Arkana Editors visited with Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellow & Explorer, Alyea Pierce. Her poems “28 Days” and “Return” are featured in Arkana’s 11th Issue.
Arkana: What are some of the earliest poems or poets you read? What artists inspire you today?
Alyea Pierce: I have a hunger for engaging with 20th and 21st-Century Afro-Caribbean, Latinx, and African-American Literature with focus areas in poetry, female mobility, migration, performance, critical ethnography research, and racial, cultural, and sexual empowerment. This passion was ignited via fiction authors like Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angie Thomas, Sandra Cisneros, Earl Lovelace, and Derek Walcott, as well as poets like Jamaica Kincaid, Audre Lord, Edwidge Danticat, Olive Senior, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Angelica Villareal, Patricia Smith, and SO MANY MORE! Their pieces created and continue to create this space for Black folx across the diaspora to reimagine ourselves and history.
Ark: The layout of “28 Days” is visually stunning. What reader effect were you hoping for through the combination of language and layout?
AP: The combination of language and layout of “28 Days” is built from the main theme of this poem. This piece is about Black History Month and the limited time allotted to celebrating Black life, so already there is a contrast. The reader experiences distance, moments of silence, waiting/wading, breath, and pausing and is forced to engage with blackness and history. I want the reader to take their time through this. I love that the lines are separated and come together at the line, “I want Black women in white” because even that line is a contrast.
Ark: In your poem, “Return,” the line, “I am stretching / and I can no longer fit within this poem” is fascinating and evocative. Can you speak to a time when you were drafting a piece and found that your ideas, themes, or voices in a piece were larger or more complex than initially envisioned?
AP: Writing is an interesting process. As we are thinking about the words we intend to write, we are simultaneously editing them and editing them and editing them again. I remember writing a piece on womanhood and how guilt roots in women, sits in us, and then one day we are apologizing for entering a room. My poems often play with time and space, so I definitely struggle with what is my entry point into the scene, what voices need to be in this poem or where am I right now. And that is when I must take a step back and ask myself, why am I writing this? What started in me originally to put pen to paper about this topic? O.K, now let’s start from there.
Ark: How much would you say that your faith comes through in your writing?
AP: I view faith in several different ways through my writing. For example, 1) Religious faith; 2) Spiritual faith; 3) Personal faith in myself, others, and things. Not only am I an emerging writer, but I am an emerging human in this world. As I am discovering my own religious/spiritual/faith beliefs, my writing will reflect that deep, internal work of what I will stand by and what will stand by me. As of now, I am focusing on the exploration of faith on various levels.
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, what are you working on now? Are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
AP: Currently, I am a poet and researcher for a new National Geographic six-part podcast series, “Into the Depths”. It follows National Geographic Explorer, Tara Roberts, as she follows Black scuba divers across the world searching for buried shipwrecks from the transatlantic slave trade when millions of enslaved Africans were trafficked to the Americas during the 15th to the 19th centuries. Roberts sets off on the journey of a lifetime to meet the divers, marine archaeologists, descendants of those brought over on ships, and historians investigating the lost stories of the slave trade. Our hope in doing this work is to share their accounts both to expand the historical record and to honor the estimated 1.8 million unsung souls who perished during the Middle Passage.
Ark: Thank you for sharing with us!
Read “28 Days” and “Return” here!
Alyea Pierce is a Fulbright-National Geographic Fellow & Explorer, educator, and poet. Pierce has performed her spoken word poetry internationally from the UK to South Africa and at numerous TEDx events. Her work has been published online and in print, including The Guardian, New York Daily News, Caribbean Writer, Autism Speaks, to name a few. As an educator, her mission is to help students transform creative ideas into professional voices, empowering diverse learners to be leaders within their own communities.