sense. Her writing is astounding.
And also Aricka is just like really, really, really good people. And something that I appreciate about her is her dedication to Detroit. Like she lives in Chicago currently. And I love that every time I look at her bio, it always says from like, Aricka is from Detroit and I’m like, yes, ma’am.
[00:22:10] Just that kind of dedication, I think, embodies all the things that I love about her.
[00:22:17] Michaela Ayers: Well, now you got me tuned into thinking about migration and how migration shows up in language, even in something as concise as a bio.
You can kind of plot the course of a person and where they’ve been and where they’re from. And I’m curious for you, when you come in contact with her poetry or her writing, you know, what kind of mood or what kind of energy does it evoke for you?
[00:22:40] Brittany Rogers: I mean, A) it always, always feels like home, very grounding, I think. Very very visceral. I love what Aricka does with language. I love what she does with sound. Aricka plays with the meter in a way that I’m always really like drawn into. And maybe because meter is not what I consider my strong suit, right.
[00:23:02] But reading her poems out loud is like, okay, it’s centering. But also you are so smart. Like you, you, are doing this thing with the meter, with the sound like, it’s gorgeous.
Like, I feel like her work is almost, it gives me like a sense of ritual. Right. So it’s something I want to like say aloud again and again, like I want to return to it and kind of savor it.
[00:23:29] Michaela Ayers: When you say meter, would it be safe to say that that’s like the pace, how the language flows from the performer who’s reading the poem? Is that the right understanding of meter?
[00:23:40] Brittany Rogers: Yes. I am not necessarily like a meter guru. But it’s the way the syllables and words are used to create like a sense of rhythm.
[00:23:50] And like you said, a sense of pace. And I think that Black folks have a very natural rhythm.
So I think in a lot of ways we’re great at meter whether we know it or not, but I think that I see Aricka Foreman very intentionally play with meter to either like speed up the words or to slow ‘em down. Like it, it manipulates not in a negative connotation, but like as a writer, Aricka’s gonna guide you through how she feels.
[00:24:17] Like I look up and I’m like, oh, I’m feeling things, where did this come from? And it’s through the way that she employed sound and the way that she employs language and the way that she employs the lyric and what she’s meditating on, I’m like, okay, well now I’m here and I’m meditating with you.
And like, I found myself getting lost in it, but I’m not lost.
[00:24:33] You know what I’m saying? I’m submerged, which I think is a great thing.
[00:24:37] Michaela Ayers: Yes, I’m not lost but I’m submerged, I think is a powerful visual to think about when thinking about poetry, because I think there’s this, you know, in some forms, the shortness, you know, and that you wouldn’t maybe assume could be immersive. And at the same time, when I was watching and listening to her performances, I did feel like I was being enveloped.
[00:25:05] Yeah. That I was being held in a way. And thinking about her work, I noticed that there’s this tapping into the real and the imaginary at the same time that I really appreciated, the way that she was able to describe the Black aesthetic that was around her in this way that made me question what beauty is.
[00:25:27] And who gets to be beautiful. Yeah. And I thought that, especially in the context of Blackness and going back to this perception and like the power of perception, you know, I feel like growing up, Blackness was not exalted in the way that I now understand it to be.
And I appreciate this idea around who gets to be gorgeous and we can create that. Those things I noticed so much in her writing.
[00:25:55] But what about you? What are some of the things that really stand out to you in her writing and the themes that she’s touching into?
[00:26:02] Brittany Rogers: I think thematically, I feel like Aricka, doesn’t shy away from talking about things that are hard. And I think that kind of sense of unflinching is always resonant with me because I think, in poetry, it’s very common to talk about the hard things, but it’s more rare to see those things talked about with precision and with care. And I think that there’s a way in which Aricka talks about like assault, right?
[00:26:33] Or talks about violence against women or how it’s about medical violence, whether that’d be therapists or whether that’d be intake appointments and things like that, or whether she talks about the things that we must say, the things we can’t avoid, that still feel like I’m being cared for.
