TEDxGreenville 2012 – Glenis Redmond – Poetry as Healer

Reviewer: Tatjana Jevdjic Good afternoon, everyone. Oh, wait a minute.
I’m a hometown girl, so when I say, “Good afternoon,”
I need some, “Hello.” Good afternoon, everyone. (Cheers) That’s a little bit better.
That’s some [kathalaki] for you. My name is Glenis Redmond and I am here
to talk to you as poetry as healer. Before I do that, I want to say
that there are three lives to poetry, that’s what’s been said.
It’s first, when you read it. Second, when you write it. And the third,
it’s when you speak it to life. When I was investigating that, I thought,
“That is wonderful, and it is so true.” And I teach that all across the country. But, what I realized is
that they’re missing one thing — One, when you read it. Two, when you listen to it. Three, when you write it.
Four, when you speak it to life. Poetry has been a healing
medium in my life. I know, because in 1993
here in Greenville, South Carolina I was diagnosed
with a chronic illness, fibromyalgia. Some of you are familiar with it,
some of you might not be. It’s a muscle disorder,
a pain disorder, which has a host of other symptoms —
TMJ — not good for a poet — Carpal tunnel, not good for a poet. A host of digestive issues
and food allergies. Not good for anybody. My doctor came up and said to me, “Glenis, I’ve got some good news
and some bad news. Good news is,
you’re not gonna to die from this. The bad news,
you’re gonna sure wish you would have.” When I heard these words
I was working here in Greensville, South Carolina
in the early nineties. And I thought, “Well, that is like getting
pretty much close to a death sentence.” And I remember at the time I was married,
I was a clinical counselor and my twin daughters
Amber and Celeste were twins. And I could barely
hold myself together to do work, take care of them. And I remember one moment, in particular, that I was laying on my couch, wondering,
“What am I going to do with my life?” And I was watching TV, I was watching PBS,
I was watching — Bill Moyers, who is my guru — And he had a show called
“The language of life”. It was a poetry festival,
“The Dodge Poetry Festival”. And I will never forget this moment, it was as if the universe
was talking directly to me, through a poet that step up on the podium
and said these words, “Won’t you celebrate with me
what I have shaped into a kind of life? Born in Babylon nonwhite and woman, what could I see to be but myself? I made it up here on this bridge
between starshine and clay, my one hand holding tight
my other hand. Won’t you come celebrate with me
that everyday something has tried to kill me
and has failed.” Those were the words of Lucille Clifton
that acted like a lightning rod, got me up literally and metaphorically
up off my couch and I began to pursue poetry. At the same time
I was doing a little book called “The artist way” by Julia Cameron. That book lit a fire in me, I started working with
The South Carolina Arts Commission. The poem that I want to do for you now is I want to talk to you about
the healing impact of poetry. There is numbers out there. I’m not a numerologist
when it comes to poetry. I just know that poetry scooped
this hand in and healed me. But now doctors, therapists understand
the healing impact of poetry. It slows the heart beat down. I want to do this poem
as a signature poem of mine. And I want you to just kind of
get in touch with your feelings: What does this poem do for you? This poem is
dedicated to my mama who happens to be out
there in the audience. Her name is Jeanette Redmon. Without her I would not
be the woman I am today. This poem is called “Mama’s Magic”.
It goes like this: My mama is Magic! Always was, always will be. There is one phrase
that constantly bubbled from the lips of
her five children, “My mama can do it.” We thought my mama knew everything. Believed she did, as if she were born full blown from
the Encyclopedia Britannica. I could tell you stories of how she transformed
a rundown paint peeled shack into a home. How she heated us with tin tub baths
from a kettle on the stove. Poured it over in there like an elixir. My mama is protection
like those quilts her mama used to make. She tucked us in
with cut out history all around us. We found we could walk anywhere
in this world and not feel alone. My mama never whispered
the shame of poverty in our ears. She taught us to dance
to our own shadows. “Pay no attention to those grand parties
on the other side of the tracks. Make your own music,” she’d say as she walked and cleaned
the sagging boards of that place. “You’ll get there.”
“You’ll get there.” Her broom seemed to say
with every wisp. We were my mama’s favorite recipe. She whipped up us
with her two big brown hands in a big brown bowl
supported by her big brown arms. We were homemade children. Stitched together with
homemade love. We didn’t get everything we ever wanted
but we lacked for nothing. We looked at the stars in my mama’s eyes
and they told us we owned the world. We walked like kings and queens
even on midnight trips to the outhouse. We were under her spell.
My mama didn’t study at no Harvard or Yale.
