[Moondance; Celebrating Creative Women] [Musings from the Universe]


AN INTERVIEW WITH POET,
EBONY HICKS a.k.a. LEFT SOL

Susan M. Ellis
 
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Ebony Hicks, also known as Left Sol, is a 23 year old African-American Poet from Houston, Texas. I first met Ebony at an open mic reading in Houston a little over a year ago. Her work stood out from the other readers because it was obvious she had spent a lot of time carefully crafting her poems. She is a young woman on a mission and manages to catch you in her wake without being pedantic or confrontational.

In middle school, Ebony attended a magnet program for the performing arts. In high school, she enrolled in the law enforcement program with the goal to one day become a judge. Like many of us, she changed her mind a few times and attended Texas A & M University to study English. By the time this interview appears, she will have graduated with a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and Poetry. She plans to seek a Masters in Literature, but also wants to pursue Women's Studies and Creative Writing under that umbrella. She has worked with several non-profit agencies, promoting art and literature such as Project Row Houses, The Ensemble Theater, and Shape Center.

Ebony describes herself as being in love with education, poetry, and women's issues. She has a thirst for knowledge and for sharing that knowledge with others.

I invited Ebony to share her thoughts with our readers in the following interview.

Susan: Tell me what your goals are as a poet and what you hope to achieve through your poetry.

Ebony: I hope to empower women through art. I've seen the effects of art and how it teaches [young people]. The two manuscripts I'm working on now, "Poems for Broken Girls", and "Stresses On A Jiggaboo Princess" follow the lives of several women (even though I'm an African American writer, women of all ethnicities) as they mature and grow from victimized women to victorious women. The manuscripts cover the things entailed in that, such as but not limited to, spiritual awakening, feminine awakening, enlightenment, and intellectual awakening. I come from two different directions in the two manuscripts, but the overall theme of my work is the empowerment of women.

Susan: We spoke earlier about Carmela Ciuraru's book, "First Loves," where poets introduce the essential poems that captivated & inspired them. Was there a "First Love" for you?

Ebony: Yes, yes, yes...Sonya Sanchez is one of my favorite poets, if not THE favorite poet. She has a poem, "Confessions of a Sister Addict," about a girl who is addicted to drugs. Implicit in the poem is the social reasons of why she's addicted to drugs. The reason the poem is so powerful to me is; Sonya is a sparse writer, she doesn't put a lot of extra fluff in it. She gives you just enough so that you know what she is talking about, which is good because she doesn't clutter up the page, and as a reader you feel as if you have come upon this realization as your own. Other artists [to influence me] are Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, and more recently, Sapphire and other strong women writers who write about issues affecting women.

Susan: How old were you the first time you experienced poetry?

Ebony: You know, now that I've decided to make poetry a livelihood, I've talked to my mother more about when she started to expose me to poetry. She also writes poetry so if I wanted to be really lofty, I could say since the womb. But from where I can remember, I was exposed to poetry as a Brownie in the Girl Scouts. We had different activities to earn patches and I earned a patch for creative writing. The arts were a strong part of our activities as Girl Scouts.

Susan: So your family supports you in your art?

Ebony: Oh yes, definitely.

Susan: Do they worry that, as the saying goes, "there ain't no money in poetry?"

Ebony: No, because I don't believe that way, I think the romanticized view of the starving artist is not necessary. Since I've been in school, I've always made money from my art. I don't believe that I have to starve to write the best volume of poetry, I don't think I could do it if I was starving. So no, I think my family knows that I will be able to always provide for myself. Of course, along with being a poet, I want to teach at the college level. I believe in the academic side of writing and I want that to be a part of my writing also.

Susan: Your poetry is activist based and sometimes angry, with good reason, considering the issues it approaches, but I want to know which is more important to you, the poetry or the activism?

Ebony: They are inseparable. I know some artists believe in art for art's sake but I don't believe in art for art's sake. I follow what is called the "Black Art Esthetic" in which social commentary is always an underlying factor. I had to grow to that, I am only 23 so this is fairly new to me, but for me to have a strong connection to what I write and for me to move people, my work needs to be connected to a theme that I feel is important, a theme that I feel will help better society and women.

Susan: Do you believe that there is a mystical power connected to poetry?