[00:26:50] And I think that’s the thing that probably stands out to me the most and that is most important to me because I think it’s so easy, and I say this for myself and my work included like there’ve been times where I look back on poems and I’m like, oh, this wasn’t as, as careful for my audience, as it could have been.
[00:27:05] If my audience is, you know, these Black folks who I want to feel seen and who I want to feel affirmed and we’re recanting their trauma, but we’re not giving them a sense of care. And it doesn’t have to be joy. I think joy can be a really performative space, but if we’re not giving them any delight if we’re not giving them any sensory experiences that are beyond this pain. You know what I mean?
[00:27:29] Then you can kind of leave the work feeling like torn or uncared for, and I don’t think that there’s ever been a space I’ve been in with Aricka where I haven’t felt cared for, whether that was just like reading her poems or being physically in a space with her, or like a workshop with her.
[00:27:47] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, and that reminds me of what you were saying around it, feeling like a ritual. And cause I feel like the outcome of ritual to me is not necessarily joy but there is a sense of satisfaction, of completion, or like the ability to return to something, to help process.
And I definitely felt that in reading and watching her read some of her work. There were so many odes, you know, an ode to Detroit or an ode to Black hair or like Black girlhood.
[00:28:16] And to me even saying the word ode feels like, like something I could chant almost, you know? And I think that there’s something clearly poetic about the way, the way that she uses language.
[00:28:29] Brittany Rogers: And also a sense of protection, right? Like, like I feel like you’re going to get beat up if you’re trying to come at me after I read this book.
[00:28:37] And I think that that’s, feeling enveloped and feeling protected like that, it’s, it’s priceless.
And again, I think it’s something that’s very hard to create in craft alone. Cause it, it comes with like vulnerability, and tenderness too, right? And tender is probably one of the hardest things, especially if you’re a person who has been harmed.
[00:29:01] And I think Aricka is a person who pushes me to be more tender.
[00:29:07] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, well, vulnerability and tenderness. How does that show up in your writing practice?
[00:29:15] Brittany Rogers: Um, I think it’s come more recently in the shift to point towards the things that are delighting me. And delight is like one of my new favorite terms for this.
[00:29:30] Because again, I think the joy isn’t always sufficient. And possibility is another thing that I think about too.
So, what could bring me joy? What could bring me satisfaction? And that’s been helpful and this also helps me be a lot more vulnerable, right? So like it’s one thing to write a love poem for a partner, which I actually do very rarely, but it’s a different thing for me to write a love poem for my best friend, one for one of my homies.
[00:29:52] It’s a different thing to write about, you know, trying something new or like the old childhood secrets. Like, those are the things that feel kind of tender to me. Those are the things that make me feel like, like I want my audience to know me in a more intimate way.
Because I think I could talk about like the bad things that have happened to me all day.
[00:30:12] Like those things at this point are not necessarily secrets, right? So they don’t hold any vulnerability for me. They don’t hold any intimacy because I’m telling you something that, you know, has happened and I’ve processed.
So I’m telling you something about like a shell of me that doesn’t exist anymore, but I’m not telling you anything about me.
[00:30:31] And I think the things that I tend to keep tucked closer to my heart are those things that bring me that type of happiness.
So leaning into writing about those more has helped me be a more tender and more vulnerable writer.
And then also things like even just in practice. My friends see my poems, all of my drafts.
[00:30:51] And they are very bad drafts let me tell you. So just knowing that I’m like, okay, cool. I’m trusting my folks with this.
And a lot of times I’m not sending them per se for like immediate edits or like immediate feedback, but it’s just, it’s more a way of saying, Hey, this is what’s on my heart right now. And I want you to know what’s on my heart.
[00:31:08] So embedded in my practice is like a sense of vulnerability. Because even if this is a poem that like I never publish or, you know, I never put out into the world, I know that like the folks closest to me are going to see it.
And they are other folks, quite frankly, whose, you know, opinions I’m most worried about.
[00:31:23] Right. If one of my homies is like, listen, baby, that was trash. I’m like, oh no, what are we gonna do, hold on.
