Ali Smith featured alongside Motif for their combined twenty-first birthday party at The Drunken Retort in March. The crowd enjoyed honest, important poetry on topics such as abuse, disorder diagnosis, and relationships.
Ali’s personal subject matter and high-energy, passionate performances have made her a Grand Rapids heartthrob in just a few months, from All-Access Open Mic to, now that she’s (finally) 21, The Drunken Retort. She’s perhaps most known for her blend of imaginative “What could be” content and her exploration of struggles, whether hers or others’, with mental wellness, sexual and physical assault, and substance use. If you’ve heard her perform, her incredible poem about a car crash might come to mind:
“Your parents are drunk driving us
Back from your cousin’s wedding…
Your dad is slurring to an LL Cool J song on the radio
Your mom is dosing off in the front seat
while simultaneously assuring me
that there was no need for me to worry
as they had done this before…
I am holding your hand as if it can protect me in the event of a crash
We don’t wreck until 3 months later
We are both sober
on my back porch
in the cold
You tell me you just don’t feel it anymore”
Where did this powerful poet get her start?
“I started writing poems my junior year of high school, when my friend Jon Lord (yeah, that’s [his] real name) preformed Drunk Text Messages to God by George Watsky at an open mic.
Slamming has honestly always been a dream of mine from the very beginning.” Among her influences, she counts Childish Gambino, Watsky, Chance the Rapper, and Sarah Kay.
About overcoming struggles, Ali says, “The biggest problem I’ve had to overcome is being self-conscious over the subject matter of my poems. When I first started out, I would always be worried that I came off too whiny because at the time, most of my poems were about shitty boys. Then I realized that these poems were for my own healing, not to entertain an audience.”
“How are these poems born?” I ask.
“I have had writer’s block for honestly three months, but I can still come up with good one liners which is weird. I’ve found [that] if I sit in the shower for long enough and repeat these one liners [to myself], eventually more will come.” Here’s one of those incredible lines:
“I threw acronyms at you like frisbees
like DID, PTSD, BD.
You never caught any of them.”
One last piece of practical advice from Ali:
“Don’t write poetry based off of poems you find on tumblr. Everyone can tell it’s from tumblr, [and] no one is impressed.”
Ali’s goals for the next few months include earning a coveted spot on the Mentally Distilled Slam Team and releasing a chapbook sometime mid-summer. See her regularly perform at The Drunken Retort and may your work be inspired by this talented, confident local poet!