Ebony: Definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY because of the way, just for an example, (and I don't mean to mysticize Islam, I'm not Muslim) the Koran is written in poetry. These types of spiritual verse show that poetry is very tied to the spiritual realm. Other forms of literature, poetry used as an art form, poetry used for praise. Going back to the academic side of poetry, a lot of earlier English text went against writing in poetry because it's so influential. It's easy to listen to a poem and become so involved in it that it changes your mental state. So, I believe it has definite mystical powers, more so than other forms of literature.

Susan: Obviously, you have a close relationship with your mother, and you had a positive experience with the Girl Scouts and the women involved in that. I don't see you as having a lot of angst or anger inside you, so what got you, what pushed your buttons to get you so involved with women's issues?

Ebony: Hmm, that's a good question. I don't come from a victimized background...I could talk about this for a long time but in trying to keep it simple; as I became more comfortable with myself as an artist, I felt I could finally talk about issues I'd heard about but kept pushing away. Issues like the ones I talk about in "Poems for Broken Girls, Issues of Molestation, Incest, and Abuse" came to me through a series of dreams. I've never been abused, my mother has never been victimized or beaten or abused. But, about a year and a half ago, these dreams came to me and I pushed them away, I was still growing as an artist and I was scared, and they turned into nightmares. It was difficult because I was going to school and these nightmares would start about two a.m. and I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. I found the only way I could go back to sleep was if I wrote them down. Then they started coming more and more frequently and it got so scary that I spoke to one of my mentors, who is also an artist, to see how to deal with this and she told me how I could approach it. After I started getting the dreams under control, I started meeting women, every time I performed one of these poems. Women would come up to me and tell me another story, their story. Then I would write another poem [from their story] and go out and perform and meet another woman, get another poem, perform, meet another woman, get another poem and so on.

Susan: It sounds as if it has developed a life of its own.

Ebony: Yes, I believe as an artist, I am in tune to things whether I want to be or not. This is not something that I said, okay I'm going to be a poet today, this was a growing process that was very scary for me at first. When I first went off to A & M I said, okay, I'm going to go into business or I'm going to be a lawyer. I did everything I could but this was too compelling, so it's not that I chose to be a poet. Whether I want them to or not, these poems come to me. If I decide not to write them down, then I can't sleep. So when I write them down and I perform them, I feel that I'm giving what I should be giving.

Susan: After you write down the initial thoughts that you get from these dreams do you go back to them and edit? Do they come in pieces or as a whole? How does that work for you?

Ebony: They come out in pieces and I edit a lot. That comes from my training in creative writing, I edit a lot. I chop and chop. I have to try to make it a beautiful piece of literature, I can't just spit it out and say that's it. I couldn't do it. I have to work it. I have to make sure the metaphors are consistent, that the rhythm is good, etc.

Susan: How important is it to you to inspire other young women to pursue the arts.

Ebony: Very important. That's an understatement, it's very, very important. That's why I've been involved with arts programs here in Houston and in College Station. It's important because I know what art can teach, just from the basic things in life such as how to be a team player, how to get goals accomplished, how to be in-tuned to your feelings, know what you feel, what you believe and stick to it, and how to be strong. So for me, poetry and the arts covers a wide range of information and social skills that I feel helped me to become the person I am. So it is very important for me to give back to young girls in that form, because I know what it did for me.

Susan: How important is the actual performance aspect? I mean do you feel you could do as much by leaving it on the page or do you think the performance aspect of actually going and performing the piece is important.

Ebony: I'm a page writer first. I think it has a lot to do with my drama background. I can take anything and make it drama. I think poetry is powerful on the page, if you know how to craft a poem, it can have the same life on the page as it has in performance. When you learn how to cut lines and choose the correct words to create a certain rhythm, the reader can read it the way you would speak it and get the same feeling. What I do when I perform that makes it different is go into a character. The poems I've been writing recently, I can see the character, I know who she is in each poem. I can see her and what I try to do when I perform my poems is make them a dialogue.

Susan: Do you prefer one form over the other?

Ebony: I prefer poetry on the page. I'm a performer and I think that performance is important but I wouldn't consider myself a "performance artist." I'm a poet. I want to write books. I want to write manuscripts. It's important to me to do so.

Susan: Do you think that poetry really can make a difference that it really can be a vehicle for social change?

Ebony: As long as women come to me and say, "Ebony, I think that you have said something that I haven't been able to say," as long as women feel a renewed strength, or renewed self-esteem from listening to my work, then my job is done.

