Alyesha Wise is a poet, teaching artist, the co-founder of Spoken Literature Art Movement, and the director of program development for Street Poets, Inc. Before moderating Zócalo/Da Poetry Lounge’s event “Does Democracy Need Poets?,” she sat with us in the green room to chat about honesty, taking it easy, and Nikki Giovanni.
What do you do to decompress and relax?
I love going for walks when it’s nice out. Shoutout to L.A. for usually being nice enough to go for a walk—that wasn’t always the case back home [in Camden, New Jersey].
Do you have a favorite place to go in L.A.?
If I’m being honest, my apartment. But also, one of my favorite places is Da Poetry Lounge, because it’s one of the first places that embraced me as a person and a poet when I got here, so I have to shout out to them.
How has poetry inspired you to action?
Poetry is the reason why I started feeling like my voice was important, like it mattered. I was only 11 years old when I first wrote a poem, and someone said “good job,” and that meant a lot. One of my biggest goals in life is to constantly remind other people that their voices are important. I have a lot of students and family who often feel like their voices are "whatever,"
so it’s my goal to remind them and everyone who feels like that.
Who’s a poet you can watch over and over again?
Nikki Giovanni [pause] that was tough—I had to go with what my heart said first or I’d be thinking forever. The last time I heard Nikki Giovanni, I’d stumbled on a performance on TV. You don’t really see a lot of great things of substance on regular TV in the middle of the day anymore. I listened to the whole thing. I’d already considered Nikki Giovanni one of my favorite poets but then I was like, "Oh, yeah, I can listen to you speak forever."
As a teaching artist, what’s one thing you’ve learned from your students?
Honesty is what can help save us. Kids are honest, even when they’re scared to speak their minds and speak up—unfortunately [that’s happening] more and more these days. But there’s a lot of them that are saying "Look, even through all my nervousness, I’m going to tell it like it is." You see this generation of fighters and activists. Even the ones who are afraid, you can see [the sense of honesty] in their eyes. They want something different. They see the world in a different way.
What's one thing that’s delighted you recently?
My youngest brother just had a baby girl. I’m an auntie!
What's your smallest, low-stakes unpopular opinion?
I get the saying "it’s OK to be selfish." I’ve seen people argue against that idea, but for me, it’s OK to prioritize the goodness of yourself, if you have good intentions, because, ultimately, I believe that spreads to others.
What's on your New Year's resolution list?
To take it easy. I’ve been a very active poet since I was a teenager, at least, and writing since I was 11. I think life is calling for us to slow down, and I want to answer that call a bit. I want to trust that nobody can’t stop me from being a poet except me. Another resolution is to be a gentle giant; I want to be soft and gentle and keep my giant ways.