The Pen is Mightier Than The Sword: A Conversation with A Poet

Baltimore is a hub for artistry. We have musicians, painters, writers, and of course poets. One poet in particular has created a name for herself through words and select readings of her work. Her work is ” [a] getaway from the world ” and healing for the poet. 

Meet Ashley Elizabeth, the writer and teacher with a knack for storytelling through verse for over a decade. Ashley started writing fiction in elementary school, poems in seventh grade, and creative non-fiction in college. She creates glimpses into the world with her work. Her poetry as she described are ” more condensed version of that story that packs that story in a small, vibrant punch.” Ashley Elizabeth’s most recent work is her first published book titled, “you were supposed to be a friend.”

you-were-supposed-to-be-a-friend-glory

It is a collection of delicate yet tough realities about the brutalities of unrequited love. It’s vulnerable. It’s soft. It’s true. It’s definitely worth the read. Ashley gave us insight to what it’s like to be a teacher and poet.

What is your full name?
My name is Ashley Evans
Do you have a poet/author name?
My poet name is Ashley Elizabeth.
When did you start writing?
I started writing fiction in elementary school, poetry in middle school, and creative nonfiction in college.
How do you define writing? Poetry? How would you define your poetry?
I define writing as putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and telling a story in a way only you know how to tell. Poetry is a more condensed version of that story that packs that story in a small, vibrant punch. My poetry is a little of this a little of that. I write about different topics, such as blackness, womanhood, family, abuse, and more. It’s my getaway from the world when I cannot physically get away. It’s my release; it’s my healing.
How long have you been a poet?
I’ve been writing poetry since about 7th or 8th grade, so that’s around 12-13 years or so.
What inspires you (to write)?
My community inspires me to write, my pure existence as a black woman. The love I have for my partner. The hate I have for oppression. The secrets I have, the constant thoughts running through my head. My trauma is definitely up there on the list as well. Murky relationships between family and non-family members.
How did you start doing readings?
I started doing readings by simply responding to calls for writers and being lucky enough to be chosen. My very first reading was with Yellow Arrow Publishing in April 2018 after I responded to a call for writers who write about Baltimore. From a couple readings, I have been solicited to do other readings.
Tell us about Ashley, outside of writing.
Outside of writing, I am a teacher at a Montessori school in Baltimore. I am also a freelance writing consultant/editor/proofreader. I live in my partner in Baltimore County, and when I’m not writing, I’m looking for great spots to eat and experience life, reading, or playing video games.
When and why did you become a teacher?
Originally, I did not want to teach at all. I have a psychology degree, but an experience I had teaching in Jamaica, available through my university, changed my mind completely. The students were bright and eager. They wanted to learn, and I wanted to keep sharing my gifts and knowledge when I came back to the States. After I graduated, I landed a job teaching in Baltimore City, and I’ve been in education in some way ever since.
Does being a write help you as a teacher? Do you incorporate writing into your teaching style?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it makes me a better teacher, but it does make me a better processor in evaluating needs of my students. I have both creative writing and more academic work structured into my classroom routines as both are important for different reasons.
Who inspired you to teach?
My kids in Jamaica and all the amazing teachers I’ve had along the way, especially the late Ms. Nevel. I wish I just had one more day with her.
Who is your favorite writer?
That’s a tough question. I like the work of many people as everyone brings something new to the table, and I appreciate the variety greatly.
Do you have a favorite book? if so, what is it?
Not really, that’s like picking a favorite child, and that’s sacrilegious in my line of work. I just really love to read. The most current book I’ve read that had me feeling all the feels was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. That is definitely high on my list.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writer and teachers?
To aspiring writers: Keep writing no matter what. There will be times you want to give up and get rejections from submissions/residencies and be the bridesmaid but never the bride, but do not let that stop you. Keep writing and reading and working towards however you define success as a writer. It will come. Try to write everyday, but know that it is okay to put a piece down for a nap and come back to it later. For teachers: Teach the new generation to the best of your ability (obviously) but also listen to them. believe in them. Hug them when you can. All they need is love and support. Know that you may not be able to reach all of your students, but try your damnedest.
If you could anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Right now, I’d go back to Jamaica, but I would only stay in the home stay I stayed in the first time I went. There’s something about the summertime that makes this non-beach girl want to go to the beach, eat some amazing food, dance, and not have a care in the world. (Ask me this again later, and you might have a completely different answer.)
Ashley is actively writing, reading, and tweeting. Keep up with her updates via Instagram or Twitter.

