A few good words with Shauna
PDS: Both pieces featured here utilize image. How do you see these renderings speaking to the text of the poems? How did your interaction with these charged images effect the way in which you conceptualized the poem? What came first, the poem or the picture?
ST: As a Black child, my understanding of “hangman” was quite complex and unique. My first understanding of the term developed from the simple, innocent game that I played amongst my peers. The second meaning, however, dealt with black bodies as they hung from trees. The poem, “hangman,” is therefore my definition of the term –– it is exactly what I see and think about when I’m recalling certain periods of Black/American history or when I’m playing the simple game. For this poem (“hangman”), the image came first. I played off of the shape and structural features of the hanging apparatus in the actual game, and I used a photo with similar features. From there, I continued to define the meaning of “hangman” with my words –– though my understanding is still not completely clear.
For the second poem, “cinderella,” the photo actually came in the middle of writing the poem. I often use art for inspiration, and while trying to conceptualize the idea of what “cinderella” means to me, I repeatedly thought of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman. Sarah, a Black woman known for her protruding buttocks and wide-set hips, was widely exploited for her physical features in the 19th century. I began to wonder what it would be like for Sarah to be regarded as royalty and as a “cinderella.”
PDS: These poems are part of a larger series–can you tell us a little about that project?
ST: My documentary poetics project is an endeavor to explore the ideas of what it means to be black. In my first writings for this project, I wrote a series that touched on my own initial feelings surrounding the ideas of blackness. I thought about where “black” first existed for myself, and how my experience of being black could differ from the experience of my non-black counterparts. I recalled my younger days of watching movies of white princesses that told me to wish on white stars in order for my dreams to come true. At the time, I didn’t understand that the language these princesses spoke in wasn’t made for a black girl like me to adopt as my own. Little black girls could not wish on stars for their dreams to come true. Our brothers and fathers were still being murdered, our “bills [were still] left unpaid,” and there was no perfect prince to save the day. I soon grew older and wondered why white stars in space were more celebrated than the contrasting black background of the night (which was just as beautiful, if not more). I wondered why black never existed in fairy tales unless it was something sinister and gloomy. My project was my way of having a better understanding of blackness, so ultimately all of those complex ideas resulted in my documentary poetics project.
PDS: Whose work scares you with its brilliance? Whose work do you look towards for guidance? What book is sitting on your bedside table?
ST: Right now, I’m really inspired by Claudia Rankine. Her work is brutally honest, and reflective of her identities (i.e. Jamaican, woman, etc.) –– many of which I share with her. As someone who is new to poetry, I still have a lot to learn, but I believe she is a great source of inspiration and guidance. I recently purchased her book, Citizen and I have been re-reading it over and over.
SHAUNA TULLOCH is a young Black woman from Orlando, Florida. Currently, she is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at Brown University where she will be graduating in May of 2016. Shauna is also the Vice President of the Jamaica CARES Project, which is a service organization that seeks to enrich youth services in her home country, Jamaica. When she finishes her undergraduate studies, she plans to finish her first poetry book while working full time in Jamaica. In addition to this, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and volunteering for youth and mental health services in underserved communities.