Writer and poet Devin James Baldwin works for YouthWorks! by day, preparing youths to take their GED and beyond. In his own creative life, he writes constantly and works with the Alas de Agua collective to provide space and assistance for the creation of art and words. But even a few short years ago, Baldwin was only just returning to poetry after years spent on academic writing, and now he's filled a book with poems. Baldwin reads from his new chapbook, Black Matters (Poems and Prose) during Alas de Aguas' Poetry of the People open mic this Thursday (5:30 pm. Free. Zephyr Community Art Studio, 1520 Center Drive #2), an event he says should prove powerful and enriching, but freeform and fun as well.
Is there a specific theme to the new book?
I would say the underlying current in the book is my perception of the experience of being black and brown in this country, and some of the uncomfortable and difficult talk about realities that black people, brown people and people of color experience in day to day interactions when they're moving through the world, minding their own business, stopped and profiled for no other reason than they fit a description. The whole concept of identity and who gets to claim identity versus what people see, people's perception of you, and how perception isn't always revealing of the multiple layers of identity. Each poem grapples with those questions and what it means to be a person of color and be perceived in a certain way. To have to grapple in discovering and defining your own identity and the identity society imposes; it was very intense and cathartic. Sometimes I had to step away. You go through questioning when you write about things that are deeply personal to you, and not just in an academic realm.
Your online bio says that you've struggled with perspective. Does this persist in Santa Fe, and how does that apply to your new work?
I believe it does. When I was doing my degree through the University of Denver, which I did online, and at New England College, which I also did online, even in my interactions with classmates through online platforms, the questions I'd ask, the perspectives I'd bring, the things I wanted to examine and push, were difficult. That was a challenge. And yeah, I still find it in Santa Fe. There are people who believe there aren't these same kind of prejudices or biases, but they're definitely here and they're definitely layered. You talk to certain groups of people, they'll let you know they've experienced that, or that Santa Fe doesn't exist in a bubble—we have these issues, and until we can get comfortable enough to talk about them and have conversations without getting defensive or wanting to argue, we're going to continue to grapple with these and misunderstanding.
What is it about poetry that you find helps you convey these perspectives?
That's a hard one to answer. I think that with writing, and poetry specifically, there are so many forms of poetry that exist now that don't have to conform to a particular structure. You can have poems written more like essays that are just as powerful, but they don't have the classical structures—and that doesn't make them any less poetic. It's like music. There are so many different ways you can approach it. You can write about anything, any experience you can turn it into a poem or prose or some type of verse to be shared. You can have audio recordings of poetry with music, and that's another interesting and creative way to share poetry and reach audiences who maybe wouldn't sit down and read a book of poetry, but they'll listen to an audio book. I think it's a very versatile way of getting thoughts and ideas out into the world that isn't rigidly defined.