Special: Slam Poet Ashlee Haze
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Ingredients you’d need to get to poet Ashlee Haze status: Missy Elliott, believing in your beauty and abilities, lace and corsets
Ashlee Haze, a two-time finalist for the Women of the World Poetry Slam, talks to YR Media’s Nyge Turner and Merk Nguyen. Ashlee brings down the house by digging into the details of her Missy Elliott poem and sharing an exclusive piece. The three dive into the inspiration and meaning behind Ashlee’s work. Let’s just say it includes letting thoughts marinate over time, valuing self-worth, and a combo of doing body rolls in a corset.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Check out the full conversation on YR Media’s Adult ISH podcast (episode 5 – Race ISH).
Nyge: We wanted to start off by asking how you got your start in poetry. Were you just born a wordsmithing pro?
Ashlee: I’ve been known to be dramatic, but I’ve been writing since I was about 10. I started writing in church and I’ve just been doing it literally ever since.
Merk: There’s a poem you wrote for Button Poetry during the prelims at the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam. It’s called For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliott Poem). It’s partially a throwback of you discovering Missy Elliott and a reflection of how she made a difference in your life. How’d she change your worldview?
Ashlee: My view of the world was super limited [when I was 10] and limited to whatever I saw on TV. I remember TRL on MTV. They had all the popular videos like ‘N Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney [Spears], and Christina [Aguilera]. When I saw Missy Elliott’s video, that was the first time I saw somebody who looked like me — a plus-sized black woman who defied the gender binary and was unapologetically gangsta. At that moment, I realized it’s possible to be in this body and be whoever I want. Representation is important because it shows us what we have the possibility to be. And it’s very difficult to know what you can be if you don’t have an example of it.
Nyge: Were you always in love with your identity?
Ashlee: I’m a fat black girl. No! I was bullied for a lot of years. I look like my dad and my brothers and wasn’t girly when I was a kid. That was a struggle because you have to tell yourself what [other people are] saying isn’t true about you.
Merk: I can relate to that. Not only do I look like my dad, I’m a woman with a darker complexion. I struggled with my skin color. Colorism definitely exists and I felt like I wasn’t pretty because of it. I don’t think that anymore, but I feel like there are people out there who do struggle with this today. Anything you want to say to them?
Ashlee: The truth is that you’re worthy. You’re enough. You’re absolutely gorgeous the way you are. I hate to say cliché stuff, but you need to believe it.
Nyge: Even though my boss is a bit of a hater because he wouldn’t let me read an original poem of my own, I do write a little. What’s your writing process like?
Ashlee: [I have] this theory about my writing. That I have my own set of muses [and] I spend a lot of time waiting for [them] to show up. I’ve actually [been] quoted, “Sometimes them hoes don’t show up.” Sometimes I’ll write everything straight and then come back to it and edit it.
Nyge: Do you have anything in the vault that you can perform right now?
Ashlee: I have a new book coming out early in 2019 and this is my newest stage poem from it called Hymn. I wrote this for black women, women of color, and for the ways in which they always show up for me.
Nyge: You got me [almost] crying. Every time you were like, “Come through,” I was like “Come through, Ashlee.” You killin’ it!
Merk: I just want to say thank you for that ’cause you just spoke to my soul. Especially toward the end. I just appreciate you for really being able to capture being a woman of color. You just spoke the truth right there.
Ashlee: That’s why I do this work.
Nyge: It’s really just a gift whenever you start your poetry. You can just tell it just comes from such pain and such pride. How do you channel all that when you start writing?
Ashlee: When I sat down with this poem, I was angry because I feel sometimes as a black woman the only people who show up for me is black women. It’s the best feeling in the world to know these capable women show up for me emotionally. But it also sucks to have to show up all the time. Like when do we get the opportunity to say, “I’m not doing this today”? It still needs to get done though. There’s got to be a gift for that. And if nothing else, I can say to the women who do the work, “I see you, sis and you make it look good.”
Merk: Snaps to that. Isn’t that a poetry thing too? Snapping?
Ashlee: Poets wake up in the morning and are like, “Snaps for breakfast.”