1010: Liz Prisley
Liz Prisley, Tampa poet, performer and educator uses her experiences in her spoken word poems and helps others find their voice along the way.
Hello, I'm Dalia Colon, and this is "WEDU Arts Plus."
For Liz Prisley, finding her voice meant learning the rules
of poetry and then unlearning them.
The Citrus Park resident is part
of Tampa Bay's spoken-word community,
a group of performance poets using the power of words
to speak truth on their own terms.
- I wrote my first suicide note at the age of 13.
By 15, I'd composed an entire notebook.
My 10th grade English teacher thought that I was troubled,
but no number of parent-teacher conferences
could find a solution.
See, I was mourning a loss I hadn't yet identified,
struggling with an identity I didn't yet understand.
Tell me, what does it mean to be a woman?
So I have a poem called "Suicide Note."
I was looking back at middle school, high school
creative writing that I found in a folder
when I was cleaning out a drawer
and was trying to remember it,
'cause nothing was that hard in my life.
My parents were still happily married.
We had a happy home.
See, when I was six, I measured my self worth
in fireflies, blanket forts, and kisses from my dad.
And I was like, "What was I so upset about at 13?"
And so I was trying to think what was going on.
And the more I dug, the more I realized
that I was grappling with being found physically attractive
for the first time and being sexualized
as a middle and high school girl.
And it just weighed really heavily on me,
trying to figure out how to navigate the world as a person.
See, by 16 I'd exchanged fireflies for desire shining
in boys' eyes, blanket forts for some spindly teenage arms
and daddy kisses for foreign lips of approval,
where satisfaction is found in the meeting of lips,
the pressing of hips, the probing
of somebody else's fingertips into places
that I didn't know were ever mine to begin with.
And so I think some of the lines in that poem resonate
with a lot of women who've had similar experiences.
My name's Liz Prisley.
I'm a spoken-word poet and the executive director
of Heard Em Say Youth Arts Collective,
a non-profit that empowers young people
through creative arts and spoken-word poetry.
I've always enjoyed poetry, but it wasn't
until I found spoken word that it resonated more.
A lot of academic poetry spaces made me feel
like I couldn't talk about my lived experiences,
or I feel passionately about kind of this
social justice lens to talking about poetry,
and that was really absent from a lot of my college
and high school poetry spaces.
And so it wasn't until that element was there
in the spoken-word community
that it just really connected for me, I think.
- One of the things that I love the most
about this community is the diversity of the art forms
and the number of young emerging artists,
and I guess I would put Liz in that category,
that are kind of bubbling up.
Especially as we're coming out of this pandemic,
to be able to give voice to your fears,
to the anxiety we've experienced, to the isolation,
to everything, what a wonderful role
for poets to play in this, and this is kind of Liz's thing.
She really wants to kind of bridge those gaps
and open up more people.
And, of course, her work with Heard Em Say,
working with youth, has been great.
- I've been an educator of some kind since grad school.
So I thought I was gonna study to teach college English
and essay writing, and then I'd always loved poetry,
and I got into spoken word.
And so I thought, okay, let me use my educator
teaching abilities in this space too, and I think some
of those degrees helped me get in the door in spaces
where the community wanted to teach spoken word,
but that educator background helped open that door.
And so then I started working with Wally B,
who founded Heard Em Say back in 2007,
and I joined him in 2012, and it's been magic ever since.
- Liz comes from the kind of traditional academic side
of poetry, whereas, with people like myself,
I'm from the contemporary spoken-word art side.
And so one of the areas that I've worked on
as a teaching artist is helping to bridge that gap.
And so meeting Liz was really a great revelation
and opportunity to really understand the inner workings
of the academic side.
- 'Cause since the age of 13, I have been slowly
killing myself with these beauty magazines as blades dragged
up my wrists, or push-up bra straps wrapped around my neck,
fumes of perfume and synthetic desire choking my breath.
My manifesto became my poetry.
It is the only suicide note that I have ever left,
and with my own hand on the trigger,
holding this gun to my temple, will somebody tell me,
is this what it means to be a woman?
- The thing that I really love is
she is fearless in all areas.
She's not afraid to hold herself accountable,
and she's not afraid to hold you accountable.
No matter who you are, she will check your privilege
because she's not afraid to check her privilege.
She's not afraid to utilize her privilege and position
and the things that she has at her advantage
in a way to advocate and serve as an ally
for other groups and individuals.
- An internal memorandum to all white people,
I love the audience reaction of snaps when a line resonates.
Nobody needs our tears or our guilt
or our ignorance or our disbelief.
Making racism all about us is only harming the very people
we are claiming to help.
So I find I do that in my life now,
just when I'm listening to something, I'm like,
(fingers snapping) "Oh, yeah, tell me more about that"
with snaps, which is maybe weird for a non-poetry audience.
We have to stop hiding our hatred behind self-defense.
We have to stop pretending like we don't know the rules
when we wrote them.
We have to stop painting God in our own image.
You just can't replicate the vibe of an audience
who's supporting you and cheering you on
and clapping for you, and then walking into that crowd
afterwards and having people say, "Oh, that was so great.
"Thank you so much for that," or the conversations
that get sparked afterwards are just so fulfilling
and so affirming, and it's really hard
to replicate that on Zoom.
But gone is the glow of fireflies,
and if I could only find that blanket to cover this skin,
if daddy ever knew where this mouth has been, well,
it's probably why he stopped giving kisses years ago.
My advice for creatives would be to just trust yourself.
I think if you're a creative, you're going to create
if you give yourself space.
Often times we're just over-scheduled and drained
and exhausted, and that is not ideal creative time.
And so I think carving out as much of your day as possible
to be creative and then just believe in whatever you create,
even if you think it's awful at the time,
because I think everything sounds funny until it doesn't,
and it sounds awful until it hits.
And I think just trusting yourself
and giving yourself the space to write terribly
until it's good, because it will be.
'Cause since the age of 13, I have been mourning the loss
of my ability to ever be a woman, and now at 34,
I am struggling to decide if I could ever just be.
(wistful piano music)
- See more at lizprisley.com.