Monday, September 16, 2019

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 bill berry, jr.

Publisher and CEO, aaduna &
Member, Rockford Kingsley's Advisory Board
 
 
 
 
 
 
Tamara J. Madison
 

 

 

   

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Interview With Tamara J. Madison
 
bill berry, jr.
 
 
 
Ms. Madison, whose poetry first appeared in the Premier/Winter 2011 Issue of aaduna, resides in Jersey City, New Jersey. A poet, writer, performer, and instructor, her personal interests center around poetry, music, great food, travel and personal growth.
 
 
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bill berry, jr.:
To start, I am pleased that you took the time away from your various projects to have a conversation with me. I am intrigued by the fact that you are a mid-westerner, born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, a city shaped by its proximity to the Ohio River. What was that experience like growing up, and how did your childhood prepare you to eventually live in larger, urban areas like Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta and the New York Metropolitan Area, quite specifically New Jersey?
 
Tamara:
Evansville is directly on the Ohio with a simple bridge to cross over into Kentucky, thus the city is actually further south than Louisville, Kentucky. Evansville's roots are very "upper southern" with much of the black community being from nearby Kentucky. There is quite a bit of German influence there as well. My experience in Evansville was very black and white literally and figuratively. We had lots of trees and an old school neighborhood with porch parties and the accompanying record player with card games, jacks, and hair braiding as a standard. Basketball was big as well. We played outside ALOT!!! However being so black and white, it made me long for the other colors of people and places in the world. I knew there was a rainbow out there and I wanted to experience at least some of its varying textures and flavors. Evansville, with its Kentucky roots, provided the southern hospitality, culture, and warmth that I love. I carry that with me wherever I go no matter how "citified" the area. I am blessed to draw that warmth and hospitality anywhere from anywhere as well. I am grateful.
 
Evansville also taught me the realities of racism and prejudice. That prepared me to go anywhere and understand that it might not always be friendly and receptive.
 
bill:
You had a very welcoming and nurturing childhood planted in a strong sense of community and belonging. Clearly, those experiences shaped the person you are now. [I have a jacks set in a leather pouch hanging on a cabinet hinge in my chop room. I’ll take you on whenever you are ready. And yes, that is a challenge!] Evansville’s location in southern Indiana suggests the Klu Klux Klan had a pervasive presence since the Klan had deep and active roots in southern Indiana, at least back in the day. How did the Klan and its activities influence your realities of racism and prejudice? And what is “upper southern”?    
 
Tamara:
Mmmmm, what an observation! You obviously know some about the area! My realities of racism and prejudice are quite vivid, quite. I remember early in elementary school when a white “friend/playmate” turned and looked at me and said, “Tamara, I think you are really pretty for a black girl…” I became sadly aware of the fact that my family and I were not just my favorite ice cream flavors (Dutch chocolate, coffee, vanilla bean, etc.). I had a sick feeling that day that made it clear that something else was going on. 
 
I also remember family stories one being in Madisonville, Kentucky in the hospital with my grandmother. We both had pneumonia. My father had to be an “activist” in the hospital and insisted that we be removed from our cots in the hallway, and placed in rooms whether or not “colored rooms” were available. Later, the memories spill into dinner time conversations where my father spoke of carrying a gun to work; he was a member of the Evansville Fire Department. According to him, some of his fellow co-workers wore their Klan belts with their uniforms while working their 24 hours shifts. Racial jokes and threats were common. That’s what my father slept with during work hours. 
 
Racism and prejudice were as real as the back of my hand. It was not something that other people talked about or something that I saw on television. And then, there was Roots which aired for the first time during my middle school years. Imagine going to a predominantly white school the very next day after the entire nation was introduced to Kunta Kinte.  Racism and prejudice were a part of everyday life, something we had to work through, climb over, triumph or be consumed by and die…
 
“Upper southern” is the term that I use to identify southern states that are not necessarily the “deep south.” I think of Tennessee and Kentucky as being the upper south caught in the middle during the Civil War. I am not a history buff though, so I can’t go much beyond that!
 
bill:
I am always amazed how people, especially children, triumph over the hatred and vileness perpetuated by racists and the evilness of white supremacy ideology. You are part of the testament of courageousness and determination. While you may not be a history buff, its vast influences shape you. Let’s move on. 
 
I now refer to Hedgebrook, the internationally recognized writing retreat for women founded in 1985 by two women. Your 1992 participation can be regarded as involvement in the early stages of that institution’s development. How did you garner the invite and what was the experience like for you?  
 
