Boston’s newly appointed poet laureate, Porsha Olayiwola, has had quite the journey as a Black queer poet. In an interview with Essence, the 30-year-old recalled how she used a particularly disheartening and insensitive comment at her first poetry reading as fuel to write honest poetry about blackness and identity.
The remark, which had nothing to do with her poetry and everything to do with the superficial, was made by a white man. “Don’t be offended when I tell you this, but you look like Biggie Smalls,” he said. Olayiwola told Essence that it wasn’t until five years later that she fully came to terms with his comment and processed her feelings through a poem she calls “Black & Ugly As Ever,” which hints at the lyric in Biggie’s “One More Chance” and speaks on the poet’s perception of identity, blackness, being queer, and body image. However, this poem was only the beginning.
Last fall, she performed “Black & Ugly As Ever” as a 45-minute choreopoem, influenced by Ntozake Shange’s radical For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf choreopoem. Olayiwola has now performed in a few U.S. cities, and the feedback received has been humbling, validating, and “almost overwhelming.”
“Talking about what it means to be fat and to identify as fat with other women made me realize how validated I felt,” she said. “It’s been both great and and confidence booster. But it’s also caused me to think about what it means to be pretty.”
Perhaps one of her most well-known poems is “Angry Black Woman,” which was written shortly after moving to Boston. In the spoken word poem, which won her the championship at the 2014 IWPS Finals, she furiously spoke out against the broken education systems, impossible beauty standards, poverty, gentrification, and countless more societal issues. Often exploring blackness, homophobia, and more within the lines of her poetry, Olayiwola speaks a certain type of truth that is birthed from her own life experiences.
Today, the poet is completing a three-year MFA program at Emerson College. She told Essence that this year, she wishes to examine how science fiction and the Black experience can be poetically combined. “Be it magic, or fantasy, or everyday practice of real-life experience, it’s important to visualize yourself living, surviving and thriving in a world and a space that was inherently built for your success,” she said.
Her first collection of poetry, called I Shimmer Sometimes, Too, will be released in November through Button Poetry. To stay up to date with Porsha Olayiwola, please visit her website at porshaolayiwola.com.