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.

A Dream or a Nightmare ?

By Donovan Peterson

The local governments of New York and Rhode Island competed to be the capital of the North American slave trade and by the early 1800’s, Newport and Rhode Island outpaced New York to be the top slave suppliers

That is just to say; racism was never purely a Southern issue. And I say this because I know that it makes white liberals feel a bit better if they can pawn slavery on rednecks in the Appalachia with character defects. While they aren’t necessarily wrong, this characterization is a misrepresentation at worst and a deflection at best. If a racist threatens to hang me, I will know my enemy; confirm him. Act accordingly. But silence among friends in the face of tyranny is both deafening and complicit. And confusing.

Racism in fact permeates just about every facet of society. I don’t understand what else anyone would expect after a society is built on slave labor and native land. It doesn’t go away magically after 400 years with a stroke of a feather pen and it doesn’t just stay in the South like mullets and hot chicken. Human minds and values were corrupted. A 250 year machine was constructed that stole lives from birth to death and decimated generations. That’s not 90 second rice.

I believe this why W.E.B Dubois coined a term “double consciousness”.

If you’d like an explanation, you probably have one of those supercomputer things in your fucking pocket that could help. But seriously, the knowledge of my history combined with seeing what feels tantamount to black murder porn several times over the past few years…it makes sense to say that being black in America has caused me irreversible mental anguish and sadness. It’s become an impossible task to compartmentalize it all, but at the same time I’m grateful and proud to be black and to be a small part of the mad man sort of resilience it takes to have some respect for yourself in a country that recently figured out that your people were indeed human beings not too long ago.

Black people have always expressed pain through music or art.

As a gesture of both this sadness and love that I feel; I asked my friends to come and say what they felt on a mic. One of my friends lost his freedom the day after he laid down his verse and I knew this was urgent. For us; there is no refuge. There is no choice. There is no South, East, West or North. There is no taking a uniform off. There is no silence. There is only continued struggle. There is only total liberation.

Click here to hear the contribution.

Donovan is a guest writer who currently resides from Baltimore. Although his beginnings are not in the city, he embodies the Baltimore spirit and drive. He is an artist, cat enthusiast, and writer for medium. He