Tag Archives: spoken word

Broken Vision / an interview with poet Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively

Broken Vision

by Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively

War is genocide.
++++++++++++++++ Life is murder…

Rwanda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, the Holocaust, Uganda, Darfur,
Congo, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kenya, Afghanistan.
When will the world learn?
How can we change these?
When we cannot even stop the wars in our homes,
the wars in our neighborhood,
the war within.

In this and every election,
they say it is the economy.
But in this and nearly every election,
money’s all the same you see.
We’ll cut aid to the poor.
Kick people from their homes,
kick the mentally ill from shelters,
kick the teachers from the classroom,
kick the homeless off the sidewalk,
before we’ll give up our wars.
The national addiction,
the economic infrastructure,
the empire building.
We admired the wrong selected memories of the victors’ histories,
recruited Nazi master scientists,
modeled ourselves after the great fallen Rome;
embracing racism, classism, sexism, and the destruction of the pro-labor system.
Is this our destiny, our unified syndrome?
How can we fix;
how can we conquer in this
broken vision?


Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively is a poet, spoken word artist, model, producer, photographer, visual artist, educator, and activist from Belleville, IL. Co-organizer of 100,000 Poets & Musicians for Change – St. Louis since its inception in 2011; Susan also produces the series First Bloom (celebrating women’s history month) and Women For Peace (promoting gender violence awareness), and co-produces the Dia de los Muertos Fiesta with Maria Guadalupe Massey. In 2016 she became an Officer of Urb Arts’ Executive Board. In January of 2017 Susan produced the St. Louis leg of the international event Poets & Musicians Against Trump (with co-producer John Blair). Lively’s been featured on Literature For The Halibut, The Arts with Nancy Kranzberg, WESLTV -24 and PBS’ Living St. Louis. She has taught spoken word and creative writing at Confluence Academy, Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, and for the Nine Network and St. Louis Fringe.

Susan says of her style, “People often say that my spoken word delivery or style is very unusual and lyrical; I’m often asked if I’m a singer. Some of my spoken word poetry has bits of song, and I even rap in a few pieces. I also like to cover a wide variety of topics, so I’d say my style is unique.”

Bekah and Susan connected via social media. Susan is active in the poetry community in St. Louis, where Bekah lives. We wanted to know more about Susan, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Can you tell us a little about your poem, “Broken Vision”?

A~The back story for this particular poem is simply that I am anti-war. I think that we should reconsider our priorities as a country far ahead of the next election. The world in general should spend a lot less time wasting money and lives on weapons, war, death and hate, and a lot more time should be spent promoting self-worth, growth, connectivity, equality, justice, and love for all human beings.

Q~Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~This piece came easily to me, but some pieces prove more difficult than others. Some pieces require a lot of research and editing, and others don’t. Sometimes if I get stuck on a piece, it’s best to leave it lie and come back to it later with a fresh perspective.

Q~You are active as a spoken word artist and in publishing poetry. Why does spoken word appeal to you?

A~Spoken word appeals to me as an art form because it’s passionate, intelligent, and vibrant. Spoken word has many different faces and styles and is an art form that’s been around for a while but is continually evolving.

Q~Who were your poetry and slam first loves?

A~My first loves in poetry were a lot of the known greats like Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas. I instantly fell in love with spoken word and slam poetry when I discovered Saul Williams and Sonia Sanchez. I actually heard Williams first in one of my college literature classes. I found his style, content, and presentation electrifying and was instantly hooked. I discovered more of Sonia Sanchez’s work through my time with the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club of East St. Louis (to learn more about club meetings/events, contact Dr. Redmond at ebr@siue.edu). I found her work to be gripping, energetic, and deep. I loved how thought-provoking her poems were and her spoken word style is so fiery and unique.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~I believe that the poet’s role in society is the same as every artist’s role: to speak truth to power. But, I also believe that art has many purposes, from the deeply political and social aspects to just the simple enjoyment of a great work of beauty. The artist role is to inspire and to move others in as many ways as possible simply by being the best version of themselves and letting art be the medium for their expression.

Q~Tell us more about the causes you champion with your poetry?