Susan: Some of your poems are a bit graphic in terminology. Do you feel that limits the audience you can reach?

Ebony: No, I don't. I feel that a woman who has gone through this type of experience knows exactly what I'm talking about and I feel I have to be that graphic to be honest to the woman I'm writing about. This topic is being given to me and I have to be honest to what these women see, hear, feel, and taste when they are going through these experiences. From tasting the salt of the sweat to how it feels to be ripped, these are real images that happen to millions of women. For me to water it down or to say, "oh, I can't say this because if I say this then somebody may be offended"...The women who need to hear this, hear this and appreciate the honestly because these are the images they have seen and feel powerless to say it. So for me to have the strength to be a poet and say it and make it understandable and to keep that way and to keep it honest is important. I would never change an image or change a way I phrase something to please someone else. The images are horrible, terrible, horrible but that is the way they are. The same images that take away the woman's power when they happen, when they hear them in a poem it gives them back their power.

Susan: Why "Left Sol"?

Ebony: To be honest, when I first started doing open mic, everybody had a nickname. Especially in the Black poetry spots, everybody had something tagged onto their name. So, I thought what would best describe me and my poetry? I'm fairly new to the open mic thing so I didn't know what to do. I always thought my poetry was from the soul, even though I didn't know fully what it was to be an artist. I felt like it was very soulful and very close to me, so soul had to be in it. I'm left-handed so I thought, okay, left-handed, left-soul! that's kind of corny so I changed the spelling to s-o-l to mean sun, to mean a ray of light, to mean energy, to mean life, and I thought, okay this is getting to be a little more real. I kept left because left-handed people are seen as being different, maybe mysterious and creative. I think it fits me.

Susan: Is there anything you'd like to say to our readers?

Ebony: I'd like to say to the readers that women artists have to be an active part in ending the victimization of women all over the world. We have to do something. I don't know exactly what has to be done from the perspective of an artist except that women artists need to create art that moves, that calls women to action in the crimes against women.

Poem by Ebony

3:30

[Click to see full sized image]
"Pride" by Patse Hemsley

An october autumn burns
like equatorial guinea
womb pain

forehead pours beads of sweat
sweet like pomegranate seeds
dark caramel face
egyptian goddess eyes
mask concern and fear
she was 26
and love could not describe how she felt for him
loved unborn me

could have furnace burned
cast away like after/
birth/
before/
term death/
instead she nourished what she did not need
and loved unconditionally
stirruped feet
spread thighs
provided middle passage for new life

new baby girl
new world for mother

each uteral-pain scream sung life giving lullabies
each push strung heart-connecting strings

each breath
each breath
each breath

i stole her breath
it kept me warm and safe
helped asthma infected lungs respirate
protection

i remember when
a dark spirit flew in my soul on poisonous wings
was when heart began to
siiiiiiiiiiing
beating with mamas
her heart murmured
but when spirit came it beat
it beat strong
strong as alkebulan drummers at harambee
strong as songs of 50 men on mississippi chain gang
strong as belief little black boys and girls have in santa clause
it beat strong
she lived a little less so I could begin

mama
i want to breath for you
want to give lungs air
put lips to yours and blow

want heart to pump blood for you
give you life

want to execute dreams for you
sleep inside mind every night
produce the fruits of your energy

mama
i want to hold the bottom of your feet
in the palms of my hands
wash them with homemade patchouli soap
rub them with warm olive oil
wrap them in alabama cotton cloth

mama
i want to grease your scalp with blue magic
then part
braid
and band the parted braids
so they look like
black shiny licorice
when outside planting
african violets and roses

mama
i want to love you
like you loved me
at 3:30/
thursday/
        1977/
             october/ 7

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Susan Ellis is the Poetry Editor for Moondance as well as the Public Relations Chairperson for the annual Houston Poetry Fest. Susan is also a poet in her own right and has been published in Maelstrom, Suddenly II, Suddenly III, di-verse-city 2000 and 2001, The Northwest College Review, Slate & Style, The Quill, and most recently, the Houston Poetry Fest Anthology 2000.

E-mail Susan M. Ellis at
MDPoetryEditor@aol.com

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Other poems

[ INTERVIEW WITH EBONY HICKS ]
NNE-NNE ] [ CEDARS ] [ BABY ] [ FUGITIVE ]
TO DRAW DOWN LIGHTNING ] [ lost girl meets lost boy in Orono Maine ]

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