By Belinda Sacco
Baltimore’s first Youth Poet Laureate Derick Ebert sat down after the release of his first collection of poetry “Black Boy Archaeologist” to discuss origins, influences, and how far he’s come as an artist in the span of two short years.
When and how did you get interested in poetry?
I got into poetry around my sophomore year at UB. The generic story I always like to tell is I was in a two-year relationship and then, after we ended it, I couldn’t find an outlet, and Anthony Moll, who was my professor freshman year always showed spoken word videos before he started class… and I always found spoken word very interesting. So I said, “Let me Google some spoken word artists and just listen.” I listened for a few weeks and was like, “Wow, this is really cool. I think I’m going to give it a try.” Eventually, I just started to write and write and write. I didn’t perform a whole lot until about February of 2014. I would go to very few open mics, get cold feet, and leave, but that was my start. That was my beginning. It was Open Mics, and then finding Dew More Baltimore.
I would definitely say hip-hop influences a lot of what I talk about. It at least influences the message. Certain rappers and hip-hop artists like Kanye West, J. Cole, and even Kendrick Lamar kind of all talk about the same theme and have the same message. They just do it a different way because, you know, their styles are so different. When I listen to music I’m always influenced and I take what they say and I try to apply it to how I connect to that topic and how I relate, and if I can relate in any way, if I’ve experienced what they’ve gone through in their raps then I apply it to my poetry. In addition, what really influences me is just being out, talking to people– the stories that come from that and the stories that are worth sharing are what influence me the most. I want to tell other people about it instead of just talking how we’re talking right now. I try to find a creative way to present it to the masses in the form of poetry… Also, James Baldwin is one of my favorite writers. He’s influenced a lot of my endings because how James Baldwin ends in a lot of his essays… is so impactful because they just leaving you hanging or they leave you with this sense of closure. So I adopt that style from him in ending with a powerful, breath-taking, drop the mic, walk off the stage message.
And what happens when the people who are in the poetry hear the poetry? For example, I know in your poem “Archeologist” you talk a lot about your father. Has he heard that poem? How did he react?
He has heard “Archeologist.” There is some conflict with that only because he doesn’t really understand what the poetry is saying–or maybe he does; we haven’t really talked about the poem before. He just feels like in the poem I’m telling him he’s not doing a good job of being a father, but really I’m not. It’s just that we have separate interests. The poem even starts off with him telling me and my brothers “How about you be interested in something like this? Something like…” Something like what he’s interested in. And at the end of the poem I talk about how he’s always given us everything and that I’m appreciative of that, but, even though he’s always wanted me to be these things, I wanted to be something completely different. I want to be who I am. It’s really a poem about that. But I think he’s still getting into the groove of me being a poet. Eventually, he’ll just grow into it.
With being a poet for two years now, my process has changed. Before, I would just wait for poetry to come to me and that would give me a poem a month. A lot of my coaches were telling me “you just have to write daily” and I was like “no, I like when poetry comes to me; it’s hard to just push things out.” And then, it got to a point where I was doing the same poems over and over like “Archeologist” and “Animal,” so I was like “Okay, maybe I should start to write daily.” I would listen to a lot of spoken word artist’s workshops on YouTube and I would adapt the style of my concept of how to write–I tell other young poets this at the Baltimore Leadership School for Women where I teach–of just writing. Writing poetry is almost like writing in your diary and getting all the concrete things out, getting all the messy things out, getting everything you have to say out, and then you can let it rest or you can look at it and some of the things that don’t flow you can cross out or add more in, because once you push all the fluff out of the way and you really get to what you want to talk about, you continue to write. And it’s fine to make a little more scribbles and waste some pages. Don’t rip the pages out, just keep the pages there to see how far you’ve come. My process now is to write a lot of concrete things about whatever I’m going to talk about and eventually I’ll get to the point where I know exactly what I want to write about and incorporate literary devices and go to poem.