Tamara:
I lived in Washington State for a number of years. Hedgebrook was very well known in the community at that time, now known by women all over the world as a result of its international residents.  At the time, I simply applied and was granted a stay. In the early stages, women could only reside at Hedgebrook once in a lifetime. It was an amazing gift for me. I wrote several short stories and felt like a full-time writer for the first time ever in my life. 
 
Hedgebrook was also a wonderful opportunity for me to care for myself and breathe. Having my own cottage with lunch left on my doorstep daily in a covered basket was a dream! There was a farm on the premises and a small waterfall and a beautiful bath house. You might even see a few of the local animals if you were still enough. I am eternally grateful for the experience and hope to one day have more of my life be just like that! It was an invaluable experience to me as a writer. I later returned to Hedgebrook for a short stay as a result of sitting on a panel of later applicants.  
 
bill:
Positive actions and respect nurture people, especially creative artists. I can better identify your truth(s) by understanding and accepting where and how you came into your own as a person and writer. Clearly, Hedgebrook was an extraordinary, maybe even a magical place that gave you a peaceful respite from the day to day demands and expectations of life’s routines. Can you share a piece that you wrote while a resident? And the panel that you sat on, what did it accomplish?          
 
Tamara:
If I remember correctly, I believe the panel served to select a group of potential Hedgebrook Residents from a number of applicants. It’s been quite some time, two cities and decades ago. That’s about all I can tell you. 
 
I do not remember writing much poetry while at Hedgebrook. I did short stories which were more like “poetic fiction.” I termed them such because they were dense and thick like poetry for me, not much like the scenic route of many stories. The following is one of the stories whose initial draft was written at Hedgebrook. It was first published in Warpland and later Tea Party Magazine
 

 

BARREN
Poetic fiction 
by 
 
Tamara J. Madison
  
 
dedicated to the circa 400 victims of the syphilis experiment,
women who contributed to gynecological research,
and to all our Mothers…
 
 
Thus named to reflect the history of the land, Indigo County was really no more than a town but the pompous residents in command insisted on the privileges and prestige of a county. The town's name murmured of its centuries of growth from the great indigo plantations tilled and toiled by the funk of free labor. With the Emancipation and Lee's Surrender long since passed, East Indigo's prominent citizens remained rich off the wealth from former slave hands and bustled about their business in rainbow hues of blue starched and pressed to arrogant perfection. Colored folks from West Indigo, however, existed on snatches of laughter and joy barely breathing through their dull, tattered, color limp rags, many still with stained hands as constant reminders of the degradation that had festered their humanity. 
 
West Indigoers were not to be seen in East Indigo before the sun raised its head or as it closed its eyes. Many a black body had drug from wagons, waved in the wind from whimpering trees or raced as supper from hungry hounds if caught in East Indigo at the wrong time, in the wrong place, by the wrong persons. With the so-called outlaw of slavery, East Indigoers carefully established colored quarters, boundaries and regulations and meticulously enforced them. All heaven, help a black stranger stumbling into town unaware.  ... Read More of Barren by Tamara J. Madison
 
 
bill:
It is interesting to be able to see the genesis of a writer through her early writing and then later work. Thank you for sharing “Barren”. As you referenced, you have lived in major cities in different parts of the country. This past summer, you continued your work with the Alvin Ailey Foundation in Atlanta and also spent time in Indiana. One of the things that I find intriguing in your background is your work with prison inmates. How did that come about and did those experiences influence your sensibilities as a writer? I suspect there is a different perspective that frames your ongoing work with Ailey’s summer camp?     
 
Tamara:
I began to work with inmates as part of the Artist-in-Residence Program under Washington State Arts Commission at the time. I traveled to eastern Washington State and worked with minimal to maximum security inmates. At the time, the Commission had a program that served schools, community organizations, as well as correctional facilities. The experience influenced me more as a further confirmation of what I was already aware of: People in crisis, trauma, trouble, pain need to have a voice to scream even if their tongues are severed. Creative writing can provide a healing outlet for such. It can also translate experience and inspire others to positive action.
 
The above remains as well for my work anywhere. It is not just “at-risk” youth or impoverished populations that need that release and therapy. We all need that as part of our human experience regardless of our cultural/social/economic backgrounds and experiences. Expression must be a part of our lives whether it is through writing, music, dance, laughter, the way we cook, clean, relate… Without positive and passionate expression in some form or another, we suffocate and atrophy.
 
bill:
Well said, and I suspect most people do not realize the creativity and passion that lies “beneath the surface” in all things that we do in life. And fewer folks harness that positive energy and emit it as a creative expression, especially in a public arena. You have done that as a multi-disciplinary artist. Is it safe to say that you are an “old school” spoken word artist?
 