But the things she knew you couldn’t learn in no book!
Like… How to make your life sing like sweet potato pie sweetness
out of an open window. How to make anybody, anybody feel at home. How at just the right moment be silent
and with those eyes say, “Everything’s gonna be alright, chil’,
everything is gonna be alright.” How she tended to our sickness.
How she raised our spirits. How she kept flowers
living on our dilapidated porch in the midst of family chaos. My mama raised children
like it was her business in life. Put us on her hip and kept on moving, keeping that house Pine-Sol clean.
Yeah! My mama is magic.
Always was, always will be. Her magic? How to stay steady and sure
in this fast paced world. Now when people see me
with my head held high and my back erect
and look at me with that — ”Who does she think she is?” I keep on walking with the assurance inside. I’m Black Magic! And I’m Jeanette Redmond’s child. (Applause) As time went on I was booked by
a national booking agency, The Loyd Artists. I started working for the
Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. as a teaching artist and I just returned from
New Brunswick New Jersey where I am the poet
in residence for a month at the State Theater.
They send me out into the community and I’ve seen the healing impact
that it has had on people in prison and homes, halfway houses,
and schools, senior citizens and this next poem that I’m
gong to end with is a poem that was inspired by Middlesex County Academy
in New Brunswick where I was working
with gang members, and also a group from —
we were working with addictions. This poem is called “Bruised”,
I wrote for them. They banter back and forth like boys do: “You charcoal, son. You so black you purple.” I tell them, hol’up in defense
of my mahogany skin and the boy they’re putting down. “You know what they say?” In cue as if we rehearsed it,
we both chime, “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” We flash twin smiles. There’s a moment when the air
gets less complicated in the room. The space is large enough
for me to ask, “Why y’all hate on each
other so hard?” “Oh, he? He my boy.
See, that’s how we show love.” I’m so tired of everybody
being gangsta hard, I want to weep. They are keeping it real though ‘cause
I got three brothers and growin up
I never saw them show love, except in that man on man
dunk-in-yo-face, call-you-“ignant”-ten-times-a-day way. Their talk swags like their walk. The conversation dips and drags. And we end up talking about
how we were punished as kids. And I lead with,
“I’m from the South ya’ll and ya’ll don’t know nothin
about no switch — (Laughter) Havin to go ‘round back
fetch your own hickory, the same one used to beat you.” I say these words and I can still feel
the sting of the switch. See the welts raising to an angry language
of graffiti on my skin. Another one says,
“And don’t bring back no skinny one neither.” I nod my head in solidarity — the blood we spill makes us kin. Another boy says,
“What about those belts?” And I can hear my mama’s beating cadence, “I — told — you — not — to — didn’t — I!” (Laughter) Another says, “Extension cord.” I’m brought fully awake, ’cause I don’t know nothing ‘bout
that kind of beatin. We only heard of Cedric down the street
gettin beat like that. Then, we did not know the phrase
Child Protective Services. We did not know the word, Abuse.
We just said his mama was mean. “Jicante,” another one says, “huh?” “You kneel on your knees
on raw rice for hours.” We go down dark alleys;
they go deeper into the shadows further than I have ever been,
but we don’t skip a beat. We laugh, we joke about our beatings. Nobody, nobody,
nobody mentions the pain ’cause it’s all understood,
we are all battered. We bump up against each other’s wounds
before we brainstorm. I pick up the marker
they bicker blue versus red. I read between the gang signs.
It is not lost on me, when these colors mingle,
they make purple. I muse in my mind
how violence for them still continues. But we come back to these poems,
the poems we are here to write; the ones that had saved my life. But these detour down old roads
is a place we had to go, places we have been loved
so hard it hurts, so hard
we are still bruised. We bear our scars,
and then we pick up our pens and write. (Applause) I want to thank you. I have seen people’s lives change. I’ve seen them pull up and rearrange
their lives, their perspective all through poetry. And my idea that we’re spreading: If you don’t have poetry in your life,
get you some. Thank you. (Aplause)

4 thoughts on “TEDxGreenville 2012 – Glenis Redmond – Poetry as Healer

  1. I love you Glenis. I am always moved after hearing your wise, womanly poetry and seeing you take the stage and own it with grace, style, and heart. You inspire me to my core, uplift my soul, and I want to be your sister. 😉 After we talked at the Ojai Storyteller's Festival this weekend, I took your advice, came home inspired, and less than 24 hours later, I've got the bare bones to the first story I wrote with the intent to share it on stage one day. Thank you.

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