[00:31:32] Michaela Ayers: (laughing)Yes, yeah.
Well, and what’s coming up in my mind kind of imagining the vulnerability, maybe being the springboard, you know, like this is something I have to get out of me. Like I want to release this, this thing that’s in my body.
[00:31:46] And then trust being that value that supports that, whatever it is and that being a part of your practice, I just think that’s really beautiful.
[00:31:54] Brittany Rogers: Aw, thank you. And, tenderness is difficult for me. Well, let me not say that. I don’t know the tenderness is very difficult. Vulnerability is very difficult.
So I think I’m wildly tender with folks who know me.
[00:32:05] I’m the oldest child, right? And I’m a very stereotypical oldest daughter in a Black matriarchy.
I’m the oldest niece, I’m the oldest granddaughter. Right. So I know how to mother, folks, but being vulnerable, I think is kind of a different ball game.
[00:32:22] Michaela Ayers: Well, and I also want to shift a little bit to thinking about this idea of vulnerability, perhaps in Aricka’s practice.
[00:32:30] Do you see that? Do you, do you feel like that is something you can identify in her writing?
[00:32:34] Brittany Rogers: I mean, I think so, like, I’m thinking about the poem series with the odes and how it looks at folks who have harmed the speaker specifically, but then also Black women as like a whole, and I think, I think for women in particular, there’s kind of like this stigma against writing the personal, right? Or what could be perceived as the personal, and so I think that all of that takes a type of vulnerability and a type of honesty.
[00:33:04] I even think about like the odes that you were talking about. It, it takes a letting down of a guard to be able to let people know what you’re celebrating.
And I also think about the ways that people will tell you to kind of guard your happiness or, you know, keep this thing, private, keep this thing secret.
[00:33:20] These people can ruin this, you know, they’ll get jealous and try to attack it or they’ll do, you know, whatever to it. And so I think anytime you’re talking about those things, there’s a space of vulnerability.
[00:33:32] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. I want to breathe into what you’re saying around being honest about the things that you’re celebrating and the things that you’re not.
[00:33:43] And I think that that’s something, especially in the context of Black women, there’s definitely so much complexity there.
And I feel like Aricka does it in a way that feels like, like that real and imaginary again, like I feel like, I guess when I read her work, I can’t tell what is her memory and what is, what is a collective memory? And I appreciate that.
[00:34:04] Brittany Rogers: I think the more specific you get sometimes in a work, the more it can open itself to universality because people can see themselves in this experience.
I think that Aricka does this thing with lyric where, like you said, some things seem surreal or like, they feel more surreal, but even in that I think is a vulnerability because now we’re allowed into the imagination.
[00:34:25] And so we’re allowed like, to dream and to wonder, and to think about possibilities with so Addy and to walk through their imagination, their conjurings. And I think that’s really dope and really powerful.
[00:34:50] self-portrait is K & G deli on Warren and Connor. The boundaries are clear, a handwritten sign on the door warns: please do not ask for loose cigarettes. We do not sell any loose cigarettes at all. Please show proper ID. Thank you. Anything can belong to you if you ask right. Fuzzy peach candy, gummy bears in Hawaiian colors, all two for a dollar. Here, you can smell like cheap perfume, Jasmine incense, or body oil, your choice. Hennesse and hypnotic, Alizé and Absolut.
[00:35:34] The type of drink put hair on your chest. Only in this store on this corner, a copper jug of lucky nights, golden liquor, 40 proof. K & G teach you to glutton without sin. Mac and cheese, rice and gravy, sponge thick lemon pound cake, blood moon rib tips, every type of chicken you aching for.
[00:36:00] Come. Wash. Shave, drape, and weave adorned fitteds and tall tees. Pack tomorrow’s lunch changed the pamper, bleach the sink, scrub the soil carpet. There is a choir of Black women waiting for you at the door. Hair did, nails did, waiting to get you, right. There’s no rush. We’ll be here, damn near all night.
