Another new Big Blue Marble blog series! Poetic Profiles will be asking local poets and writers five questions about writing, life, and books. We're starting the series with the multidisciplinary and very talented Bonnie MacAllister.
1) How would you describe your poetry?
Examining sound and syntax through uncommon combinations, my verse thrives on a chopping constructs and forms often four or five line stanzas: rarely rhymed, strictly metered, intensely syllabic, occasionally crafted sestinas, a deconstructed breath verse.
I publish small editioned chapbooks including SOME WORDS ARE NO LONGER WORDS and PAID IN GOATS and collaborate to produce poetic films. The chapbooks are in permanent collections including the Zine Library at Barnard College, the Utopian Library in Viareggio, Italy, Concentrated Experimental Poetry, and la Galería del MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay. My book, IN THE AFTERMATH, currently in production will become part of the new Brooklyn Art Library, formerly Art House Co-op in Atlanta, Georgia.
My work has appeared in venues such as Helix, Parlour, Black Robert Journal, nth Position (UK), Dead Drunk Dublin and Other Imaginal Spaces…(Ireland), Turtle Ink Press (Pushcart Prize Nomination 2007), the Feminist Journal, and Paper Tiger Media (Brisbane).
2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?
As an educator, I have taught urban youth populations from 5th -12th grades in language arts, reading, mural arts, performance poetry, breath verse, zine creation and theatre through schools and non-profit organizations such as the Mural Arts Program, and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival. I conducted workshops at Shaw Middle School’s Sonia Sanchez Literacy Night and at Temple University for Central High School’s Philadelphia Immigration and Culture Conference. I have only taught in high need schools in urban settings so I understand the necessity of instilling hope and optimism in this youth through the work.
As a teacher of British and World Literature and French Language at the new Arise Academy Charter High School for students who have been in the foster care system, I am also the academic advisor for the Arise SUNRISE, the student art and literary magazine with a staff of seventeen students. These students came to me with piles of poetry and sketchbooks filled with art so our group fills a definite need for them.
3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?
My English and French students read poetry in my classes including some personal favorites such as Edmund Spenser, John Keats, T. S. Eliot, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Leopold Sedar Senghor (Senegal), Dr. Tanure Ojaide (Nigeria), and Ken Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria).
My preferred poets have been the same since I was a teen: Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Louise Gluck, Marge Piercy, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, and Sylvia Plath. Antonin Artaud and Haruki Murakami have also become obsessions for me over the last two decades.
My favorite local poets are Beth Boettcher, Jane Cassady, Monica Pace, Dr. Niama Williams, Gabrielle Casella, Michelle Wilson, and Lora Bloom. Fortunately, I can call all of these talented ladies dear friends.
4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?
I have hosted poetry events at the Wilma Theatre, the Highwire Gallery, and October Gallery. As an active member of the Women’s Caucus for Art Philadelphia, I hosted a 2009 women’s poetry reading at the Plastic Club. I performed on the curated Nexus Radio Project for a show of zinester artists. In Philadelphia, I have upcoming performances at the Rotunda for Gabrielle Casella’s Poet-tree In Motion for Women’s Her-story Month on March 3rd at 7 p.m., Radio Eris’ Temple of Eris in West Philadelphia on March 13th, and July 1st for the Lights of Unity Association Festival of the Friends of the Free Library. I love to collaborate with Lora Bloom on the Temple of Eris stage.
My previous background was in poetry slams in the United States and in France, but I no longer perform in those and prefer multimedia collaborations in film, art, and sound installations. I attempt to render moments through a variety of media. Often pieces are multi-genre, fusing painting, photography, slide installations, spoken word, video, and performance. I have shown visual art in Italy, Uruguay, Belgium, France and various university galleries in the United States.
5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.
Lately I’ve been reading a bit of Ethiopian poetry in preparation to teach the work in the spring. Last summer, I was fortunate to be awarded a 2009 Fulbright-Hays award to travel to Ethiopia to study history, culture, and migration. I am still digging through the suitcase of books I brought back. Two favorites are certainly Asafa Tefera Dibaba: Decorous Decorum and Lulit Kebede and Wossen Mulatu: Ribbon of the Heart.
Dibaba is an Oromo national (one of Ethiopia’s 80 different ethnic groups) who writes in English punctuated by the Oromo language. His work examines the idea of nationality and country through both gorgeous and sometimes bawdy, controversial poetry. He now teaches Literature and Folklore in the College of Education, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia where he is a PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature.
Lulit Kebede and Wossen Mulatu are two young college educated women writers living in the capital, Addis Ababa, whose artistic and poetic collaboration, Ribbon of the Heart tackles important issues such as HIV, street prostitution, women’s roles, and foreign corporate infiltration of a country so fiercely proud of its independent status in Africa as a country never colonized.
Bonnie MacAllister is an artist, author, and educator. She is a 2009 Fulbright-Hays awardee to Ethiopia, a 2007 Pushcart Prize Nominee and five time slam poetry champion in the United States and France. Publication credits include Black Robert Journal, Paper Tiger Media, Dead Drunk Dublin and Other Imaginal Spaces, and nth Position. MacAllister has most recently exhibited at the Utopian Library in Viareggio, Italy and in la Galería del MEC, Montevideo, Uruguay.
She is an active member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art and fundraises for Girls Gotta Run Foundation which sponsors Ethiopian girls' running teams. Bonnie teaches French and British Literature at the new Arise Academy Charter High School for foster children in Center City. She is the webmaster for the Fulbright-Hays Ethiopia outreach website which offers teacher resources on Ethiopia. For a video of Bonnie reading poetry at Big Blue Marble Bookstore go here.