INTERVIEW: FIRE & DUST MEETS SPECIAL K
“Poetry is the way a woman snuggles into the spoon of her lover’s embrace, while she sleeps… Poetry is addiction – it’ll have you feening for snaps and claps, always taking you back to your first time… So puff, puff, pass the poet’s treat.”
_______________________________________________________________-excerpt from ‘Poetry Is’, Special K
Kimberly ‘Special K’ Johnson is a spoken word poet based in Richmond, Virginia (U.S.). She started performing in 2014 – at first, timidly stepping up to the mic on various Richmond stages, but by 2018 her performance arena included Washington DC, Maryland and other places along the East Coast. Since 2020, thanks to the poetry world going more virtual, Special K has been able to share her love of poetry with audiences in New York, Georgia, California and even the UK. Writing under the name Kimberly Jay, she has authored a book – Journey to Forgiveness – and contributed to the 2019 and 2020 Poetry Marathon anthologies, among others. When Special K isn’t captivating audiences with her unique form of ‘word-spiration’, she enjoys handcrafting greeting cards, reading, and having a good time at the beach, in the pool or on the farm with her horses.
On 4th March 2021, Special K was the guest headliner at our Fire & Dust poetry night. Regular attendees were acquainted with Kim’s powerful words and voice, but whether it’s your first time or hundredth time hearing a performance by Special K, audiences can expect to be entertained and left wanting more. We caught up with her after the gig, to ask a few questions…
HCE: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer so far. What inspired you to start writing and performing poetry? When it came to sharing your work with live audiences, were there any challenges in finding a community in your local area?
SK: Life is what inspired me to start writing… Poetry was therapy for me when I felt the lowest and didn’t feel like I had anyone or anywhere to turn to. Performing and sharing my poetry happened because I was blessed to meet Jamil Jasey, a local supporter and event curator of the arts and he began pushing and encouraging me to hop on the stage. Because of this friendship, it was not difficult to find events at all and had it not been for this friendship, I wouldn’t have even known to look for this world I love so much and would probably still just be writing for my own personal release.
HCE: Who are your biggest influences – when you read, is it predominantly poetry that you engage with, or does inspiration come from elsewhere?
SK: Again, life. Life is what influences and inspires me in my writing and how I present those words once on the stage. (I hope I’m understanding this correctly.) I am a voracious reader, but I don’t read poetry, unless I am being asked to read someone’s work for critiquing.
HCE: Who is your work aimed at – do you have an ideal audience in mind when you’re putting a poem together?
SK: It depends on who has asked me to write or speak, but generally speaking, my main audience is women, then women of color, then activists or those with a desire to see injustice change. I don’t, however, write to target specific people. I write what happens in life, which in turn means that it is generally relatable to everyone (or at least everyone who already has a baseline interest in poetry and/or spoken word).
HCE: What would you say are the key recurring themes in your work?
SK: Definitely being a woman…everything I write about reflects that in some way.
HCE: Do you feel your writing has been influenced at all by the changeover to virtual events, and sudden accessibility to reach global audiences and interact with poets from around the world?
SK: I don’t think my writing has changed or been overly influenced by things going virtual; I’m still writing about life, so going virtual has only broadened my horizons, so to speak.
HCE: Your poetry often deals with your own life experiences in a raw and honest way. Is this an emotionally draining thing to do? What is the top piece of advice you would give other poets for tackling heavy/personal topics in their writing?
SK: Most of the time, no, it isn’t draining at all. My number one piece of advice when deciding to tackle the tough stuff is to make sure that you are completely healed and well from the trauma/experience before taking it to the stage and allowing others to be a part of what you went through.
HCE: What type of poetry do you seek out for personal enjoyment? As a reader/listener, when you engage with a poet’s work, what are you hoping to get out of it?
SK: I enjoy poetry that hits me in the gut – whether softly or with force – and makes me sit up, stop what I am doing and pay attention. As a listener of poetry, I’m looking for connection, I enjoy sharing those “silent” moments with other readers, writers and authors.
HCE: In your opinion, are arts communities doing enough to support poets of colour, to make sure their voices are heard?
SK: I think “doing enough” is a weird phrase… If enough of something is being done, then the question wouldn’t be is enough being done… I do think that the maximum effort is being put forth to support poc and provide safe spaces for our voices to be heard.
HCE: Are you a big reader of poetry? Which collections/performers have recently made an impression on you?
SK: Generally speaking, I only read poetry when asked to critique poetry works. This is because for me, poetry is an audible thing. I have to hear how the author says it to connect with it best and also, because I typically write 2 to 3 new poetry pieces a week, I do not want to take an idea or thought I read and accidentally pour it onto the paper as my own or mixed in with my own thoughts.
HCE: You’ve traversed the online poetry scene pretty well – which open mic events would you recommend to newcomers?
SK: Fire and Dust, obviously. 😉 I have been to so many, I can’t remember them all and I don’t want anyone to feel as if I didn’t enjoy their events. So, here are the ones that I am frequenting in the next week or so – Like a Blot From the Blue, Poetry From the Grass Roots, Oooh Beehive, Poetry in the Brew, MWH Press and Run Your Tongue.
HCE: Did it take you a while to get comfortable with doing poetry in a video call setting?
SK: No, I am a performer at heart and so the performing comes easy for me. What has taken some getting used to is the ability to turn my camera off when I listen or get other things done while in the Zoom room. (I am so accustomed to sitting at events and being supportive and cheering that doing those things felt rude and like I wasn’t really supporting – I have come to realize that’s not the case, but still a major adjustment for me)
RB: It’s not a simple question to ask or answer in 2021, but…what is next on the horizon for you? Are you already working on projects/booked for upcoming performances?
SK: I’m working on a poetry CD, I am hoping to release my first ever poetry chapbook (or maybe a little longer than a chapbook), I am working on a super top secret collaboration with a poet I have met because of Zoom events and…I think that’s it. (PS – if anyone is interested in collabing with me, I am always open to that!)
RB: Is there anything we didn’t cover that you’d like to share with our readers?
SK: I think you guys covered it all, lol! Oh – I have written a book! Journey to Forgiveness, a 30-day devotional. It is completely unrelated to poetry, but if you’re into God and spirituality, I’d love it if you checked it out!
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