[00:36:37] Michaela Ayers: That was Brittany Rogers, performing self-portrait as K & G deli on Warren and Connor.
[00:36:59] Brittany Rogers: I think that piece for me, it’s a self-portrait. And so it was one of the first times that I was trying to think of like, okay, if I had to describe myself to someone else. You know, what ways can I do it outside of the, you know, ‘I’m Brittany Rodgers. This is how I look and this is what I care about.’
And so in that way, it’s kind of like a created world, because it’s imagining like all of the offerings that this story can give.
[00:37:25] But also those offerings are also me. Right. And I’m not offering people like Pampers in a deli, and Alizé, right.
But thinking about how all of these things go together, thinking about how they move, move through kind of a coming of age space, thinking about the offerings, not just of the city, but the offerings of myself and the things that I’ve taken and the things that I’ve appreciated.
[00:37:51] And then kind of trying to create a role with them. Or a persona if you will. So thinking of that story is like my persona.
And I think maybe about the way that Aricka talks about like the water and its immersiveness in terms of her surrealism. And I feel like that’s a separate group poems. And I’m like, see you, like, in the way that I feel candy is like my safe place, my happy place, I feel like how Aricka talks about the ocean and the sea and the water is that space for her as well.
[00:38:24] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Yeah, no, totally. Well, and I, I appreciate this idea of that poem serving as a kind of self-portrait and the objects that we get to visualize and come encounter with, you know, those being offerings of place, but also of a person in a way, not necessarily your personality, but the things that you see, the things that you’re attracted to.
[00:38:46] So, you know, in that idea of like an offering or a persona, I guess, what has the practice of writing taught you about yourself?
[00:38:57] Brittany Rogers: I’m hard on myself. I think I’m probably best in the editing phase of writing, but I also think that’s because I’m like, well, no, this could be different. This could be better.
[00:39:11] Something that I had to learn to push past, and I’m still like working towards, is playing more in my writing and just getting comfortable with it.
Like, okay, what if I do this? I think for a long time, my writing was just like very strictly narrative. Very strictly the I, because I think I wanted to be very careful to write about like what I knew or what I had experienced.
[00:39:33] And I think within like the past couple of years, it’s kind of shifted to more of like, okay, I want to wonder more. I want to risk more. And I am, I’m a Taurus’s Taurus. I’m very grounded. You know what I’m saying? I like consistency. I like what I can touch and put my hands on, and to know what’s going to be the outcome.
[00:39:55] And that’s something that I’ve had to break away from in my writing. So it’s often just kind of taught me the power of taking risks.
I remember the first poem I wrote and the ending surprised me and I was like woah! Where’d that come from, hold on?
[00:40:11] And so I feel like playing more in my writing has taught me just a lot about like, oh, so I was feeling that that’s crazy. I wonder if all of these things was really this. And I wouldn’t have known had I not played around there. Or you know, wow, I can play around with form, who knew?
[00:40:27] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Well, and I appreciate hearing a little bit of like that shift in your creative practice, moving from I to imagine.
[00:40:35] And I’m, I’m wondering about like this idea of taking risks and wonder, and like as a Black woman, why is it important to practice that.
[00:40:48] Brittany Rogers: So I think it comes along like this practice of audacity that I’ve been super invested in and what it means to be just as audacious as, or even more audacious, I dare say, because we’ve earned it, than like the writers that we were taught to like laud and celebrate in school.
[00:41:05] I think that our imaginations are boundless. Right. And I think that when you don’t take risks, you don’t really have a full idea of what your capacity could be, or the sorts of ways that you can branch off.
There was a time where I would have been, like, I can never write a poem in form. And now form is one of my favorite parts of my practice because I’m like, oh, what happens to this poem if it becomes a, a Pantoum?
[00:41:29] What happens to this idea if it becomes a huddle or a Sestina, or a sonnet. And I don’t know.
It just, it really, it, it, it breaks, open something in my thinking, and my capacity to like, be more creative, but also be more open to other possibilities and even beyond poems. It’s like, okay, what if this isn’t a poem?
