Poets of the Week: Omar Holmon and Alysia Harris
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Poets of the Week: Omar Holmon and Alysia Harris

"Write until you are asking yourself, is this any good?"

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Poets of the Week: Omar Holmon and Alysia Harris
Omar Holmon and Alysia Harris

34 poets in and now we are almost finished with October! I can hardly believe that this series has gone by as quickly as it has! Feel free to read any of the previous interviews on my profile.

This week I had the honor of interviewing two poets: Omar Holmon, basically the Nerd king and expert on all things nerdy/geeky, and Alysia Harris, author of "How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars to Stars" and an absolute goddess of poetry. Here's what these two incredible poets had to say about their start in poetry, their Halloween costumes, and their advice to brand new poets!


Q: How did you get your start in writing poetry?

Omar Holmon: I was a junior in high-school when I heard Toney Jackson from Mayhem poets perform in my school (his alma mater) and say, “I’m coming back from tomorrow to see how far you’ve come today." As soon as I heard that I knew this was the art form I wanted to do. My teacher Mr. Ryan was my creative writing and drama teacher so I learned to performance and editing early on. The rest after that was (painstakingly brutal at times) trial and error toward finding my voice and comfort within writing and performing poetry.

Alysia Harris: I started in poetry in the fifth grade. My teacher introduced us to what a sonnet was. And then it just clicked that the structure of the sonnet, the form, the metaphor, the sacred/ set-apart language was the way that I actually processed the world already. I thought about things in the shape and the form of poems. That was the day I wrote my first sonnet. I continued to write poetry all through high school? and when I went to college I began to perform with the Excelano Project, UPenn's spoken word collective.


Q: What poetry or writing organizations are you a member of?

Omar Holmon: The set I rep is Black Nerd Problems. William Evans and I founded the site together, and it has been our life after slam retreat.

[Interviewer Note: William Evans will be on the series in November!]

Alysia Harris: Right now I'm not a member of any poetry collectives or organizations. However I am an editor with a publication called Scalawag Magazine. And talking with them, processing with them, editing, thinking about design, it makes me feel like I'm a part of a literary community. In the past I was a part of a collective called the Excelano Project. And for four years I was a member of the collective, The Strivers Row.


Q: What is your favorite store to shop at?

Omar Holmon: I’m a huge fan of art and t-shirts, so the majority of my money goes to websites where you can buy custom art drawn up on t-shirts and sh*t. I could tell you the sites I frequent but I don’t want folks knowing my stash so nah. Nah, you not goin' get that from me.

Alysia Harris: Hi-Bred. I like it because the name is a pun. It's a great thrift store located in Cincinnati, Ohio. I found it when I was doing an artist residency there. In general I very much try not to buy clothes unless they're from a Black-owned business or unless they are from a vintage store. It not only means my wardrobe is more unique but it also means I am not participating in the exploitation of people working for unfair wages or no wages at all. It's also environmentally more responsible.


Q: Who do you admire most in the poetry scene today?

Omar Holmon: None of these lames …I’m kidding, but how funny would it be if that was my actual answer? I can’t talk about on the scene today as I myself am out of that loop of the scene presently but I’m always a fan of people who don’t get enough credit, Eboni Hogan, Jive Poetic, Will Evans, Jennifer Falu, Nicole Homer, Mahogany Browne and muh f*ckas who drop those pieces where you get mad at yourself for not thinking of that sh*t like f***ing Danez Smith, Fatimah Asghar, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Ashley August.

Alysia Harris: Douglas Kearney. He is one of the best performers I have ever seen. He also is extremely dedicated to his students. He taught me how to look at poetry as art, art that enacts not just invokes. He just released a new book called Buck Studies. My favorite publication by him is a book called Mess And Mess And. It's not just poems, it's theory, it's history, it's subversion. It totally f*cked me up in the best way.


Q: What do you do most of your writing on (laptop, phone, napkin, notebooks)?

Omar Holmon: If I’m writing down lines I’ll use a notebook or whatever is near me, however if I am sitting down to put in that work like the Schuyler sisters

then I prefer to use a laptop because of the amount of research into the Internet’s rabbit hole that is needed to create or add onto a verse.

Alysia Harris: I used to write mainly on my laptop but now I've switched to a notebook. It helps me think of the work as a draft more.


Q: If you could give one piece of advice to new poets, what would you tell them?

Omar Holmon: Write a poem you find funny. And not a poem that starts off funny then remains serious the entire time and doesn’t call back upon the humor. Write a poem that makes you laugh. Don’t hide behind the “I’m not funny or I don’t know how to be funny” excuse because odds are you’ve told or retold a joke to someone or laughed at something in your lifetime. If you can write a piece that gets people laughing, you can do anything because that is the hardest thing to do. The hardest. Plus failing at that gives you experience towards what does and doesn’t evoke emotion from people. When you can make someone laugh, you then open yourself up to having a much more diverse toolbox for your writing. "Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious." - Peter Ustinov

Alysia Harris: New poets should write often and read often. Preferably everyday. Experiment. Write to failure. Don't stop at success, or snaps or personal affirmation. Write until you are asking yourself, is this any good? If you surprise yourself, you just might surprise an audience or reader.


Q: Who do you plan on dressing up as for Halloween this year?

Omar Holmon: A Panda Bear.

Alysia Harris: I usually don't dress up for Halloween. Though to commemorate my move to Atlanta, I might go as a Coke bottle.


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

Omar Holmon: Worst case scenario, dealing with police killing another Black person while America is too concerned about pumpkin spice than the loss of another Brown/Black/ dark skinned body or another mass shooting. Best case scenario, on tumblr reblogging pictures of Rock Lee, Connie Maheswaran, and Dascha Polanco.

Alysia Harris: At this time next year, I hope I am pushing more on the boundaries of performance art. I'm particularly interested in figuring out more ways for people to consume, both literally and figuratively, poetry. I hope I'm collaborating with more artist. I hope I will have found a church home by then. I hope I'm still in love, still striving, still fighting, still creating.


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

Omar Holmon: “To all you readers out there, who don't wanna be on a editorial where the executive producer's...all up in the default scholar jargon, all on the bullet points, dancin' round the real sh*t...then come to Black Nerd Problems."


Alysia Harris: I'm doing a project where I create cinematic shorts for each of my poems. Check out the first one for Cab Rides & the Morning After.


Next Week: Billy Tuggle and Stefan Gambrell

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