A~I am involved in several different causes in the arts community. Two of the shows I produce are Women for Peace and 100 Thousand Poets and Musicians for Change – St. Louis. Women for Peace was created by my friend Katerina Canyon and I in 2013 to promote Gender Violence Awareness. The show has featured a remarkable group of gifted local women artists who are all leaders in our community. These women and all the artists I work with are a constant inspiration to me. This year we are thrilled to be working with Urb Arts again and will be having our Five Year Anniversary show there on June 4th at 7:00 p.m.100% of the donations from the show will benefit the wonderful and enriching artistic programs and events at Urb Arts

100 Thousand Poets & Musicians for Change – St. Louis is actually an official offshoot of two international umbrella shows created by Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion (100 Thousand Poets for Change and 100 Thousand Musicians for Change). The St. Louis show (Saturday, Sept. 29th) is now in its eighth year and features over fifty local artists. Local NPO’s will also be present to pass out information and accept donations. In the past we’ve had the honor of working with Amnesty International, the Peace Economy Project, and many other great nonprofits. Each year the show is live streamed and recorded for placement in Stanford University’s LOCKSS Historic Preservation System as part of the largest poetry event in history.

Q~How would you describe the St. Louis poetry scene?

A~The St. Louis poetry scene is very dynamic. The entire art scene in the greater STL/Metro East region is ablaze with talent! As a spoken word artist and event producer, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with some amazing, intelligent, creative people. The range of styles here is also incredible. Someday the outside world will see us as we see ourselves: St. Louis is a growing Mecca for the arts.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in more of your work?

A~Here is a video performance link. This is “The Key” at Women for Peace at Urb Arts in STL (Previously published in the St. Louis social justice anthology, Crossing the Divide.)  My work has been published in Static Movement, Postcard Shorts, Head To Hand, The East St. Louis Monitor, The PEN, Chance Operations, Drumvoices Revue 20th Anniversary Edition, SIUE News, Big Bridge, No Vacancy, the She Chronicles, and Some ‘N Unique Magazine. My art exhibits have been featured at Urb Arts, Mokabe’s, Seven, Yeyo Arts, and more and can now be purchased at fineartamerica.com.  You can also connect with me on Facebook and Instagram, or for booking info., you can email me at lostnation2009@gmail.com.


One (In Two Parts) / An interview with Lyd Havens

One (In Two Parts)

by Lyd Havens

they call me rapid. water in the winter. fish stuck under the manic of me, gaping and slowly crimson. i’ve had four hours of sleep and i want to kiss the most typical of mouths—the mouths that don’t understand but are sympathetic. there is more to this. i dream of what i have never experienced with my eyes open. i see myself, and another girl. we are pressed against undressed pillows, hands grabbing at what does not feel real to me. i don’t know if there’s a word for that.


my mom says that during an episode, my laugh changes.she won’t explain how. i tell my therapist i don’t know how to distinguish mania from the ‘normal’, hyper-sexuality from the ‘growing up’, and she doesn’t explain how to solve this either. i’m left with too many comparisons for my body: jar full of loose change.guilt. pile of unfinished eulogies. again, the frozen river: trout beneath the becoming and the risks.i fall under the lullaby of the current, and i taste blood. i tap at the ice, and there is no one thereto explain how to get out. i feel my lungs peel back like citrus, and realize there is no such thing as reliable.

First published in Winter Tangerine 2016.

LydJan28Lyd Havens is the author of Survive Like the Water (Rising Phoenix Press, 2017) and the self-published chapbook Eight of Resilience. Their work has been published in Winter Tangerine, Cosmonauts Avenue, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among others. They live and thrive in Boise, Idaho.

Lyd’s work was brought to our attention by poet Marisa Adame, whom we interviewed here. We offered Marisa the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Lyd. Marisa said, “Lyd Havens’ work stood out to me so strongly that I Googled their name to find more of their work before I’d even finished reading Winter Tangerine’s “Reshaping the Bell Jar” issue. Their piece struck me as the perfect balance of simple truth and vivid imagery—that is, the poem had the ornamentation of metaphor while still communicating specific details of the story. I felt I had a lot to learn.”

So, here is Marisa’s interview with Lyd.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~My style is conversational and vivid. Any poem I write is being read aloud as it’s being written, and I’m always trying to write things that work well both being read and being heard. I don’t know whether this is because I first started writing poetry while participating in poetry slams (which I still do), or because so many of my poems are born out of different conversations I have with different people I love, but my poems feel like an extension of my daily speech patterns. I’m just usually a lot more eloquent in my poetry.

Q~Tell me about “One (In Two Parts)” and what drew you to the Winter Tangerine theme, “Reshaping the Bell Jar”?

