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L.A. Poet Spotlight: Alyesha Wise and Digesting Honest Pain Through Poetry

10:11 AM PDT on May 22, 2018

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]lyesha Wise was born in Camden, New Jersey where she was raised by her mother and five siblings. At 11 years old, Alyesha watched Poetic Justice, a movie starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Watching Janet Jackson’s beauty and listening to the poems inspired Alyesha to write poetry. She later discovered the poems in Poetic Justice were actually written by Maya Angelou, who has also influenced Alyesha’s work.

At 17 years old, poetry became serious for her. “That’s when I realized the toll my life was taking on me. The poems were a reflection of everything I was going through,” Alyesha says.

She is a spoken word poet, published author, and teaching artist who lives in Los Angeles, California.  She is the 2014 Hollywood Grand Slam Champion and a two-time Women of the World Poetry Slam finalist! Her work has been featured on Huffington Post, Afropunk, TEDx, Affinity Magazine, Bustle, and many more.

Poetry allowed her to express the emotions she normally bottled up because feelings were not openly discussed in her household. Alyesha explains how people can digest honest pain differently through a poem than they can in a regular conversation. She says, “It’s a way for me to be something I’m not in everyday life. I am these poems, but in regular life, I have a fear of being vulnerable.”

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Most of Alyesha’s poetry focuses on black women, social justice, and sexual assault. Her poems are now branching out as a challenge for listeners to look deeper within themselves. It is important for her to fulfil the responsibility of a teacher and mentor by not limiting her story to a few bullet points.

"So many men were applauded for being influential because they’re men. As a woman, I know I can do the same thing.”

For example, Alyesha wrote a poem about her experience coming out. She always had feelings for girls at a very young age but kept her sentiments a secret. Even though Alyesha was also attracted to boys, she identified as lesbian due to the stigma surrounding bisexuality. “I was attracted to guys even though I didn’t want to be with them. I don’t want to call it a stage because that’s disrespectful, but it was a beautiful eight-year journey of dating women,” she says.

In 2006, she met a few people who invited her to an open mic in Philadelphia, Philadelphia called Jus Words. The open mic motivated Alyesha towards pursuing a full-time career as a poet, especially after witnessing the praised patriarchy that dominated the room every night. Alyesha says, “so many men were applauded for being influential because they’re men. As a woman, I know I can do the same thing.”

“If I didn’t have poetry for a long period of time, I would break down.”

After attending Jus Words for two years, Alyesha was approached to perform as a featured poet in Baltimore, Maryland. She knew she did not want to stop pursuing poetry at this point, even though Philadelphia did not always provide enough opportunities to thrive as an artist. “I had days where all I could eat was pizza and coffee,” she says, “I was happy because I knew it was worth the sacrifice.”

By 2012, Alyesha began dating her life partner Matthew Cuban Hernandez, a poet and coach from Jacksonville, Florida. A year later he was offered opportunities to pursue his master’s degree in the United Kingdom or teach poetry as a Performance Coach in Los Angeles. In 2013, Cuban and Alyesha decided to move to Los Angeles and became Performance Coaches for Get Lit, a non-profit organization that combines classical poetry with modern poetry for teens.

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Coaching for slam teams, and teaching performance and writing workshops have formed Alyesha into the well-respected teaching artist she is today. She credits much of her success to her consistency and unwillingness to take breaks. Alyesha recognizes self-care is important, but she does not correlate self-care with taking time off from poetry. She says, “If I didn’t have poetry for a long period of time, I would break down.”

Alyesha continues to pave the way for future poets as the Head Coach for Da Poetry Lounge’s Hollywood Slam Team. She is also a co-founder of the Spoken Literature Art Movement (S.L.A.M.), an organization where poets are provided with poetry education and extensive programming. In addition, Alyesha created a safe space for black women and non-binary people called Black Women Necessary, an informal brunch hosted in one of the participant’s home. The next gathering is scheduled for August 2018.

You can purchase Alyesha’s book of poems, Carnival, through Not a Cult Media. For more information, visit Alyesha Wise’s website.

A love spell to those I call Sis

By Alyesha Wise

I reserve this name for the one I wish to find
when the lights go dim.

If I call you, Sis, I too
have been the only of us in a crowded room.
I, too, have learned
We are the reason the room is full–
that there are vultures feeding off our bodies, here
and everyone sees our wide, wailing mouths
but nobody hears our screams.

I see you, Sis
your smile, a practice.

I know what becomes of us, chewed up,
when we cover up the decay in Keep going.

I offer you this oil,
my words,
this calming for your body.
It is a prayer that saved me from a bathtub once
I escaped on a faint Amen.

May any blood of yours in the carpet,
tears in sheets           drown the bitch that hurt you.

And I will uplift
away from the love once a love, the relationship mangled, the silent
mornings when the mirror does not want your name.

Speak it anyway.

Learn the magic of your mouth,
how it will begin to curve in mysterious ways,
bend the broken into a blessing

on a night when the moon watches with it’s whole smile
and every candle is lit.

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