Artist Turned Scientist Back to Artist

“Baltimore is the city that broke me and birthed me in the same breath,” a quote from the emerging writer, rapper, and scientist currently known as 1202 Duece Lee (born Daniel Chapman). Baltimore was his home for a little over a decade. The city became a character in his life, adding to experiences that became inspirations. Despite tough times, Duece manages to keep a humorous and lighthearted outlook on life.

Although, Duece Lee was not born in Baltimore, his time and artistic stamp has made him apart of the artistic community and he is an artist that we will happily claim. After attending the prestigious Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (yes, I am a fellow Poly grad and will fever hype it up) he went on to Harrisburg University. He studied science alongside publishing two children’s books and Youtube project called “Projection” (a SciFi series read by Duece himself).

In addition, Duece tried his hand at establishin an arts community, and now a publishing company. The publishing company will promote self publishing and keeping most of your rights as the author. We had the opportunity to have a word with the author and rapper.

Tell us about you. Who are you? 

This question I fear more than anything in the world. I am Daniel Chapman, III. I am a representation of a legacy my grandfather left behind. 

What is your writer name or rap name? How did you choose that? 

I like this question. My writer name is 1202 Duece Lee. Though I do rap, I identify my artistic presence in writing any and everything I can experience. Duece was actually a nickname I adopted when I was 10 for myself. My older cousin called himself Ace and I just looked up to him so much. Note that Duece is spelled wrong. (Did I mention I was 10). I started off doing music under the Pseudonym Danny Duece credited to my older brothers bestfriend / my big brother T. Dot Sinz. Recently it got its final change to Duece Lee with a suggestion from my older brother, a fun play on my original moniker and middle name. I actually am a huge fan of Bruce Lee so I enjoyed the playfulness. The 1202 is the most important part, though. Many authors in “ye olden times”; namely women authors, wrote under Pseudonyms initialed to hide their gender. Many writers still use the initiating hack because it markets better to a specific audience. 1202 is my anniversary date and the most important number to me, but that’s another story. I am not pandering to a specific audience so I don’t want my name marketed to one. I try to write stories, or poems, or songs that are real experiences. Things anyone regardless of race, religion, gender or background can read and pick out SOMETHING that makes them fall in love with wanting to open their hearts a little bit more. 

Where are you from? How did you move to Baltimore? 

I’m from Newark, Delaware. My mom is from Baltimore and moved us there to search for her Dad when I was 7. He died a few years prior. 

How long were you in the city? 

I lived in the city for the following 11 years. 

Why did you leave Baltimore? 

I left Baltimore for growth. I love the city like no other, but recognized I wasn’t going to be able to grow into a properly functioning adult while still living in my trauma, so I left. 

You are a musician, writer, and scientist. How did you come into music, writing, and science? How did all these things become part of you? 

I’m a religious soul and deep thinker. Something in my heart when I was young told me to pursue what made me feel whole and never look back. I don’t feel whole not doing all of these things. 

How difficult is it to exist in all those spaces and make them work? How do you find time for all of the projects? 

I have to find a way to blend them at times to make them work, but not so difficult. They allow me to exercise all parts of my brain without over stimulating. I write sci fi shorts to keep up on different topics in the community, but write passionately on whatever inspires me. Many of our famous scientists were inventors as well as artists. I think science and art are much more closely related than people allow them to be. 

Does the scientific part of you ever influence or coincide with your creative projects? 

Why, yes! Lol. Inspired a whole novel. 

How long have you been a musician? 

Ive been trying my hand at music for abt 10 years. 

How long have you been a writer? 

I’ve been writing for about 15 years. 

How did you get your start? 

I started by writing a pretty sappy love (what I thought was a haiku) after joining poetry club in 5th grade… I got made fun of but it made me want to get so much better. And I fell in love from there. 

How did (or does) Baltimore influenced you? How did the city or its people shape you? 

The city helped me realize that people’s experiences are not being told. That no matter what I should keep pushing for my voice to be heard, because in the end, it’s not really just my voice. 

What inspires you to write? What inspires you to make music? 

