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Raven Bland, Youth Poet Laureate, Norfolk, VA: The Moxie Bee Interview

Raven Bland: The Moxie Bee Interview

Raven

 

Raven Bland describes herself as someone who doesn’t seek attention, but there is a directness and a strength in her voice which makes one pay attention to her words.   Raven Bland, featured on The Moxie Bee earlier this week,  is Norfolk, VA’s first Youth Poet Laureate.  Despite a very busy schedule packed with college courses at ODU, part time work, and her YPL duties, Raven agreed to an interview last week.

The Moxie Bee:  Do you find time to write as a working college student?

Raven Bland: I don’t have those moments that I used to have where I’d sit down and say, “I’m going to write.”  If something happens or I’m feeling a certain way,  I will write it out.  But, if I’m not inspired I don’t very often.

The Moxie Bee:  What are you reading right now?

Raven Bland: *laughs* Text books! I’m a History/Poli. Sci major, so there is a LOT of reading.  My sister got me this app called Watt Pad where new writers who aren’t yet famous can upload short stories or even a chapter of a book.  In between things I can just read a couple short stories or part of a novel.  

The Moxie Bee:  What was the first poem you ever read?

Raven Bland: Mine or someone else’s? 

The Moxie Bee:  *laughs* Both.

Raven Bland:   *laughs* OK.  The first poem I read of my own was at my church.  I belonged to the youth group and we had just changed our name to “THIS”, which stands for Totally His.  I wrote a poem about the name change and the meaning behind it.   I read it from the page. Now I like doing spoken word performances better.

The Moxie Bee: Better than reading the poem from the page?

Raven Bland:  Yes. I was very nervous. But that was an amazing day. 

The Moxie Bee: How do you deal with nerves when you perform now?

Raven Bland: I just try to relax. I don’t think about . I look over my poems a little beforehand, and that’s it.  Usually, my family is there–so I talk to them. 

The Moxie Bee: What about the first poem you read by another writer?

Raven Bland: Well, it wasn’t really a poem, but when I was younger, maybe 11 or 12, I read Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, and how she overcame silence by reading books in the library and then expressing herself through writing–that really spoke to me.  I wanted to write, too. 

The Moxie Bee: And you did!

Raven Bland: Yes!

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Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA, Youth Poet Laureate.

The Moxie Bee: Who are your favorite poets?

Raven Bland: Maya Angelou! *laughs*  I really love what she did. 

The Moxie Bee:*laughs* Yes, I read her around the same age you did. She made an impression.  Any other poets? 

Raven Bland: There are a couple of my friends who are poets in TWP (Teens With a Purpose).  I really like their work.

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Raven Bland, Youth Poet Laureate, April 2015.

The Moxie Bee: What are your duties as Norfolk, VA’s Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: I’ve done a lot of functions , especially during the summer. I spoke and did a reading for Norfolk Public Library’s Summer Reading program at the new library downtown. One of the poets from TWP turned one of my poems into a song. She sang the first stanza and then I read and she sang the last stanza. 

The Moxie Bee: I would’ve loved to hear that! This was at the Slover Library?

Raven Bland: Yes. It was very nice. Also I do a lot of work with the Norfolk Police Department. I spoke and read at an anti-bullying rally.  Also anti-gang programs. 

Raven

The Moxie Bee:  That’s great to hear. They keep you busy?

Raven Bland: Yes, you know Norfolk has a lot of issues with gang and gun violence.  So we need programs like that.

The Moxie Bee: Yes, I taught in Norfolk.

The Moxie Bee: What has been your favorite part of being Norfolk, VA’s Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: I meet lots of new people. I’ve made some good connections, especially at the non-profit organizations. After college I’m interested in a career with  a non-profit, or maybe with the government.  

The Moxie Bee: Since you were the very first one, what advice would you have for the next Youth Poet Laureate?

Raven Bland: Know yourself. Know what you’re passionate about, because you’re going to have a chance to reach a lot of people. It really makes it easier if you know your passion and have a plan. 

The Moxie Bee:   What, specifically are your passions? We talked about your work with the NPD on anti-gang/anti-bullying initiatives. Are there other areas you are passionate about?

Raven Bland: My passions are history, political science,religion, and social awareness for the most part.

I’m passionate about compelling people to educate themselves and read up on issues themselves and not depend on generational sentiments about race, or the government, etc. Learn for yourself by listening to various media outlets, newspapers, and magazines. Learn how the government works and not just complain about it. No one can argue with facts, but any one can argue against emotions.
So I said all that to say, I am passionate about education and awareness with anything that you can possibly learn about and form an opinion on.
I hope that answers your question, at least a little.

 

The Moxie Bee:  Yes, that was a very thoughtful answer.

 

The Moxie Bee:When does your book come out?

Raven Bland: Right now I’m sorting through poems. I have a big binder of poems going back to 2007. I’m picking out the ones I feel belong in the book. The goal is to have it ready by the end of January.  Mr. Nathan, is helping me with it; he’s really my mentor for the book project. 

Raven
Nathan Richardson

(Editor’s note: Since 2010 Nathan Richardson has served as the lead coach for the Hampton Roads Youth Poets Slam Team. HRYP is a division of the youth empowerment organization – Teens with a Purpose.)

The Moxie Bee:  I know Nathan Richardson through Facebook and his writing.  We’ve spoken a couple times. Great guy.  And busy!  Wonderful that you’re working with him on the book. When will it be released?

Raven Bland: We’re aiming to get it out in April 2016, before the next Youth Poet Laureate is chosen.

