Siaara Freeman took the stage twice (so far) this year at The Drunken Retort, kicking up laughs and howls from the entire room. Her personal, energy-charged performances connect deeply with audience members at The Drunken Retort, spelling out the story of her own background and cultural influences, life as an inner city woman, and how relationships bite the dust hard.
One of her most crowd-rousing pieces is “Urban Girl,” a poem shaped around the idea that urban teens and women are faced with a unique set of obstacles that often create a difficult yet altogether worthwhile life. Take this line: “Urban girl gets jumped more than rope.” It’s powerful and raw, working out some of the greatest challenges facing women in the hood with striking metaphor. Her most famous poem (and a wickedly emotional and honest piece) is “The Drug Dealer’s Daughter.”
“What’s your proudest accomplishment?” I ask Siaara.
My ability to grow. Each year, I get closer to who I want to be…both professionally and personally. It’s far from done but it’s far from where I started too.”
Siaara is well on her way to national fame, as she’s been booking shows through the Good Grief Tour (co-touring with Natasha T Miller) at universities and venues around the country. It’s actually a huge honor to have Siaara as a proud supporter and role model of and for the Grand Rapids poetry scene.
“But what about the struggles? How hard is it to be a woman of color trying to do poetry?” It’s a tough question, asking about discrimination in a field that we in Grand Rapids often take for granted as progressive and accepting.
Siaara responds, “I get slept on. CONSTANTLY. I get slept on for being Black. I get slept on for being a woman. I get slept on for being queer. I get slept on for being urban, even in poetry. I got called an “entertainer” for years, not a poet. Then I began to write about my father, and people referred to me as a ‘tragedy poet’… No one acknowledged me as a writer, just a “slam poet” until retreats and publications… Still, people do not hide surprise after reading a chapbook and enjoying it.”
Of course, for every experience that leaves a bad taste in her mouth, Siaara has a handful of great ones. “I’ve had some amazing [moments],” she says. “Like really, really good ones. Like might do a whole chapbook about them-ones. One that stands out…occurred with a lady in Detroit… She approached me after a show, in tears… She told me she too was the child of a dead drug dealer, and that this was the first time she had heard anyone outside of her urban novels reference it. She told me she felt unreal, like maybe she was the only person who actually saw this from more than a rap video or a hood movie. I knew that feeling and we legit sat together and cried after my set; I couldn’t even properly sale books. It was magik [sic].”
She also writes poetry that lives confidently on the page. One of my favorite lines is from a poem called “An Outline No One But Me May Ever Need”: “don’t treat women like Motrin and try to swallow them all at once”. Siaara’s poetry is written in a voice that is unique to her, full of passion and no-fucks-given.
There’s definitely more in store for Siaara and her followers. She’s got a full-length chapbook in the works and is also helping T Miller get ArtistInn, a hotel for traveling artists and writers to stay in, off the ground. She’s also considering taking on the Individual World Poetry Slam! If you missed a copy of her mini-chapbook, District 11, you can contact her through Facebook or Twitter (@ThatsWhatSiSaid).