I’m thoroughly inspired by the creativity of others. 

What are you currently working on? What was the inspiration behind that? 

Got a little novel I’ve been working on called “Projection.” It started off as a way for me to explain to my fiance all the things that run through my mind of how I feel we were meant to find each other. I’m a deeply religious guy but have studied a lot of different philosophies to try and expand my mind and fell in love with how similar a lot of the worlds philosophies are. Everything surrounds one deal, true and honest love. But I think we as humans have a very hard time with that… so I kinda wanted to write my take on that ideal. 

Walk us through the creative process for you. 

I am always in writing mode. Whenever inspiration strikes, I write without hesitation or doubt. I write until I feel the inspiration has run its course, and then I don’t look at it for a few days lol, come back and see if it’s something that needs more or sometimes even, less. 

What do you miss about Baltimore? 

I miss half and halfs like the real kind. Not that Arnold Palmer bullshit. 

Would you return to this city? Why or why not? 

I hope to one day. And because the city needs people in it who truly love it. It goes back to my projection ideology. If you don’t TRULY love something, then you are only hurting all parties involved. Be where your heart takes you… It actually does know a little more than your brain imo

What’s next for you? What are your ultimate goals/ aspirations? 

Welp, next is med school and hopefully becoming a best selling author. Maybe.

We hope to read more books and listen to more episodes of “Projection.” Keep up with Duece’s projects via Instagram, music via Soundcloud, and more of his writing on Vocal.

Why Community Policing Won’t Work

One summer evening, a sizable group of Black men gathered outside a mosque in a quiet, west Baltimore neighborhood. Their mission was simple: create a Black neighborhood watch organization to protect their own community. To end their reliance on hateful, often violent outsiders for the “protection” of their home. As usual, there were no weapons and the noise level was low considering the amount of people gathering. The idea was that the presence of this group would deter any negative activity in the neighborhood by letting people know that, finally, they were being protected by an organization that shared their interests. The men proudly marched block to block so their people could see them and they would see their people. This was the community policing initiative we’ve all been tweeting about for the last five years, and it was an incredibly powerful moment. Then the police showed up.

Now it’s important to note that the police didn’t just show up because their police senses started tingling. They were called by someone from the very community these men came out to defend. Someone looked out of their window, saw this group of Black men walking through the streets, and immediately assumed they had ill intentions. It likely never occurred to this person to simply ask the men what they were doing.

Community policing can’t work because people are too afraid of their own neighbors. We do not trust each other and honestly feel safer calling the police for small offenses than directly communicating our grievances. It is time to check ourselves and ask if we are actually ready to take responsibility for our own communities. And if we aren’t, we need to prepare ourselves by starting on an individual level.

You want to see us policing, or rather protecting, ourselves? Next time one of your neighbors is letting off fireworks and keeping you up until midnight, challenge yourself to knock on their door and express your concerns. Don’t be afraid to get a negative or confrontational reaction. Stop assuming the worst of people. Conflict is a necessary step in community building, and it is definitely preferable to the tragic scenarios that so often follow police involvement. Community policing can’t just be a group of selected men and women charged with guarding our streets. It must begin with us each having enough respect and trust in our people to take responsibility for our interactions with each other. How can we demand the opportunity to defend our own community if we don’t already believe the people around us are worth defending?

Get Uncomfortable!

I was at work, during a very slow hour, scrolling on Facebook. I saw this event for protesting Atlas (group) that same day at 5pm. Lucky me, I was off at 5pm. My bf came to scoop me and we headed straight there. It didn’t matter how tired I was, who we knew going or how many people would be there. Our support was needed, so we showed up. At the protest, we walked through the streets of Harbor East to Choptank, Ouzo Bay, and one other restaurant that belongs to the Atlas Group. There were people enjoying meals as if nothing ever happened. Black couples who may or may not have been informed were also in attendance. We shouted “Black Lives Matter, all the time,” “Don’t pay another cent, Atlas must repent,” “Boycott Atlas” and other phrases that conveyed the overall message. As the organizers of the protest gathered to the front center of the crowd, they gave a list of demands. I won’t list them all, but they included dropping the dress code across the restaurants and recognizing their acts of discrimination.

