Poets of the Week: Ed Mabrey and Christian Drake
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Poets of the Week: Ed Mabrey and Christian Drake

"Poetry is emotional code."

Poets of the Week: Ed Mabrey and Christian Drake
Christian Drake and Ed Mabrey

Hey folks! As we enter in this final month of interviews, feel free to look back on where we started many months ago by checking out my Odyssey profile! Also, congrats to Ryk McIntyre and Siaara Freeman for their article being the most shared this past month with 241 shares!

It is my pleasure this week to introduce Ed Mabrey, poet superstar and four-time winner of the Individual World Poetry Slam, and Christian Drake, science teacher and spoken word genius! Here's what they had to say about poetry, their beginnings, and where they see themselves in the future.

Q: When did you compete in your first poetry slam?

Ed Mabrey: I believe it was 1999. In Columbus, Ohio.

Christian Drake: 1998. I was the first poet up at my high school's first poetry slam. It was one round, and there were 39 poets after me. I learned about score creep that day.

Q: What are 6 things you cannot live without?

Ed Mabrey: Self Love, Quiet and Peaceful spaces, Cartoons, A comfy place to sleep, Water, Orange Tic Tacs or Gourmet Cheddar Popcorn.

Christian Drake: Did you intentionally crib this question from OkCupid? I'm going to go with "CHNOPS" and let the biology majors feel smug for a second.

Q: In the poetry community, who is your biggest inspiration or mentor?

Ed Mabrey: Every poet that has the courage to speak and share their work with others, provided that work doesn’t engage in the tearing down of others, poets who offer solutions in addition to problems/rants, poets who take the craft and discipline of this precious artform serious.

Other inspirations? Patricia Smith, Sunni Patterson, Taalam Acey, Dave Nichols- they all inspire me because what they do rings out and reaches beyond the poetry community.

Mentor? Technically everyone you meet teaches you something, especially those with nothing good to say. Critics of you or your work actually push you and your work though in this day and age it is rarely what they are actively trying to do in their critiques.

Beyond the everyone part though, I would point out Saul Williams, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Shihan, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole. Those people school me on a regular. (deceased? Amiri Baraka, Sekou Sundiata)

Yes, I realize my poetry mentors are deceased or don’t just work in the medium of poetry or operate within the confines of the poetry community anymore. But those are my circle, my tribe. Or at least some of them. My list is kind of long, haha.

Christian Drake: My mentor is Martín Espada of UMass. He was my poet idol in high school, and I went to college nearby specifically so I could take classes with him, and he chaired my thesis. He comes from a Latinx tradition of storytelling and imagistic poetry, and taught me that poetry could be accessible, useful, while sacrificing none of its arcane magic. It could be journalistic and true and political while also being fantastical. I studied Martín and the poets that influenced Martín so much that I often feel that I'm translating my poetry from Spanish, even though it's written in English.

Q: What does poetry mean to you, specifically?

Ed Mabrey: It is an artform that allows the writer/creator to turn a mirror on a thing and reflect it back upon itself. However, the writer/creator is making that mirror, blowing the glass to form it, polishing it, stretching it in and out of shape, etc. the entire time the thing is being reflected.

Aside from that, as a Black man, it affords me the opportunity to speak on lives, situations, issues, bad moments, triumphs, life in its literal self and get others who might not otherwise hear me (or those whom I speak for) to finally read or watch, listen and learn. And by learning, maybe connect with us (Black folk) more.

Christian Drake: Poetry is emotional code. It's an encrypted message from the heart, and it draws its power from a reader's effort to decipher it, to unfold it and open this small but powerfully concentrated piece of art up into a picture, a film, a short story's worth of feelings. Some poets encrypt their poetry too much; it's intentionally obtuse, so only the "right" readers will receive the message. Some poets write what they mean transparently, but then it's not a satisfying challenge for the reader. I try to find the balance. I enjoy writing puzzles and treasure hunts specifically because I love to connect to people; people understand you better when they have to actually try. When they choose to try. The perfect poem for me is one that challenges the reader just enough that they want to struggle with it, and the reward is that the two-dimensional page becomes a three-dimensional pop-up book of emotions just for them.