The Moxie Bee: I can’t wait to read it.

Raven Bland:  Thank you! 

The Moxie Bee:  Thank you for making time to talk with me. I know how busy you’ve been, so it’s appreciated.

Raven Bland:  Oh, you’re welcome! I enjoyed it. 

**Postscript**

Raven Bland and I corresponded a bit by email after our interview.  Those of you who know me will recognize that when it comes to young writers and poetry, sometimes I can’t help myself.  Dismayed that such a talented writer as Ms. Bland was not currently reading or being exposed to more contemporary poets, I apologized for being a ‘Poetry Busybody” and sent her a list of poets, books, and poetry video links.

She assured me that I was “perfectly fine” to send her the list and that an older cousin who is also working on a book often encouraged her to widen her literary horizons.  She told me that although she does not have a lot of time she would check out the list.

For now, my work is done.

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Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA Youth Poet Laureate

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Raven Bland, outside library at ODU. Photo by Bruce Ebert, (Picasa)

Somehow I did not realize until last week that Norfolk, VA has a Youth Poet Laureate.  I found this happy news where I find quite a bit of my media updates–on a friend’s Facebook page.

The Poetry Society of America‘s website states:

The National Youth Poet Laureate initiative (YPL) is a program of Urban Word, an award-winning youth literary arts and youth development organization, that strives to elevate the voices of teens while promoting civic engagement and social justice.

Raven Bland an alumnus of Teens With a Purpose–The Youth Movement, is the inaugural youth poet laureate for Norfolk and the first in Virginia.  Other cities with laureates include New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston and Nashville.

A graduate of Granby High School, she’s currently a history major at Old Dominion University with a political science minor,

Ms. Bland was the subject of a Virginian-Pilot article, by Bruce Ebert, this past May,  in which she spoke about her literary  journey from unsure pre-teen to her state’s first Youth Poet Laureate, an honor she won in April, 2015.

In the Pilot article, Deirdre Love, the Executive Director of Teens With a Purpose, said of Raven Bland,

She inspires me. She embodies the best of what youth is about. She understands that words matter. Any city would be proud to have her as a representative.”

In addition to her title,  Raven Bland will have a  book of her poems published by Penmanship Books; the publisher will also arrange book signing a Barnes and Noble Booksellers.

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Raven Bland, Norfolk, VA, Youth Poet Laureate.

Here are two of her poems. The first, Lady in the Curtains: Hallucination in the Jewish Square of Poland,  was originally published on the Poetry Society of America’s page.

Lady in the Curtains:
Hallucination in the Jewish Square of Poland

I glanced at a curtained window
Thin blue sheets
I imagined an aging analogy
With flowers and butterflies
Attached to thread
I seen a small grey haired head.

Ages were gray
Hair was gray
Skin was pale
Bones as thin as a nail.

I seen her bones grow
Seen her skin fatten
I seen her grin towards me
But nothing happened
I stood still,
Frozen, paralyzed
In wonder,
Curious even.
She glanced right, glanced left.
As she was looking for something.

After a single grin, her lips faded thin,
What was she looking for,
Why was she still here?
Doesn’t she know the attitudes
The hate, the disbelief
They consciously think: God choose you not me.
See, they’re jealous, get out of here, flee.
Go to the place God created you to be.

I stare into her eyes, she’s speaking to me:
This is my home, I created it to be.
They have robbed me of enough,
They won’t take all of me.

She glanced left, glanced right
With her head out her curtained window.
I seen her head then fade in between.

–Raven Bland

 

“Lame”

Your scent swallowed me

As I slide into my blanket. 

I’m laying here lame

I won’t move because

I’m afraid to blow your scent away.

 

It’s only been a couple of days 

Since your body laid underneath.

And yet your scent refuses to leave.

Figures, though

Your strong personality

Dominates and leads.

It doesn’t back down for nobody

And I mean nobody

But me.

 

I remember when you were underneath .

I was there too.

I remember how soft your eyes grew.

Like a turtle,

Hiding under that huge shell

And slowly peeping from beneath.

You didn’t think I saw you,

Because you quickly tried to push yourself back inside

Without the consequences.

 

Your secret is out though baby,

I saw it.

Your shell is just a cover,

You’re all soft underneath.

And I love it.

Don’t hide it from me,

Let me be soft with you,

Out here we can’t survive that way,

But let me come under your shell too

And we can discuss the ways

The stars make our eyes twinkle

And the moon molds our hearts together

How the silence sweeps our thoughts in loops and intertwines.

We can discuss our pasts’ hurts

And maybe even cry.

We can be soft together,

I don’t mind.

 

I remember when you held my hand here,

Them rough hands of man hood

Grabbed my delicate ones.

A piece of me died inside your palms

A layer of me unraveled.

You watched it,

I saw you,

And your eyes were baffled.

 

See if it’s only been about 3 months,

But our friendship has endured much longer.

You didn’t know this side of me,

Didn’t know how strong my gravitational pull was,

How I make your mind wonder.

Didn’t know I could see so deep into you,

In ways no girl before has.

And you grew scared,

I laugh, never in person though,

At how much you were amazed.

At how a woman could treat you in such good ways.

 

It all happened here,

And I can’t help but reminisce.

Your scent swallowed me 

As I slid into my blanket.

I’m laying here lame

I won’t move because

I’m afraid to blow your scent away.

–Raven Bland

 

***Look for an upcoming interview with Raven Bland later this month. 

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