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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"Pride" by Patse
An october autumn burns
like equatorial guinea
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/
instead she nourished what she did not need
and loved unconditionally
provided middle passage for new life
new baby girl
new world for mother
each uteral-pain scream sung life giving
each push strung heart-connecting strings
i stole her breath
it kept me warm and safe
helped asthma infected lungs respirate
i remember when
a dark spirit flew in my soul on poisonous wings
was when heart began to
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
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
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
i want to grease your scalp with blue magic
and band the parted braids
so they look like
black shiny licorice
when outside planting
african violets and roses
i want to love you
like you loved me