“I see poetry everywhere”

Lenelle Moïse, MFA ’04, Northampton’s new poet laureate, says her pen is her megaphone

by Christina Barber-Just

Northampton's new poet laureate, Lenelle Moise, MFA ’04.Poet, playwright, and performance artist Lenelle Moïse, MFA ’04, is already a triple threat, and now the Haitian-born Moïse is Northampton’s new poet laureate, selected for the two-year post by the Northampton Arts Council. At age 30, she is the city’s youngest poet laureate to date and its first performing poet. Ellen Doré Watson, director of The Poetry Center at Smith College,  where Moïse will give her inaugural reading on Feb. 1, 2011, calls her “an electrifying performer” and predicts she will be “quite
inspirational.” Here Moïse reflects on her new role.

On being named poet laureate of Northampton I receive the honor as a legible sign: My poems are working, communicating, reaching ears, and resonating with hearts. Fundamentally, being named the poet laureate of Northampton is encouraging. It’s like getting a high five from the local community.

Unique attributes I see poetry everywhere: in movement, in dialogue, in Haiti, in paintings, in the public-housing tenements of my memories, in embraces. My credo is that a poem is only effective on stage when my writing is pulsing with life. I rehearse a lot, but I edit even more.

Hopes for Northampton City. Love. Peace. Compassion. Home. Freedom. Connectivity. Forgiveness. Poets have been publicly thinking about and broadcasting these themes forever. My pen—no exception—is a megaphone.

Being multifaceted People sometimes ask me to choose a primary identity: “Are you a poet, a playwright, or a performer?” I am all three and more. I use every tool I have in my creative treasure chest to tell stories effectively. I tell with my pen, my eyes, my arms, my voice. I am really inspired by artists like James Baldwin, Gordon Parks, and Meredith Monk, who never limited their creative expression to one medium, genre, or style.

Current projects I am working on a new play, Merit, about race, sex, isolation, and academia. I also just released The Expatriate Amplification Project, a CD of the music I composed for my off-Broadway play, Expatriate. And I am editing a manuscript of poems called Hyphen-American.

Is poetry elitist? There is nothing elitist about poetry. Poetry is about the heart and each of us has one.