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NPR Poetry Month Kicks Off With TikTok Poems

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's almost April, and that means it is time for NPR Poetry. This time every year, to celebrate National Poetry Month, we ask you for your original poems, which you post via the Twitter hashtag #nprpoetry. Well, this year, we're adding TikTok to the mix, which we'll talk about more in a minute.

But to help us kick things off this year, we are joined by Ayanna Albertson. Her poems have attracted millions of views on TikTok, and she's here to tell us more about her work. Welcome.

AYANNA ALBERTSON: Hi. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: All right. Well, don't make fun, but we want to be inclusive of everybody, so I'm going to ask to start with the basics for people who don't know. What's TikTok, and how does it work?

ALBERTSON: It's a performative social media app. So people go up there, and you have either 15 seconds or 60 seconds or anywhere in between, and you can capture pretty much anything entertainment-based or anything that's performative-based, from dancing to just having think pieces to singing and poetry and beyond. So I've kind of dabbled in a little bit of everything but have definitely found my niche on TikTok through my spoken word poetry.

MARTIN: What inspired you to put your poetry on TikTok, and why do you think it works?

ALBERTSON: I felt like, you know, 2020 kind of robbed me a little bit of just, like, my own personal, professional growth in poetry. And so 2021 happened, and I'm, like, poetry, poetry, poetry, poetry.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ALBERTSON: Actually, my first poem did extremely well. And, you know, when you have that momentum, you have to really take advantage of it. And so I posted another poem the next day, and it did very well. And then I posted a poem maybe a few days after that. And it just began to be like a snowball effect. And it was so gratifying because it's something I love to do.

MARTIN: I understand that you wrote an original poem for us to help us...

ALBERTSON: I did.

MARTIN: ...Kick off Poetry Month. Thank you. Yay. I'm so flattered.

ALBERTSON: Of course.

MARTIN: Let's hear it. Here it is.

ALBERTSON: (Reading) I'm finding it hard to name a space safe, how everywhere can feel like a haven until it isn't, how anywhere can feel like a home until it's not, how my mind is the scariest place I've been and yet the most beautiful place I go, how every war zone has once known peace.

MARTIN: That's beautiful. Wow.

ALBERTSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you for that. Tell me about that. What inspired that? And thank you for sharing that with us.

ALBERTSON: No problem (laughter). That poem is really just - you know, I think in today's time in society, we tend to - we have this thing where we're really trying to put an emphasis on safe spaces. And it's a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful effort. But I once heard someone say, a space is only as safe as the least safe person in it.

And I think that is really a testament to just understanding that, you know, we can't swear a space to have protection. We can't swear a space to be inviting or welcoming, that, you know, everything is only one moment or one situation from being a threat. And I made that comparison with my mind because it's, like - you know, it's a beautiful space to be, but sometimes it can be a very harsh, very destructive place if you get in your head too much. So really just to say, you know, we have to really be intentional about what we call a safe space.

MARTIN: That's really why - and it's so - well, I find it resonant on so many levels because on the one hand, you are - we are asking people to share their work. And the process of sharing it implies some trust, and...

ALBERTSON: Right.

MARTIN: And you don't - we can't predict how people are going to respond to it, you know?

ALBERTSON: Right. Absolutely.

MARTIN: And so I think that's a really - it's an important statement, especially about putting your ideas into the world. You know, some people are obviously very gifted, and they've been writing forever, and they're really dedicated to it. It's part of their craft. Some people just started getting into it. So do you have some advice for people who maybe just want to give it a try?

ALBERTSON: Yes.

MARTIN: How do you get started?

ALBERTSON: Yes, absolutely. So I tell people all the time, we're all poets. And when I say we're all poets, I don't mean that to minimize the art of poetry. But there is always someone who needs to hear what you have to say. And so I just say do it. It's easier said than done. I know a lot of people tend to get anxiety about writing. You know, we're always worried about what other people think.

But I think first, you must feed yourself, give yourself that satisfaction. And when you share it with the world because you're already satisfied with yourself, and you're already satisfied with the work that you've put into it, even if there's a million people who - I mean, there's not going to be a million people who don't like it. This is, of course - but, like, even if there's people who don't really receive it, as long as you have one or two people - it's almost like church. I don't know if everybody have been to church (laughter). But, like, sometimes when the pastor's done, he'll do - make an appeal and say, if I can just have one. I think that's my approach to it. It's, like, if there's always just - if there's just one person who I can reach and who I can impact and empower and inspire, then it makes it all worthy, and it's not in vain.

MARTIN: Ayanna Albertson is a poet. You can find her poems on TikTok at @untouchableyann. That's @untouchableyann. Ayanna Albertson, thank you so much for joining us.

ALBERTSON: Thank you. I appreciate it so much.

MARTIN: And if you would like to participate in our celebration of Poetry Month, we are expanding to TikTok. You can post your original 15-second poem to TikTok with the hashtag #nprpoetry. Please remember to keep it radio-friendly and 15 seconds or less.

And, of course, we will also still be taking your original Twitter poems. You can tweet those to @npratc, also with the #nprpoetry hashtag. And the original Twitter rules apply as well. Poems must be 140 characters or less. Each weekend in April, a professional poet will join us on the air to talk about some submissions that caught their eye.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.