Flash Interviews—My North Stars
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
I came to poetry later in life. Or rather, she took pity watching me suffer after the loss of my brother, Prof. John Klier, twelve years ago. Beckoning me to her side, poetry offered solace and a chance for me to be rescued from my pain. As I learned to take delight in shuffling my words to form unique patterns and stories on the page, I learned another important survival lesson. Poetry is restless and never solely resides in just one person, no matter how talented. She is always looking to expand her circle and to bring talent to her with the purpose of sharing; for, I believe, artists and poets need each other to create. This is why I developed a series of Flash Interviews, glimpses into poets and artists’ lives who have touched my heart, poets who have helped me by their example in fulfilling their passion.
Talent and craft inspire and motivate me as I continue on the journey. The subjects of my interviews are indeed my North Stars. My first interview in this series is with an exceptionally talented high school student who I met in Kansas City five years ago. Her family has journeyed from Iran to Brazil and now lives in Kansas City.
Featured Poet :
Clara Rabanni, 12th-grade student, Kansas City, Missouri
AN: Clara, recently through your Independent Study Program at your high school you designed a global poetry contest. Can you share why you offered this opportunity to other students?
Clara: The International Poetry of Resistance Contest, sponsored by the Social Justice Club at my school, Pembroke Hill, had the purpose of empowering youth ages 12 to 18 to capture and express, in the form of poetry, the injustices they face. Through poetry, our diversity and interconnectedness could also be embraced and nurtured. Poetry echoes the common struggles of a generation and, in doing so, relieve people’s burden of having to suffer alone.
AN: How many poems were submitted and which countries participated?
Clara: More than 250 poems from 12 countries (Brazil, Mexico, US, Spain, France, England, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, Pakistan, China, and the Philippines) and from 18 American States were submitted, and 60 were selected for a book we compiled.
AN: How do you see the work of your peers who submitted to your contest?
Clara: They reflect resistance in the face of intimate and personal challenges and resistance in the face of controversial social issues surrounding freedom of speech and religion, gun violence, the effects of media, gender inequality, and racism. They reveal fears that no other generation has experienced before. As leaders of their generation, these youth yield something far more powerful than the bullets and chains that threaten to puncture and bind them.
AN: Clara, you are an exceptional poet in your own right. When you write, who might you consider or like your audience to be?
Clara: I usually envision my audience to be people searching for new insights and understandings of the world. I write for curious people who are willing to explore. I also write for myself, because I just love the way certain words sound when I read them to myself. I even love the flow of words on my tongue when I read my poems to others.
AN: Why do you write and when did you start writing poetry and short stories?
Clara: I write poetry because it forces me to see the world through different lenses and show others what I see and feel. When I write, I feel like I am going places that no one has ever been before and seeing things that no one else has ever seen. I started writing poetry and short stories for pleasure when I was in fifth grade.
AN: Clara, if asked to offer a Mission Statement that defines your writing and why you write, what might that be?
Clara: I write to unveil the injustices I see in the world but also to give witness to the beautiful things in life.
AN: Clara, offer a question that you want asked of you and then answer it for us.
Clara: My question: Is there a specific poet who has inspired me the most?
I recently began reading the works of the Persian poet Rumi. His poems unveil corners of the mind I always felt existed but never fully comprehended. He describes the soul as if he has touched it, and that is something only a true poet can do.
AN: Clara, I would like to conclude our interview with your poem “What Am I?” that was published in the Kansas Teen Library Literary Magazine Elementia.
What Am I?
In Iran, I am a rebel. I show my hair. In Brazil, I am exotic. The nomads left me their yellow eyes to search the desert sand. Where I live, there is no sand. In America, I am my age. Stuck in the inbetween where nothing lasts. I am the enemy. No matter how hard they try to rid me of these thoughts the things they do only drill them in deeper. I do not belong in either world. When they ask me where I come from, I cannot say. In Iran I am outspoken. I have no loss for words. They spill from my lips like a waterfall in the Amazon. In Brazil, I am silent. I do not dance. I cannot feel the rhythm. I string words together like beads. In America, I am the empty space. I am what is not there. But when the painting is finished, and I am the only space left, then you will see what I am. I am the color of the clay, baking in the midday sun. A sun so old it has seen both worlds. I am the color of the coffee beans that fall from the trees in the rainforest. They wait for the monkeys to find them. Sprout leaves and last forever. In America, my language is a fragrant blend of spices. Those who have not tasted it will never understand. When they call my name, they are deceived. I am the sun. An egg white. I am light.
Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Point—a place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.