Sydney Kay interviews Agape author Keisha-Gaye Anderson about her multimedia poetry collection, A Spell for Living, exploring self-awareness, resilience, and making peace with that which cannot be changed.
SK: This collection feels like a call to action, or even a handbook for life, drawing from your own experiences and your ancestors’ experiences. These poems have a gravitational pull about them, and I found myself deeply moved while reading them. There are a multitude of lessons to be learned here, but what is one you want your readers to gain from this multimedia poetry collection?
KA: I’m glad you connected deeply with the poems. I don’t really have any call to action for readers; I’m just happy if people find value in the work. But if there’s anything I hope they gain is an understanding of their own agency. I want people to feel free to create their own miracles. So much is possible when we stop and really think about who we are, what we know instinctively, and what our journey has taught us. Many of the answers we are looking for are right in front of us, if we would take the time to slow down and really process our experiences. That’s some of what I tried to do here—become a kind of cheerleader for myself through these poems, and if they have that effect on others, that’s great too. Every creature, from birds to turtles, struggle to get out of their shells and into this life. It’s not easy but trying is so rewarding. Making our own ‘spells’ is a first step in truly believing that we can accomplish what we set out to.
SK: These poems explore some hard truths about the nature of reality, state of being, and society as a whole yet simultaneously feel incredibly personal. What are some of your lived experiences that influenced this work?
KA: I had a really challenging experience in some work I was doing some years back. I wasn’t happy with the way things were—it was manifesting negatively in my body—but at the same time, as a parent, I had to provide so I couldn’t abruptly change my circumstances without negatively impacting my family. I also had some family members who were seriously ill. When you are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place, and you can’t move anything, there’s something that the pressure does to you. It squeezes you in such a way that you are forced to turn inward to find a solution. It’s a shame that we often only look inside when we are faced with such challenges and our back is against the wall, but when you do take the time to be still and figure things out…you discover a wellspring of creativity and strength you didn’t know you had. I realized that my mental, physical, and spiritual health were the most important things and in order to preserve and nurture those parts of myself, I had to cultivate my talent and intuition to move myself out of a situation I did not want to be in. Writing is a craft. A craft is also a vessel. A vessel can hold you and also take you somewhere. You can right yourself with writing, and fortify yourself to better deal with all of the challenges life will continue to present.
SK: This multimedia poetry collection feels very timely and much needed. It’s obvious you’ve put some serious time into this work, given one of your poems is dated around the 2016 presidential election. What catalyzed A Spell for Living? When did you start working on this project?
KA: I’m always writing and I collect my drafts in one place. I wasn’t writing with this theme in mind. But periodically, I stop and take a look at the drafts and see if there’s a theme that emerges. This theme about dreaming myself a new reality or ‘what if?’ jumped out at me. I was contemplating a lot of notions of who we are vs. who we were told to be, and the point at which we start to critically assess identity, on a very fundamental level. I decided to put those poems together to tell a story about self-awareness, resilience, and the need to make peace with certain things that we can’t change, or at least look at them differently.
SK: Tell me about the illustrations in this book? What do you want the art to convey to your readers? Did the art come first or the poems?
KA: The drawings were a separate creation with a similar process—I draw because it pleases me to do so. Going back to that challenging period of my life that I mentioned earlier, I really returned to a very primal form of self-expression—something I actually used to do quite a lot as a child. So as an adult, I would take my sketchbook with me during a lunch break, sit near a tree, listen to music, and just draw. That process really helped me to relax and also get quiet enough to birth some new creative ideas.
SK: Do you have any other upcoming projects we should know about?
KA: I’m creating some oracle cards based on my art, including some of the pieces in the book. I hope to distill some inspirational words on the cards to encourage people to get moving on their creative ideas, and also offer the art as a sort of talisman for anyone who’s struggling to find their voice, the courage to be themselves, or the will to keep going. I want to make something beautiful to remind you of your beauty and to encourage you to make your own magic. It’s in there if you really look for it.
Keisha-Gaye Anderson is a Jamaican-born poet, author, and visual artist based in Brooklyn whose books include A Spell for Living, Everything Is Necessary, and Gathering the Waters. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have been widely published in national literary journals, magazines, and anthologies that include Kweli Literary Journal, Small Axe Salon, Interviewing the Caribbean, Renaissance Noire, The Caribbean Writer, The Killens Review of Arts and Letters, Mosaic Literary Magazine, African Voices Magazine, The Langston Hughes Review, Streetnotes: Cross-Cultural Poetics, Caribbean in Transit Arts Journal, The Mom Egg Review, and others. She is a past participant of the VONA Voices and Callaloo writing workshops, and was short listed for the Small Axe Literary Award. Her visual art has been featured in numerous exhibitions and in such literary journals such as The Adirondack Review, Joint Literary Magazine, MER VOX, Culture Push, and No, Dear Magazine. In 2018, Keisha was selected as a Brooklyn Public Library Artist in Residence. Most recently, she was presented with the Poetic Icon Award by her alma mater, Syracuse University. Keisha holds an MFA in fiction from The City College, CUNY. Learn more about Keisha’s published works and art at www.keishagaye.ink.
Sydney Kay is a senior writing major at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. She is Agape’s Spring 2021 communications intern.