COVID-19 is here, and it seems like everything that made New York, “New York” has taken a drop in presence. NYC’s personality is in physical interaction, how we communicate and take to the streets to express ourselves! How then can we, a social city, truly social distance? Can we stay true to what defines us when we’ve been thrown so off track?
Harlem’s very own poet, @iam_Hattress has found a silver lining within the literary underground – a spirit that mirrors his own, passionate and resilient. He has agreed to converse with me about the inspiration behind his and co-creator MyAsia Layne’s open mic night “The Poet Tree, and how COVID-19 affected him as well as the poetry community.
Please share, what is your artistic identity?
“Hattress Barbour III. I’m from Harlem originally. As far as my artistic identity I would say I’m a person first, a lot of my writing comes from a very introspective position, it comes from me doing the work myself and trying to figure out who I am and giving it to the world. I learned my writing is for me and my stage performances are for people.”
What do you want your audience to feel when it comes to your poetry?
“It depends on what I felt, I don’t ever want to put myself in a box and say ‘I’m a social justice writer’ or I’m a ‘love poet’. I think I’m a life poet so whatever I’m experiencing.”
I know COVID had an abrupt arrival, before the pandemic what was poetry like in Harlem?
“Poetry in Harlem was kind of sporadic. I remember spending a lot of time on trains traveling, that’s what made MyAsia and I create ‘The Poet Tree’, an event that gave artists the platform to share their work – like there has to be a house for poetry here. I wanted to curate that space and the love, and acceptance that we had during those times. I’m still working on ways to do that even if it’s virtual.”
Knowing that the poetry community strives off of human interaction, in what ways has COVID-19 impacted the community?
“It shut down live events, no more show money. In one aspect COVID debilitated the poetry community, the community wasn’t a community anymore. We couldn’t galvanize in person, that energy transfer that you get from people in that space, it’s a different experience. On a positive note, COVID unified the community in a way because everyone is now galvanizing on the internet! Creating platforms and meeting new people, I’ve even made connections in London!”
With indoor social gatherings prohibited, how did you use your newfound time in quarantine?
“It forced me to put out my book, “If Ever We Were…”! I’m not getting paid to do a show anymore, it kind of put that into perspective for me. I needed something to sell and financially this has been one of my best years, especially when it comes to the arts. I can’t even sit here and be mad at COVID! As for performance poets, we can get so addicted to performing that we lose track of the business. Quarantine opened my creativity when it came to making money, I can’t do a show anymore, that’s my bread and butter, so what do my bread and butter look like now. Now we got to get the business together.”
Please tell us about some of your achievements from 2020!
“I have two babies out of 2020, my son, my king to be, Hattress Avery Barbour IIII. Then two months later after he was born I dropped my book, those have been my main two focuses. Just learning how to be a father, learning how to be a good partner. That has brought me to therapy. I was reluctant at first but I said ‘Nah I need this’. A lot of people say poetry is like therapy but if you’re not learning any real coping methods then what are you doing? That’s one of the things I’m working on in 2021 fixing the roots of whatever my deficits are.”
Do you think COVID is rotting the Big Apple or is the city that never sleeps more awake than ever?
“What do you think?
“I think we’re more awake than ever.”
“That’s a fact! We are!”
Where we can find you?!
You know my name is Hattress like mattress with an H, but please don’t sleep on me. Cause I got some sh*t to say! You can find me on social media @Iam_Hattress. You can also find me on my website if you want to purchase my book ‘If Ever We Were…’, also it’s on Amazon. I also do writing services, jingles, whatever writing it is you need.”
Any final remarks?
“Remember to stay intentional, and stick to it.”