Updated: Jul 30
I met Leah V. at a bar. It wasn't an open mic or an event related to poetry at all. At the time, I hadn't even considered performing as a possibility for me. We both just happened to be at the same bar on a Tuesday night and both decided to go to the bathroom at the same time. Most of the night is a bit of a blur since I had just left a work party somewhere in lower Manhattan & Leah had just performed near by. I remember standing outside with my coworkers at the time debating whether we should go in or not and we finally decided on "one more," my decision being mostly persuaded by the fact that I had to pee. The next sequence of events happened somewhat in this order: I went to the bathroom, I smiled at the girl that was in it already and she smiled back and complimented me on something I had on. We made small talk and find out a bit about each other. She told me she had just finished performing her poetry and I remember my eyes lighting up. I am already looking up to her at this point. We both went our own ways but I couldn't stop thinking about how nice the girl in the bathroom had just been and I wanted to keep in touch.
I couldn't leave the bar without talking to her again so I dragged my coworkers over and introduce them to Leah and excitedly told them about her performance. We found out we both lived in Yonkers at the time and exchanged Instagram handles. It wasn't until the next day that I did the full Instagram look-through Leah's feed when I first thought: "Holy Sh*t, she is so cool/talented/raw" and "I want to do that" immediately and purposely ignoring the latter.
The rest is history.
When did you start writing & what was your first piece?
I've been writing for as long as I can remember, since I learned how to, honestly. I was given a journal at age 6 or 7, and at age 7 I was published for the first time. It's been poetry through and through, and although I've dabbled elsewhere, I always return to poetry. The piece that was published is called "The Girl in the Mirror" which is about a little girl questioning why the mirror only displays her reflection as opposed to who she is as a person. The conclusion was the realization that perhaps the mirror can show more than her reflection, she simply does not know she is.
What do you remember the most about the first time you got on stage?
I remember being straight SHOOK, hah! I remember the nerves, the lack of projection, the lack of comfort, the shoulders drooped forward because I had no clue about confidence and/through posture. Leave it up to a performance artist to recall her first time with nothing but criticism.
Do you have a most embarrassing moment on stage? A moment you are most proud of?
I have many embarrassing moments on stage, even now. It's part of my charm. But the more hilarious ones were in my first year of performance. Tripping over wires, having one too many drinks before hitting the mic, being filmed with my jeans unzipped. Who said poets can't be comical?
The moment I was most proud of was my first off-broadway show. I defied great odds and had to earn a shot at the headline slot though previous sales and a last minute feature performance elsewhere. I managed to make it happen! It was my first time performing in a theater not associated with a university, the first time I had a venue even large enough to fit all of my family and friends. It was beautiful. Who are some of the people you look up to the most?
Honestly, I look up to my fellow artists. Tj @theeverydatebite has a passion and articulation that is damn near flawless, and my open mic cohost JRose is one of my inspirations as well. She's an expert at wearing many hats- being an artist, an advocate, a community leader, etc. That's what I aspire to. I have a line in one of my poems that references exactly this: "I've got homies who've brought tears to my eyes on stages a fraction of this size...why would I spend a couple old bennies on some high definition light play and the ant size image of a man when I have the glory of live arts right in front of me amid this pretty pitiful city?"
What does the setting look like when you are creating?
The words come when they choose to come. I have no control of where I am at that time. I've pulled out napkins on dinner dates, scavenged for my journal during rush hour on the 6 train, awoken at 5 AM with an inkling to ink. I am but a vessel. Share with us a bit of your favorite piece written by you. What makes it your favorite?
My favorite piece right now is titled "Doncellas". I struggled with writing empowering pieces not related to sexuality for years. I perform a lot of empowering erotic material, but when it came to any other subject matter, I had a tendency to go dark. Doncellas is one of the first spoken word pieces I've written that managed to be both raw and empowering. I take the sterotype of latinas as house cleaners and maids and flipped it, creating a positive connotation while touching upon Puerto Rican history and oppression in America. It focuses on my family, primarily my sister and mother, but I talk about how we have a reconstructed system with nontraditional male encouragement and support. It's always been my favorite, but lately it carries a new weight. Following the death of my father, I was forced to relocate back home- to live with my mother and sister. The poem was always a source of strength, and that has only been magnified in the current climate. What would you tell Latinx writers that are trying to make it onto the scene?
Don't say no to a show. Ever. Support your fellow artists in every way, share their work, repost their material, buy their merch. The community is what has created my performance career. There is something I tell myself before I go on stage each time: "Shoulders back, project your voice, it's just you and the mic out there." Hold yourself accountable. If you had to write a very short piece dedicated to men that catcall you on the street, what would that look like?
A series of emasculating jokes. I can see it now. If you knew this interview would be read by every person in the world, what would you like to leave them with?
Support live arts. Support underground artists. Support spoken word poetry as a form of poetry, as a form of performance art. Expand the community. As I say when I host my own open mics "we all we got!"
I've been following and looking up to Leah for months now and we have developed a lovely friendship. Though while gathering my facts for this very interview, we both realized one thing: We haven't seen each other perform live, EVER. We actually haven't even met in person after the first time but we have shared some beautiful and sensitive moments with each other and THAT is the power of connection, admiration and social media during one of the strangest times of our lifetime. We also decided we will be moving our friendship to real-life as soon as we can, but in the meantime both you and I can keep up with Leah and her poetry here @leahvspeaks.