Ask anyone to name famous modern-day poets and Maya Angelou, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks are names many will list. Black people have a long history of being masterful wordsmiths and amazing storytellers. There is a new crop of up-and-coming poets of color who are sure to earn their place in the annals of poetry history alongside these great writers.
Melissa Christine Goodrum is one such poet. The Brooklyn-based writer, who has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College, is a prolific poet whose work can be found in numerous poetry anthologies and publications.
In honor of National Poetry Month, Goodrum spoke with Black Enterprise about her creative inspiration and also about what it takes to balance being a creative with the demands of daily life.
On what inspired her to become a poet, Goodrum says, “My family history.” She comes from a long line of creative individuals—she is related to the great jazz singer Billie Holiday and is also the granddaughter of jazz banjoist Charlie Dixon.
She credits her family with providing her with a love of words and music. “I grew up with music and poetry,” she says. “Instead of Mother Goose, my parents read me poetry.”
Goodrum also spoke on the incredible feat of being dedicated to one’s art yet still paying the bills and managing everyday tasks. She says there is “no such thing” as a poet living only off their poetry.
“Toni Morrison…she charged $1,000 per minute for a speech. Maya Angelou…. I mean these are names,” she says. “These are the success stories and of course these are great women and great writers full of heart and powerful words that I grew up with.”
As for every other poet who has yet to rise to stardom like Angelou or Morrison; “We all teach for the most part. Eighty percent of the poets I know are teachers of some kind,” Goodrum says.
She has taught at the college level and is currently teaching high school students in a technical school—a job she loves. “Why not share my love of words and how I see the world with young minds?” She also shares the view of many other educators that learning and experiencing the arts is of value no matter which career path a student embarks on. “How would we have the iPhone if it weren’t for the creativity of Steve Jobs?” she points out.
Goodrum lent insight into what makes many black women such exceptional poets. “Pain,” she says, bluntly.
“I just feel like we’ve endured so much,” she continues. “So many things placed on a black woman’s shoulders” and that “we struggle on through and we look for a way to survive.”
Those struggles are what provide Goodrum and other black poets, now and from the past, with the inspiration to create and to possibly effect changes and bring awareness with their art.
“As Walt Whitman once said, ‘I contain multitudes.’ I feel as if we all have to speak up, to speak out. At this essential and pivotal point in history, we all need to become one thunderous voice against oppression, bias, and prejudice,” says Goodrum.
Goodrum’s poetry can be found in The Torch, The Tiny, Rhapsoidia, canwehaveourballback?, Transmission, a harpy flies down-a chapbook by Other Rooms Press and The Bowery Women Poems, an anthology. A collection of her poetry, definitions uprising, is available thanks to NY Quarterly Books. Last spring, Urbantgarde released a five-poet anthology interweaving her jazz-o-phile voice alongside some of her favorite contemporary poets: Billy Cancel, Ed Go, Susan Lewis, and Michael Whalen.
Watch the full interview with Melissa Christine Goodrum and also her reading one of her works: