Poetry Month Feature: Samantha Badaoa

Week three of National Poetry Month brings us an interview with an up and coming slam poet. Publishing her first book with Black Moss Press this month, and Windsor’s Youth Poet Laureate, Samantha Badaoa is one to watch out for. Her poetry is fresh and raw, exploring the heart of things like religion and love for a deeper understanding. We hope you enjoy this exclusive interview and poetic excerpts.

Q: so am i is your first published book, can you tell us about the experience of publishing your first book?

SB: Publishing this book has been such a unique experience. I’ve worked as an editor as part of the publishing practicum at the University of Windsor in the past, so I thought that I had a good idea of what to expect during this process – I was wrong. As a writer who has generally avoided the publishing scene and wrote primarily for the stage, I was really worried about how I would adapt to the process and politics of publishing a book. When you’re a performance poet, you have a lot of control over your own work and are able to curate all aspects of the experience you present to an audience. You edit your own pieces, you decide when you want to perform, where you want to perform and you have a lot of control over all of the circumstances surrounding your performance and poem. Publishing with a team of editors means learning how to relinquish control of the words on the page and coming to terms with the fact that your work inhabits an entirely different and unpredictable world once it’s in print. These were not easy lessons for me to learn, but they were absolutely necessary. I was lucky enough to work with a group of editors who understood the direction I wanted to take with my book, and who worked very hard to get there. For that, I am very grateful. I look forward to publishing in the future.

Q: Do you have any plans for your next book?

SB: I do! In my next book I want to write about the intersection of immigration, race, class and economics in the Windsor-Essex Country area. I grew up in Leamington, the fourth child of immigrants in a middle-class family. Leamington is a diverse town, and because of its ties to the agricultural industry there is an extreme disparity of wealth in such a small area. It is not uncommon to witness, within a ten-minute drive around my town, the mansions of multi-millionaires and the houses of people living below or just above the poverty line. While immigrants and migrant workers account for a large number of people working in the agricultural industry in these areas, for the most part they are not reaping the benefits of this extremely lucrative industry. I would like to create work that explores these issues.

I have a solid concept for another book as well, but the above project is the one I want to focus on first. It will be extremely interesting to examine these businesses and industries in the aftermath of the economic current situation we are in.

Q: Many of your poems carry religious themes, can you explain the impact religion has had on your life and why it has translated itself over to your poetry?

SB: I was born and raised a Maronite Catholic. When you are raised in the Catholic church you are swarmed from a young age with images and symbols that are supposed to hold great space in your heart. You are also bombarded with many rules and roles you are supposed to follow depending on your gender. As much as I tried to find a home in the Catholic church, to find meaning and holiness in a place where so many others did, I just couldn’t. Writing about religion was a way for me to understand myself in relation to a tradition that I was meant to believe was right, even though it didn’t feel right to me. Writing about religion was a way for me to reclaim symbols (like water, churches, stained glass windows) that had become in my mind so attached to something so tainted that I could not appreciate these things for what they are. Because my relationship with religion is so much a part of myself, it feels inevitable that it seeps into my writing.

Q: How has being Windsor’s Youth Poet Laureate impacted your poetry and your writing as a whole?

SB: Being Windsor’s Youth Poet Laureate has given me the opportunity to really contemplate about the city of Windsor. It has allowed me to think about the needs of the city and whether they’re being met. I think a lot about how I would like to see Windsor grow and expand in terms of its arts community and in which ways our community need to change to encourage growth. My writing, now more than ever, discusses these issues.

Q: Who are some poets who have inspired you and why?

SB: Like any other writer, I am inspired by many poets, too many to name here! Because of my spoken word beginnings, I have found a lot of inspiration from poets with similar backgrounds. Some of them are: Danez Smith, Anis Mojgani and Andrea Gibson. They are all extremely talented writers. What I love about each of their works is their ability to write about difficult topics in a way that isn’t alienating to their audience. They are all writers who do not shy away from the personal or the raw and that type of courage from any type of artist I always find very inspiring.

I am also inspired by many local poets, Vanessa Shields and Mary Ann Mulhern are two that come to mind. Vanessa Shields knows how to weave humour into her poems in a way that I admire. She also is a poet who isn’t afraid of boundaries. As a writer who finds themselves constantly negotiating internally with what I can and can’t put into a poem, I find her fearlessness refreshing. Mary Ann is a poet who knows how to get to the heart of what’s important in a poem. She is able to use images in a way that’s always unpredictable and heart wrenching, and she is able to do it in short poems. I tend to write longer poems so I find it very inspiring to see poets who are able to pack a punch in poems that aren’t very long.

Holy water for bird baths

there is a bird bath
in the park across the street
there are bottles filled with Holy water
lining the pantry in my mother’s house
I am seven years old when I take them
fill a plastic shopping bag
drag it across the pavement
stop only
when I get close enough
to hear the songbirds
there are four of them
lounging on the lip of the basin
they don’t move
when I move
small delicate steps
I was a ballerina then
arms stretched high
standing on tippy toes
I can only
just
reach the bath
I will learn later that
just
is a word I cannot say
without my tongue and skin swelling
but right now
I like the sound the water makes
as it falls into the near empty bird bath
I like the sound the water makes
as it falls onto itself
splashes were never something I avoided
the bottles are empty
the bath is filled
the birds are still singing
the birds are falling
the birds are not flying
the birds are drowning
the birds have stopped singing

too much water

there was too much water
songbirds aren’t good in water
can’t swim well
become too unbalanced when they fall in
to remember they are birds
who have wings
that turn skies into
boulevards
and open dirt roads
I used to think birds were invincible

it is the first time I learn
that even something Holy
can kill you
if you forget who you are

my first love poem

I have lost more than I’d care to admit
on failed attempts at love poems
for people
who have demanded them
or for people
who have deserved them
my hands seem to tremble
and my fingers start to seize
at the idea of loving anyone

like a flower
like an ocean
like anything that is written
on a hallmark card

like things that can be contained by ink
it somehow seems very wrong to even try
I’ve made unwilling victims of these pages
in the name of a “love poem”

and still
I always seem to end up writing
about the wrong things
like my mom
I’ve been told
that my mother has no place
in a poem
to a boyfriend
or a partner
or a future husband
but it is easy to write about her
and for once
it is easy to write about you

I can tell you about her smile
how it always seemed like a multicoloured acid trip
or about her hands
and how they cradled me in birth and near death
with the same gentleness
and understanding
smooth despite the cuts and burns
she collected throughout the years
or how she always smelt like oranges
and that even now the smell of citrus
never fails to make me happy
I can tell you about the days where I am horizontal
chained to my bed
my chest weighed down by thoughts like

“I’m not good enough”
and
“damn living is hard”
she tears the sheets from the bed throws the windows open
tells me that I am like the sunrise
that comes through the horizon
this is her way of telling me I will be okay
and for the first time in my life
I believe it
the next time he tells me
I will be okay
I believe him too
on our first date
he showed up at my door with a bag of oranges
we sat on a grassy hill and pretended to watch the moon
the pile of peels growing larger behind us
as the space between us grew smaller and smaller
this is how I have learned to love and write about love

when I say I feel about two inches tall
he leads me to a mountain
reminds me how beautiful it can be to be small
how fulfilling it can be to be engulfed by things
much older and wiser than us
we spend the rest of the night
looking at pictures of space
when I finally do fall asleep
it is in the crook of his arm
our chests moving up and down in a unison
that only comes with deep and peaceful slumber
I can’t sleep without him anymore

and I admit
I have seen women stronger than me
surrender to heartbreak
I have been cataloging their collapse since childhood
filing this information away under
reasons why I should not fall in love
and reasons why I definitely
should not write about falling in love
but I am ready to fall
I am ready to slip and stumble
I am ready to fumble over words
like love
my tongue thought it would never pronounce
I am ready to shed any excuse
defence or worry
about how I would pick up the pieces
if he and I were ever to shatter
being vulnerable is only as scary as you let it be
and I am not scared anymore

this is how I have learned to love him
and write about love
not through blood-soaked pages
or empty metaphors
but with
orange peels
grassy hills
pictures of space
and most importantly

courage

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