[00:41:47] What if this is like a video? What if this is a lyric essay? What if this is going to be a place somewhere? And I don’t think I would have thought about that had I had not been open to taking more risks.
[00:42:02] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, that makes me go back to what we were talking about before with like vulnerability and like the willingness to be tender and question like, to not, to not know, and the possibilities that emerge from that way of thinking, like you said, our imaginations being this like infinite well of, of ideas. And so,
[00:42:25] Brittany Rogers: Yeah. Absolutely it’s hard not knowing.
[00:42:29] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. It’s so uncomfortable to not know, because oftentimes I feel like as a Black woman, the expectation is that, you know, and, or you know how to fall in line. And so pushing back against that I think is inherently uncomfortable.
[00:42:46] Brittany Rogers: Yeah. And I think not even just that you, you do know that you must know, right.
[00:42:50] That, at least, again in my family, everything is riding on you knowing. And then there was a while where I was a single parent and I’m still, I think very much working to shift to like a different financial space, a space where I have more time, a space where I have a bit more freedom to create. And you know, you really can’t take a lot of risks when that’s what you got going on, right?
[00:43:14] You want to stick to what, you know, stick to what has proven itself to be helpful. And so I’m really grateful that I’ve been in a position in the last few years to take some chances.
And I’m grateful to have a family that, you know, like trusts me to take the chances, right. A partner was like, you want to get an MFA? Sure. And you want to like, you know, do this thing?
[00:43:32] They’d be like, go for it and is encouraging and rooting for that, because I think that’s, you know, that’s difficult.
Like I watched my mother work and be in school pretty much my entire life. I’ve never known my grandmother to not have a job. Right.
[00:43:99] And feeling like, okay, I can take a chance on myself has been really, like you said uncomfortable, but I think also really, really good for me, cause I feel like with every chance I take, it’s like, oh, something shakes, look at that.
I don’t think that things can open up without you taking a chance.
[00:44:06] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, for sure. Well, and I also, I hear you, that sometimes risk is not an option if you’re in the mode of survival.
[00:44:15] And that, that is a privilege. Being able to extend yourself with your creativity means you’re not doing something else that could put bread on the table or feed your kids, or, you know, the things that really are important.
[00:44:29] Brittany Rogers: It’s like, people are always asked to be like, okay, how are you doing all with these things?
[00:44:34] And I’m like, poorly. Or like, you know, how do you juggle all that? I don’t. Something falls every day. And I just try very hard to be like, okay, hold on. I gotta prioritize my kids. Like they can’t get this short end of the stick. And I work a job that can’t get the short end of the stick because I’m a teacher and I’m like, okay, cool.
[00:44:54] If I want to pursue these opportunities, then I have to be open to saying yes, for some of these things, right. I have to make the time and make the space.
And I think then I forget to like make this space for myself because it’s kind of like on the last of my priorities. And at this point, I’m trying to take enough risks to where it doesn’t have to be that way, because like you said, I do think it comes at a cost.
[00:45:13] And I try my best to be as honest about that as possible. And I’m like, I mean, I don’t think I can’t have it all, per se, but I also don’t think that it’s easy. I don’t think that’s true.
[00:45:23] Michaela Ayers: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. One of the things that has come to me over this last week has been like no one ever said it would be easy actually.
[00:45:32] Like not, not, not once has anyone ever said, this will be a cakewalk, you know, like this act of getting what you want and pursuing your dreams, putting your art out there. It is the opposite.
Well, I’m imagining somebody who’s in our audience, somebody who’s listening in who maybe they haven’t given themselves permission to, to try something new in their creative practice, you know, what advice or what encouragement could you offer them?
[00:46:02] Brittany Rogers: I mean, it’s gonna sound cliche, but the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t like whatever you’ve created and then you could do something different. Right?
So like the only person who ever has to see this thing is you, but like on the other side of that though, is that you could really surprise yourself.
[00:46:21] And I find that surprise to be like really, really fruitful. Like sometimes it’s been on like my third or fourth draft of something that I’m like, oh, I didn’t know I could do this.