A~One (In Two Parts) is about having Bipolar I and is one of the only poems that I’ve written about that (still, even two years after it was written and published). It was actually fairly easy to write, all things considered—a lot of the images about a frozen body of water were from a dream I had as I was coming down from a manic episode, and I wrote the whole poem in one sitting (which doesn’t always happen with me). After I finished it, I immediately knew I was going to submit it to the “Reshaping the Bell Jar” issue of Winter Tangerine. I’ve worked with WT a lot over the years (I was an intern for them in 2013, and was a reader for another one of their themed issues, “Fragments of Persephone”), and that particular theme was incredibly important to me. It’s probably one of the most important (to me) poems that I’ve ever written, and finding out it means something to others is always so wonderful, especially considering how infrequently Bipolar Disorder is talked about anywhere.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Almost every poem of mine starts with a single image or sentence that pops into my head, and then I go from there. As I mentioned earlier, most of my poems aren’t finished in one sitting. It can take anywhere from a few hours in the span of a day to three months for anything I write to be truly “finished.” I also have to read the poem out loud as I go on writing it, so as it’s being written, I’m also usually playing around with diction, tone, volume, speed, and other performance aspects. I can write pretty much anywhere, but I have to finish poems in private and alone.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Give your poems time, and give yourself time. I feel like poems can be pretty stubborn things, and sometimes the timing just isn’t right getting one out, whether it’s because of the subject matter or your own headspace. I’m a huge advocate for never forcing anything, especially poems. You’ll get there when you get there, and when you do, it’ll be better than anything you would have had to pressure out of yourself.

 Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? What’s it like?

A~I’m very involved in the poetry scene in Boise, and I absolutely love it! There are two poetry slams every month, and they’re always just the most amazing time. There’s also a literary festival every month that’s in association with the Treefort Music Festival, Storyfort. It’s coming up in March, and there are all sorts of readings and panels planned that I’m so, so excited about. It’s definitely a smaller community, but incredibly welcoming and kind and fun. I absolutely love being a part of it.

Q~What drew you to slam poetry? 

A~I first started competing in poetry slams when I was about 15, and at the time I was really shy while simultaneously having a lot to say. Past traumas had left me feeling like I couldn’t ever be heard, but after seeing a flyer for a slam in my hometown, I thought that that might be a good outlet for that. Slams have a very special kind of vulnerability to them—it’s passionate, versatile, and honestly thrilling. Poetry slams helped me learn how to use my voice.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I just finished Whereas by Layli Long Solider, which is an absolutely spectacular collection that challenges the “expectations” of language, and a lot of the documentation (or lack thereof) of how the United States government has treated indigenous peoples. I also recently finished Hanif Abdurraqib’s collection of essays, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. He’s one of my favorite poets, and this collection is probably one of the best things I’ve read in a long time (maybe my whole life). I’m currently reading When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and a lot of singular poems by my friends or that my friends recommend (one recent example: “Ode to Mennel Ibtissam Singing Hallelujah on The Voice (France), Translated in Arabic” by George Abraham).

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~My website is www.lydhavens.com I’m also on Twitter and Instagram 

Q~Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

8oREtsy1A~I just self-published a small chapbook full of poems about joy, healing, and gratitude, which is for sale here. It’s probably the most special project I’ve put together, and the covers on the physical copies are all hand-painted! Also, I’m going to be reading poems sort of all over the place in the US this year. There’s a whole list of dates on my website under “Events”—if any reader can go to any of them, I’d love to see them there! Please come say hi 🙂


Marisa Adame, storyteller/creative from Dallas, Texas, values work that balances as much as it deconstructs. Her work has appeared in Crab Fat Magazine, Red Savina Review, Hold the Line, and St. Sucia zine. You can find her on YouTubeInstagramFacebook, and at marisaadame.com.

seedling story / An interview with Marisa Adame

seedling story

by Marisa Adame

bones of my resentment rest under loose dirt
that cascades when i open my fingertips.

ivory justice,
buried after far too long; the rattling of not good enough
shook my skeleton since i joined ranks with too-skinny girls.

they live there, the bones, under soft soil
aching to metamorphose into self-confidence.
they grew from the teardrops that seeped in every day after school.

the ground gurgles. my feet catch the vibrations.
bones shift–
catch rock // grow roots //
shy shoots shiver in the blowing wind.

at age 18, my first hook-up comments on my wide hips
and the curvature of my shadow. i hear the bones
rattle in the dry dirt of Texas and realize they are still there:
tears well // earth shifts //


the not good enough rattles my bone structure,
goosebumps stick out of my skin.

i thought i had paid off my dues
but the seedling structures
rupturing the ground
tell me i still have far to go.

some days are harder than others, but
the growing has already begun.

First published in Free Lit Magazine 2018.


Marisa Adame is a 22-year-old storyteller/creative from Dallas, Texas.  She has acted internationally and is a two-time KCACTF Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship nominee. Her manuscript butterfly bombs, an examination of Latinidad as a first-generation-college student, was a finalist in Thoughtcrime Press’s 2017 Lorien Prize competition. Her current projects are a stage play exploring the tension between her colonizer/colonized bloodlines and a choreopoem weaving together themes of time, queerness, heritage, and mental health.