During the protest, it was business as usual, customers were ordering food and drinks, but then they had a crowd around the patio seating informing them of the behavior of the restaurant. They saw signs that said “Black Lives Matter.” They saw signs that said “White Silence = White Violence.” Some people thought it was a joke, laughing while we demanded justice, fairness and equality. Others decided to leave and some quietly moved their plates to more comfortable seating inside. While we protested outside of Choptank, they continued to increase the volume of the music. Another way for them to silence our voices – it was cool tho, we just got louder. Get uncomfortable!

I wasn’t shocked to see people patronizing the businesses still, but I was shocked at the fact that even with the information presented, it seemed that they couldn’t wait for us to move on. No one wants to face these injustices. They just want to live their daily lives as normal and carefree as possible. You don’t think that’s what we all want? Everyone does not have to be on the front lines or protesting but damn, don’t contradict our movements. We need to unify in order to be the force for change in this unjust ass world.

Personally, I know that I don’t have all the answers and I still have loads of information to educate myself on. I have come to a place in my life where I can’t be comfortable with just going to school, getting my degree and living the “American Dream.” I can’t be comfortable with staying under the radar just to avoid conflict while I’m watching so many Black people being discriminated against in a White world. I can’t be comfortable knowing that not only was Breonna Taylor shot in the comfort of her own home, but none of the known parties involved were arrested and sentenced for their crimes. I can’t be comfortable seeing videos of the beautiful soul that was Elijah McClain and feeling that pain of him no longer being with us. I don’t need to know these people personally to take this shit personal. Going forward, my goal is to create an environment where people can be Black and be surrounded by Black to build unity and trust within us so that we may thrive in our own communities. My goal is not to swap places with our counterparts or oppress others the way we have been for generations.

We need to be prepared and we need to take action. I am a Black woman who does not wish to live in fear for the future that lies ahead. I am a Black woman who wants to be a part of the change. I have started with educating myself, finding ways that I can support and showing up when it counts. We all have our day to day battles and struggles, jobs, and grievances and that is absolutely okay. Unfortunately, we weren’t dealt the hand that allows us to decompress and analyze on an individual basis. We have to play an active role every single day in fighting these battles. It may be a single post, signing a petition or simply patronizing Black owned businesses specifically. I have never seen a better time than now to be more active in this fight.

Stud Struggles: We Just Out Here Trynna Function

Studs/dykes/butches/bois/masculine-presenting women and the like: Throw down your PlayStation controllers and raise your picket signs because enough is enough! How many more cookouts, conversation parties, kickbacks, baby showers, and other events must we attend where the conversation quickly and unnecessarily shifts focus to our very private business? Business that in no way involves the stranger asking and likely isn’t even relevant to the vibe? Soon as we walk in, it’s like game night to these people and I will no longer be played with. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been minding my own business enjoying very casual conversation before being asked some of the following foolishness at the function:

“How does strapping work?”

“Do you strap or do you get strapped?”

“So, why not just be with a guy?”

“YOU want to carry a baby??” 

“So. Question about strap-ons…”

“Do you like head?” (And proceeding to not offer any)

“Excuse me sir…oh my bad yo. HAHAHAHA”

Can I eat my honey BBQ wings in peace? Is the sex life you imagine I have more popping than what you should currently be doing on a handstand, sis? This is a party! There is a time and place for people to ask queer women these questions, I’m certain. However, I would appreciate the opportunity to finish my Prosecco and two-step with my friends without being interviewed by a bunch of bored, tipsy, nosey individuals. Please do not ask me about my bedroom activities in front of the potato salad! Please respect that I am uninterested in disclosing my plan to conceive children with a stranger I just met in the club. Please understand that you are NOT low when you use a tipsy game of Never Have I Ever to ask if I also enjoy dick. This is what happens when there isn’t enough food at parties. Mouths find less productive ways to keep busy.

I came here to get lit, and these recycled questions are not it y’all. Please consult YouTube for any questions you have for the community because the information is plentiful. The site is booming with women willing to explain themselves to anyone watching. I know masculine women are quite interesting and very fine, but I also know that people (women, men, etc.) can make conversation with us that does not include sexual harassment and other invasive inquiries. Especially in environments that offer free or discounted liquor! So with that said, if she didn’t volunteer this kind of information, please refrain from harassing that gay lady at the Rona cookouts I know you’re having. Find a snack and keep it pushing.