Q: What is your favorite poem, yours or others, right now?

Ed Mabrey: My favorite poem of mine is always the next one I’ll be blessed with receiving and directed to share.

Of others? "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting" by Jay Wright.

Christian Drake: You know, I have to give it up for "Good Bones" by Maggie Smith, the poem that went viral after the Orlando massacre. It wasn't even about such a tragedy as that on the surface; someone else made the emotional connection between the poem and the event at Pulse Nightclub. The poem deserved all its traveling. It was exactly what the country needed just then; it expressed the comingling of dread and hope we were all feeling but couldn't identify. It was both beautiful and useful. It was important.

Q: What is one thing that you want the world to know about you that they might not already know?

Ed Mabrey: A Clive Barker quote. “I am you and you are love and that’s what makes the world go round.”

Christian Drake: I don't think the world knows how much I love it. I think it mainly sees my disappointment.

Q: What is your all-time favorite play/musical/theatrical production and why?

Ed Mabrey: Too many to name. It changes every year. I’m digging Titus again. I want to read Fences and will soon. Book of Mormon is simply fantastic. Esperanza Spalding has an audio-play she is touring with right now that is nothing short of perfect. Fela is untouchable. Topdog/Underdog still carries weight as does The Huey P Newton Story.

The why for all of them is the same. Each made me want to be a better person, not just a better artist or writer. Each pulled or called something inside of me and tore it out, replaced it with something I didn’t know I needed. That’s art working.

Christian Drake: Tourettes Without Regrets. Oakland. Why? I used to help manage the show, but more importantly, I confess I don't give a d*mn about "theatre" since I discovered the cathartic power of vaudeville variety shows where plus-sized burlesque dancers throw pig hearts at poets.

Q: Where do you see yourself this time next year?

Ed Mabrey: Living somewhere else, hopefully loving myself and someone else who loves me dearly in return. Doing a lot of poetry and comedy shows on the road around the globe. Reaching a bigger audience and finding the means to share some of my bigger projects and ideas. More voice over work. A lot more comedy work, it has a freedom that poetry doesn’t. Just more stages. I am at my happiest when onstage. It’s my house.

Christian Drake: We have gone from OkCupid to a job interview somehow. Honestly, if by this time next year I'm not a middle school science teacher settling down somewhere in the process of starting a family and getting my sh*t together, I might as well be drifting in Topeka for all I know, or on Mars.

Q: Anything else (poems, videos, links, comments)?

Ed Mabrey: For poems just contact me via edmabrey.com or blackbirdairlines.com

For videos I use my own name so google is my friend, I’m very user friendly in that instance. In fact all my social media is my name, so have at it.

Comments? Poets are blessed with being in the business of words but often are extremely horrible at actual communication. Funny, I know. I encourage everyone to talk to everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly can all be worked out when people remember how to communicate effectively with one another. I’ve learned this doesn’t just apply to me and my life, but life in general.

Also, like is something we all earn. So by all means only like those who’ve earned it. That is your right. But love? Love doesn’t belong to you except to share it with others. So love everyone. Because odds are the person you are less inclined to love is the exact person who needs it the most. And one day, that person will be you. So love. And then? Love again. Thank you.

Christian Drake: Sure! People generally know me as a spoken word poet, but I write page poems, too. My blog is seachanteys.wordpress.com, and it's got everything from poems about heartbreak to poems in the voices of Greek goddesses to erotica to poems about superheroes to more heartbreak poems, and even some heartbreak poems. Honestly... you're probably going to want to scroll down to the early stuff if you don't like heartbreak poems.

Next Week: Jenuine Poetess and Tony Brown

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