As for her style, she says, “I would say that I like surrealism, and I have a bias for narrative. I try to make my work imagery-driven, so the audience has to put themselves in the world of the poem to see how everything connects. I think the work I aim to create could be called bittersweet, since it’s a little more cynical but finds optimism to balance it out.”

Marisa and Bekah’s work–including the above poem–appeared together recently in Free Lit Magazine’s “Bildungsroman” issue. We wanted to know more about Marisa and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about “seedling story.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~I went to an all-girls’ high school, and I picked up some distorted thinking surrounding relationships with food/body image. I feel our culture’s tendency to tell women, particularly women of color, that our bodies are somehow inadequate is essential to keep in mind while reading. Another thing to keep in mind is the truth that some experiences aren’t something to get over as much as to navigate and re-navigate over time.

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“seedling story” is representative of my work as a piece that uses pain to excavate hope. Like much of my work, it moves through heavy moments instead of discarding them, and it tries to hit that balance of sadness and joy. It’s about the strength that comes through trial, which I value and put into my writing.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~I gravitated toward poetry because of its visual nature. I’ve always loved writing and finding the strongest words to describe events/feelings, and poetry came as a natural practice; once I started, I couldn’t stop. With poetry, you can guide and influence the audience. You, the author, decide when a line gets space to breathe. Also, poetry is specific to the author’s truth yet still malleable to audience interpretation, but more ambiguity is acceptable in poetry where it may not be acceptable in other writing styles. Also, poetry lends itself easily to unconventional imagery and wordplay, so it gives plenty opportunity to see things in fresh and new ways.  

Q~You are also an actress & filmmaker. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay?

A~Balance between all of my creative interests is something I’m still struggling to find! But I’ve found a pretty good set-up for now. Un/fortunately, I’ve been moving around a good bit recently and haven’t quite found a long-term base, so acting has taken a backseat. I’ve applied to a few agencies that may be open to working with someone semi-nomadic like me, and I’m waiting to hear back from them. Otherwise, I use one of my days off from work as a creative day split in half: mornings for writing projects and afternoons for film projects.

My creative interests definitely interplay! As an actress, I tend to gravitate toward more poetic scripts like References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot by José Rivera. I think my spoken word poetry background makes it easier for me to understand a character who speaks in metaphor. Filmmaking shares a lot with poetry as its power often comes from what is not said or shown, or what is only implied. Again, my poetry aims to be visual, almost like film in a way, and I think that’s because I’m a visual person. I aim to make poetic films someday, and I’m currently working on a screenplay that uses magical realism.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? What are they and why do they resonate with you?

A~I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I love poetry that risks something. The poems that resonate most with me are from artists who are honest about who they are, where they’ve been, and how that’s shaped them into who they are now. I love poems that transport you to a new place and make you look at the world in a new way. I love poems that are worlds in and of themselves, that make you forget where you’re sitting as you read them. Some favorites are: “The Survival of What Remains” and “The Law of Halves as Applied to the Blade” by Michael Lee, “From the Desire Field” by Natalie Diaz, “Tell Them”  by Carvens Lissaint, and Said The Manic To The Muse by Jeanann Verlee. I also love: “As of today, I have yet to put my hands on the volcano of my dreams.” by Joe Jiménez. I dislike poems that are obvious, and that prioritize raw feeling over craft. I dislike work that reads like a personal essay but calls itself poetry even when it has no imagery. I dislike poetry that uses trends for quick one-liners then discards them without making a larger statement or observation.

Q~What’s one piece of writing advice you want to share?

A~Practice finishing. Finishing projects, or even just drafts, is a skill, and you get better with practice. Follow an idea through until something is made. Even if you don’t do anything with it, you’ll have made it, and you’ll feel more capable to try again.

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love it?

A~I highly recommend Winter Tangerine’s Reshaping the Bell Jar issue. A one-time occurrence to my knowledge, the issue is centered around “Illuminating Realities of Mental Illness” and features contributions from poets with mental disorders to reform the narratives surrounding various diagnoses. It’s a beautiful, poignant, well-crafted issue full of tremendous work.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I recently read and am still digesting Caitlin Scarano’s debut work, Do Not Bring Him Water from Write Bloody Publishing. The work is a story of haunt, heart, and grit. I was amazed from start to finish. She shares stories of trauma through the use of powerful and breathtaking images, and the result is a gripping book. It’s been receiving well-deserved high praise.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

 A~ I put direct links to publications, whether online or in-print, on my website at marisaadame.com. One of my earliest acceptances came from Crab Fat Magazine, and my work can be found under my name. You can also find me on YouTube, Instagram, and on my official Facebook page.