So for example in my MFA program last semester, my mentor Diana encouraged me to play around with video work.
[00:46:39] And that’s a platform I literally never used before. Like I was on my little iMovie doing the most basic structure. Right. But what I came up with though, and what I learned about myself was that I actually really appreciate archive.
And I think the video work is like, a type of archive. So then it led me to thinking more about like documentary, led me into thinking more about video work.
[00:47:01] The semester prior, my mentor was Andrew, and we looked a lot at different TV shows and we looked at like, Solange’s visual album for “When I Get Home” and at the ways that you could bring all the fullness of yourself into a work that are not poems or that are not the I.
And I think that was so transformative for me and something that Andrew would tell me all the time, is that the most important thing in the poem or in the work is the truth.
[00:47:26] And I think I was very committed to like the fact of the work, right? Like where was I exactly? What was I thinking exactly?
And in hindsight, those things are so hard to remember. And so they it’s like a struggle to grasp for them. And it was almost … like okay, this is not, this is not a documentary.
[00:47:42] Like, and so I had to be unafraid of releasing my hold on the work and releasing my hold on like what I was comfortable with people knowing, but what I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing, which I think was really what was at the root of me not wanting to take risks, right? Like I did want to be very much in control of what I was saying.
[00:48:00] And I extra wanted to be in control of the way that I felt like my audience was receiving me. And I felt like the only way I could do that was to be very exact in what I was saying.
And so I think also, you have to be up into the idea that once you put the work out there, it’s kind of not yours anymore. You know what I mean?
[00:48:16] Like it belongs to whoever is reading it and however they process it. So, trusting your audience, trusting that, that the work that you are producing is going to find the people who need it.
[00:48:30] Michaela Ayers: Yeah. Well, something I want to breathe into that I heard you say it was kind of, separating like, the fact and the truth and how these different mediums leave different inspirations, can find that cross-section where the facts transform into truths that feel universal and that place being something that people can really begin to see themselves in.
[00:48:52] So thank you.
[00:48:54] Brittany Rogers: I think actually, that’s literally a piece of, when I sit down to write, that’s something that I repeat to myself now all the time.
[00:49:01] Michaela Ayers: Well, I have enjoyed this conversation so much. Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:49:08] Brittany Rogers: Thank you for having me, it’s an honor.
[00:49:17] (upbeat piano music)
[00:49:25] Michaela Ayers: As I reflect on my conversation with Brittany, there are a few bold ideas that stand out in my mind.
First, I’m coming back to this idea of truth-telling not shying away from things that we must say, the things that we can not avoid. I see the bridge between Aricka and Brittany’s practice of packaging honesty with a sense of protection and care.
Bearing hard truths and traumas comes with the opportunity to invite in delight, to offer rituals, sounds, and sensory experiences that support people as they move from pain into possibilities.
[00:50:14] Second. I want to lift up Brittany’s creative practice of infusing risk-taking with a sense of wonder. As artists, it’s important to give ourselves permission to play, to be extra. To invite our sense of wonder, not to a meeting with an agenda, but to a party and to ask our limitless imaginations, what could be.
[00:50:43] A sincere thanks to Brittany Rogers for joining us in this episode and a special shout out to Aricka Foreman. If you’d like to connect with these artists, you can find them on Instagram. You can find Brittany at @brittanyerogers and Aricka at @blkfemmepoetics. Be sure to check out our show notes, to learn more about their work.
[00:51:10] If there is someone in your community who would benefit from our discussion about creative risk-taking, please send this episode their way.
This episode of Black Her Stories was produced by Lara Dalch, and me, Michaela Ayers. It was edited by Jennifer McCord. Our music is by artist, composer, and my dear friend, Chris Sims. For more episodes, hit subscribe or follow wherever you’re listening right now.
[00:51:44] And if you’d like to get in touch, I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line at nourish.community.
And in the spirit of curiosity, I will leave you with a question: Where in your creative practice, can you be audacious and a little bit extra?
Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, please take good care.