Kelsey May | September 24th, 2017
Dominique Christina: poet, champion of slams, acclaimed performer, author of two books (including the first and so far only poetry collection my husband has read in its entirety – high praise indeed). I first saw Dominique perform at the Split This Rock poetry conference in 2016. During her performance, I became convinced that the best spoken word poetry is page poetry, literary poetry. Dominique blended words, alliterations, alchemed magic on the stage, and the audience was enraptured; I know I wasn’t the only person with tears streaming down their face while listening to Dominique detail the terrified escape of a slave across the historic Mason-Dixie line.
Thank you, Dominique, for doing this interview with me! How long have you been writing?
I started writing poetry when I was 22 and in a Creative Writing class in undergrad. That course changed the trajectory of my life. I was forced into a kind of honesty that I didn’t think was available to me. But it was, and once I engaged it, I never looked back. It still took me more than ten years after that to read anything out loud, but it was miraculous for me.
[Since then], I have tried to be a more deliberate writer. I am an accidental poet but not an unintentional one. I am an elegiac poet. I write about those who have died. I feel a responsibility to them… to a great many people. When I first started writing, it was largely autobiographical. And it still is, but there has been a shift in consciousness for me. I am interested [now] in re-fleshing the bones of others.
How do you blend performance poetry and page poetry?
Whatever is excavated from me is excavated, and I make a spur of the moment decision about what I share out loud and what I do not. But I recognize that language is urgent, and it deserves an appropriate reckoning. [I give it] the weight it deserves.
Poems like “I tell her about Jasper Texas” are difficult to read, painful to digest. They’re well-written and convincing enough that I find myself picturing a scene I don’t want to picture. Could you comment on the process of writing this piece and others like it?
There is a nagging in my spirit, in terms of these elegiac poems specifically, but also poems that are largely social commentary; there is a nagging in my spirit that I can’t quiet down. So I wait. I wait on the words to come, and they always do. It feels ancestral. I believe it is ancestral. It’s like falling into the deep. I don’t know if I will hit the bottom. I don’t know if there will be arms to catch me. I don’t know the destination. I just know something in my consciousness needs room to move, so I give it room.
One of my favorite lines from your debut collection, The Bones, The Breaking, The Balm, is “make me wanna curse my own sugar” from “The Shug Avery Mimicry”. How have you dealt with people who don’t support you?
I don’t pay attention to detractors too much. I don’t hold court with them, and I don’t give them relevance. I really mean that – so much so that it is literally erased from my consciousness. I have had to fight to name myself, and I have had to mean my life all my life so I am predisposed to self-resilience. It’s second nature. I don’t expect things to be easy, but I do expect to be victorious. I refuse to hate any part of myself. I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to be silent, and I will never apologize for any of it.
One area we document and celebrate at Hyype is natural beauty, self-esteem, and confidence. We LOVE your naturally beautiful self, especially your hair and fashion.
I wear my hair the way it comes out of my head. I love my hair. I don’t need coaching around that, but I recognize that many of us do need it, and I know why that need exists. I think the natural hair movement is as much about challenging standards of beauty as it is about deep affirmation that we are enough and have always been enough.
Hell yeah. Thank you for the many ways you empower others. What do you consider a highlight from audience and reader reaction to your work?
I am always deeply grateful for the opportunity to hear how the work resonates with others. I am doubled over in gratitude for those who have told me that my work permissioned them to heal. That’s a hallelujah every time.
What are you working on now?
All the things. Branding for Under Armour. Writing for HBO. Traveling. Touring with my sister Rachel McKibbens as Mother Tongue Poetry. Finishing volumes of poetry. Working on an a mixed media art exhibit called The Ruined Woman. All the things.
Mixed media? That sounds promising. I look forward to seeing what you create! What else is important in your life? I believe you’re a mother. How do you balance your writing career with other aspects of life?
I don’t know how I do it. It’s a magic act. But I have a very supportive family. They want me to be in the service of my gifts. I am met with no resistance on that front. Everybody stands back to let me get my crazy done. I’m lucky.
Interview edited for grammar and clarity. Photo credit: DominiqueChristina.com.