On being an Outsider, Community, and the Power of Words

Check out my latest interview with Smokin' Word & Drum


SW: Natalie, when we started working with Poets & Writers they were uber excited saying the Bronx needs the work and events that we put together. Since then there has been more than a few poetry events popping up in the Bronx and when we first heard you read at Smokin' Word, beautiful and eclectic words, we saw proof that the Bronx was rising. You were not the expected rough edged poet, your words were smooth, sweet, yet powerful, and took a stand.

SW: Do you realize the power in your words and voice and how important a poet like you is the the Bronx rising?

While I haven’t always known the power of my words, I’ve always been terrified of the power of words, in general. It’s why I lived in notebooks for most of my life. Growing up in a small community, I saw early on the power they wielded; Children are especially careless with them. We were so needlessly cruel to each other back then. I won’t even tell you about the ways we cut each other down because we were ignorant or worse yet jealous. Adults can also be careless. We forget the power of kindness and are often all to ready to pull out the red pen; we’re all too comfortable leaving the pages bloody. I’m guilty of this too. We all are. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that words are heavier than anything on earth. They carry multiple meanings. There’s more than just dictionary definition embedded in every word. Words are layers landscapes. There’s the sights, smells, tastes, popular symbols that permeate our brains and infect us with feelings associated with each word. You can’t escape it. Now more than ever we have to educate ourselves lest we hurt each other while we try to build community. Now more than ever we have to put away the red pens andclaws.    We have to learn how to navigate these landscapes and tread with care.

SW: Like myself, you are clearly prideful in being different and unique, which we love. Do ever fear or care being seen as an outsider because you do not conform to the social norm?

I vacillate between total self-acceptance and total self-hatred.   I’m constantly confronted with my hypocrisies. How can believe in the free thinking person and also feel as if I have the right to compel someone into ‘right action’? Who am I to be the morality police every time I see social injustice? This is especially difficult to face as a feminist of color. We talk a lot about intersectionality in the writing community but I’m not sure that we’ve come up with a definition that we all agree upon. We talk a lot about being liberated, but that doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. We talk about the roles and responsibilities of male allies but it is all theory in the end. I think a lot of it has to do with confrontation. Soo many of us are afraid of being stigmatized as ‘ghetto’ for calling someone out. It’s uncouth to say ‘hey, that’s an asshole thing to say or do.’  We stay silent and write thought pieces for the internet and seethe; or worse yet wegossip about it to others and create further divisions. We all have to be outsiders at some point, it’s just about deciding what’s worth being on the outside about.

SW: Your name has been ringing bells on the spoken word scene for a while now; when did you begin writing and what was it that sparked the interest to write?

I’m sincerely honored, especially considering I haven’t really been an active part of the performing community for very long. I started writing poetry at eleven. I wasn’t allowed out much, like most young women in hood; and so I read a lot, I’m talking boxes of books. One afternoon, we were at the school library and I picked up the fattest book I could find. Summer was coming and I needed something to really lose myself in. It was the collected works of Emily Dickinson. I opened the book to “Because I could not stop for death…” and I wanted to write like her. She made misery sound romantic and beautiful. Because I was young, I thought, ‘I just need to learn how to rhyme like her and I can make pain sound pretty too,’ and for the years that followed that’s exactly what I did. I went on dates with death and tried to make every heart ache and swell end in the same way.

SW: I love an artist that isn't afraid to take this path when they are clearly qualified to pursue more financially rewarding paths. Not that you can't do both, but what motivates you to make this path and community such a major part of your life and who you are?

(Katalina, I can’t even express what that means to me. Every time I hear you sing/read my heart dances in my chest.)

Like most writers, I think that what I have to say is necessary. I pray every day that it isn’t ego saying this. The thing that both grounds me and helps me move forward is the knowledge that something I say might help someone else feel safe enough to speak their truth/trauma. My work is heavily centered on the abuses women have endured at the hands of a male dominated society. I engage both the macro/micro aggressions we face every day. I’ve sat quietly at bars listening to men dehumanize women for sport. I’ve called my sisters bitches and whores because they were behaving like men, and I have let the world tell me that it was my responsibility to police the very bodies that I helped exploit. I let myself believe that their otherness, ‘empowered’ me; if they were bad girls, then by default I was a good girl. I was better than those “putas.” I was playing right into this whole Madonna/Whore complex.

SW: You have an interesting and intriguing hash tag and moniker on social media that I'm sure raises eyebrows and questions what is behind the name PM THOT?

I want to raise eyebrows only in so far as it forces people to ask questions. At the surface, yes, THOT is an acronym for “that hoe over there,” but for me it’s so much more than that. It has layers. Postmodern THOT, PM THOT for short, came out of having to face my own otherness. In graduate school, I was one of the few Latina women in an MA/MFA program. We talked a lot about the postmodern condition, but nothing clung to me soo closely as reading by Homi K. Bhabha, where he talks about how the colonized speaks. As a woman of color, I am colonized twice (maybe more if we really sit down and unpack it). In “The Location of culture he says” the the “inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of ourselves.” Postmodern THOT is a play on words and lives in the third space of many cultures. I’m actively engaging this business of what it means to be an academic, a girl from the hood, and woman who is able to act like a man. In this space, I can safely explore myself and others and the complexities that make us beautifully human.

SW: What can we look forward to from you at your Smokin' Word feature and writing wise in the near future?

I hope my feature makes people think. You don’t have to agree with my politics but at least think about why I am saying what I’m saying. Many people have in fact called me extreme. I’m pretty sure some people don’t engage with me because of my beliefs. But I love learning and mostly, I want open up a dialogue. I love debates, the crap you see on American TV with people shouting. I want people sitting in a circle having ‘yes, but’ exchanges. I want all of us to walk out feeling different.

In terms of my writing, I want to publish a self-titled (Postmodern THOT) chapbook that explores the very real dangers of the male gaze/touch. I’m debating self-publication because, frankly, aside from the stigma, I think it doesn’t help foster a strong sense of community. I want to release something that one of my peers values enough to put their name behind. We don’t do that enough. Most of us were told early on that co-signing was dangerous and that it would leave us worse off. We’re often afraid of making real investments in one another. I mean I can’t blame anyone. The struggle is real for me too. But we need a commons. We a need a garden that we all cultivate.

Wanna publish me?

(P.S. Thank you for being a home where I can grow, I’m lucky to call the Smokin’ Word crew family.)