You have captured words, music, performance, theatre…what is your safe harbor or preference in presenting your work?
  
Tamara:
MY COMPUTER OR MY JOURNAL!!! (chuckles!!!) They are my safe harbor where I can jot down things that make absolutely no sense, fumble, stumble, trip and tumble and my pen and paper or laptop won’t judge like editors and publishers and readerships do! It is my lab, my lair of secrets so to speak. That is where the earliest stages begin to formulate into something that might be shared.
 
And yes, it is absolutely on point to say that I began as an old school spoken word artist. My earliest days were in local youth talent shows and Black Expo Pageants. I would do a spoken word poem by a poet I loved or something original. Amidst all the dance, singing and roller skating acts of the time, it was quite the novelty. I performed spoken word organically before I knew there was such a thing as “spoken word” as an art form. I come from a line of Baptist ministers. Spoken Word is in my blood. I later shifted from the stage to the page as my priority wanting my words to last long after my physical presence. The objective for me now is to keep the word whether spoken or written as sacred as possible without exploiting or abusing it.
 
bill:
Just make sure you totally destroy the hard drive before recycling your computer. I suspect the journals may be a precious legacy to your children or grandchildren. As with most emerging artists, you are employed, working in higher education. Is there a juxtaposition between your college teaching responsibilities and how you write? Do you practice what you preach and teach?      
 
Tamara:
I do not teach poetry. I teach writing, essays. And yes, when I write my own essays professionally and personally, I do “practice what I teach.” I really am a stickler for the brainstorming and outline process. It helps me to organize things in my head and on the page. It also makes the editing and revision process smoother for me. 
 
The poetry process for me, however, is quite different. It can begin with an impulse, a phrase or a line. From there, I go on an adventure or exploration. After I have completed the initial journey, the journey of revision and reworking begins to translate the experience. The other morning, I awoke with a line in my head about how restlessly my son slept in the bed: “his knee sinks in the dough of my belly…” I decided to rollover and record the line, take the journey. Here is what became the first draft:
 
Belly of Angel: Fallen (working title)
 
The knee sinks in the dough of my belly
From the outside, rather than in
His elbow grazes not my rib
But the temple raining white hair
Framing my face
Wings wet with amniotic fluid
I flew with the angel in my belly
 
(where,,,)
Now he has fallen into the abyss
Of superheroes and their weaknesses
Their nemeses a thrill ride
 
No longer in flight, rather in fight
We stroll the streets of Gotham
Wings withered and dry,
cloaked behind memory…
 
 
The poem became an exploration of how it felt to have my child outside of my body rather than inside my body. “The Angel” is a reference that I use a lot in my poems when I speak of him because he is named after the angel that protects children and the inner child. It has been fun to toy with that as a theme in my poems. 
 
 
When I began with this first line, I did not realize that I would end up in Gotham. (laughing) Poetry for me is magical and sacred in that way.  My son and I share a love of superhero movies. I never did the comics, but I have loved Batman since the series in the 60’s. Eartha Kitt was an inspiration for me then, and God rest her soul, she still is. (smile)
 
bill:
As someone who grew up on superhero comic books, I am tempted to explore that facet of your personality but I will resist. It was very gracious of you to take us through your process of exploration and how you construct a poem. Thank you; it will be interesting to read the final version.   
 
Well, the time I dreaded is now at hand. It has been a pleasure chatting with you, and I wonder if you have any advice of words of wisdom that you are willing to share with the Rockford Kingsley readership?      
 
Tamara:
Mmmmmm. The first thing that comes to heart and mind is trust yourself and trust the power and magic of process. The second is actively and consciously engage in co-creation. With all the changes that are happening planetarily, it is time for us to be more creative in all that we do whether we consider ourselves to be “artists” or not. A lot of the old institutions, traditions, and paradigms no longer work. We can be in denial of that and become extinct with them, or we can actively, prayerfully, and positively engage in co-creating something new and LIVE. Whether we like it or not, this pertains to all that we are and all that we do.
 
That is what I love about superhero stories. They are always about learning to use their powers and abilities and master them. For the record, Batman is my favorite because he did not have any special mutant abilities or extraterrestrial additives in his mix. He mastered his fears, disciplined himself, trusted the right people, and created his alter ego to serve the common good around him. That is a metaphor that can easily be applied to the everyday human journey and its mastery. It inspires me.
 
Thanks so much for selecting me for this interview. I have enjoyed this immensely and have been positively provoked by it. I am honored that you chose me and hope that this serves to encourage and inspire someone in your readership. Blessings to you and aaduna. I am grateful for what you are and all that you are becoming…

 

 

 

 
 
  

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