Moving Through Grief With Creativity
Turning Pain into Poetry:
An Interview with Angelo Geter
Today’s post has been in the making for a while, and I believe it’s coming to you at the right time. I met Angelo in early 2017 at a mastermind event. In the years since, I’ve been frequently inspired by his journey and asked him to collaborate with me on a post about grief. I can’t thank him enough for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully, and I hope you enjoy this unique spin on an author interview.
*All photos and video included are courtesy of Angelo.
Angelo ‘Eyeambic’ Geter is a poet and spoken word artist. His work touches on a variety of issues including social justice, race, grief, and manhood. He is a 2019 All-America city winner, 2018 National Poetry Slam champion, Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam finalist, Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam finalist and has performed and competed in venues across the country. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for The Watering Hole poetry organization.
In addition to being an artist and performer, Angelo is a Higher Education professional who has worked in the Student Affairs field for over a decade.
Ramona Mead: Can you give us a quick summary of what you do as a poet and spoken word artist? How might that be similar or different from a “traditional” writer who is creating novels?
Angelo Geter: My work is a combination of writing and performance. Many of the spoken word pieces I create are longer and free verse, written with the intention of being read and performed in front of a live audience. For the traditional or “page” poems I write, those are written solely with the intention of being read. That impacts word choice, context and format of the writing itself. What I do is similar to a novelist in that we are conveying a story to an audience in a way that exercises skill and is still relatable. It differs in that a novelist is constructing one large body of work that is conveying a story, whereas every poem I write is a separate story in itself that isn’t necessarily tied to or a part of a larger body of work. Each poem stands on its own. In addition to being a poet and writer, I am also a widower. I lost my late wife in 2017 and since then have been sharing my voice and experiences with others who may also be enduring the loss of a spouse.
RM: You’ve told me that after the loss of your wife, there was a period of time you were unable to write or perform. Can you give us an idea of what that was like and how you began to create new work?
AG: When my wife passed away it was hard finding joy in certain things. This is a common experience for those who’ve experienced loss. Although I was writing before I met my wife, writing and performing was something she was around for and a big supporter of. Therefore, when she passed it was hard to continue that same love and appreciation of it. What helped me regain my love for it was journaling. Periodically I would write down thoughts and feelings that eventually turned into poems. That helped me regain the power and enthusiasm I had lost.
RM: You mentioned journaling there. Would you recommend keeping a journal to someone who isn’t a “writer”? Can you offer some basic prompts, things to record or explore?
AG: I believe that journaling is great for anyone who wants an outlet to express themselves and release their feelings. While it is good for writers, it is helpful for anyone and can truly be therapeutic and a stress reliever. A good way to start with journaling is to write down your highs and lows from that day/week. Writing these things down not only allows you to keep a record of how your week went, but it will also begin to help you recall the small details surrounding those actions. This will help with being descriptive and recall the feelings you had when you experienced these highs and lows.
RM: Tell us about your one man show you performed last year at the three-day performance and visual arts festival, BOOM in Charlotte, NC. How did it take shape? And how was it received by audiences?
AG: A year prior to that, a friend of mine named Jay Ward debuted his one man show at BOOM, and I was highly impressed. He encouraged me to write one the following year, and submit it to BOOM, and it was accepted. The show essentially centered on the first year of my grief journey following my wife’s passing. It was a combination of song, theatre and spoken word. I had written two of the pieces prior to writing the show, and others I created while constructing the script. Over time, it came together in a nicely woven story that highlights grief, love, therapy and resilience. The reception was amazing as I had a packed house both nights and received great reviews. I actually plan on touring it across the country once things become safer.
RM: I recently heard writer Elizabeth Gilbert say that “grief management” is a western idea designed to aid us in avoiding our grief, but we can’t do that. She says, “Grief is bigger than us and it cannot be managed.” Do you agree with this sentiment? And how have you let go (or not) of trying to manage your grief?
AG: I disagree with this statement. I do think that you can manage grief. However, management is very different than control. I’ve learned that grief is going to come when it wants. It will come swiftly and fiercely. You can’t determine when it arrives or how it impacts you. You have no choice in what it does. However, you can choose how to channel those emotions, where to deposit your feelings, and have a better understanding of how grief affects your everyday life. Management is more about awareness and understanding than it is about controlling how it happens.
RM: Right now, we as a society are facing grief in a way that’s different from what we typically think of – this is not quite as acute and obvious. Many of us are sitting in fear and grief and may not even be aware of it. How would you advise people to recognize and sit with their grief?
AG: I think the first thing to do is recognize that grief doesn’t have a singular identity. It doesn’t only refer to losing someone to death. Grief can be losing your lifestyle due to the issues with the virus. It can be the loss of a relationship, job, house or anything that had meaning to us. That’s the first thing. Once we understand that grief comes in different forms, the important thing is to embrace it. Not all grief is crying or anger. Some experience happy grief. This can be in the form of laughing at memories, eating a meal that reminds you of a loved one, or experiencing something new. Whatever it is, simply embrace it. Acknowledge it first and then channel that grief in health ways such as writing, music, family, and other mechanisms.
RM: What do you have to say to people who don’t think of themselves as creative? How would you suggest they look for ways creativity can help them process their grief?
AG: I think everyone is creative in their own way. For some, that can be writing a poem and for others it can be finding a creative spreadsheet for balancing their budget. Creativity shows itself in different forms. With that said, you should lean on the things that give you the most happiness to help process your grief. Emerge in those ways that have helped you in the past, while also discovering new talents and gifts. Grief has a way of making you look at life differently which opens new possibilities. Explore those avenues to channel your feelings.
RM: Do you generally find writing energizing or draining?
AG: Honestly writing equally drains and energizes me. At times the process of writing is draining because you’re trying to piece thoughts together in a way that is logical and creative. However, it is simultaneously exciting to find new ways to convey a message and create a concept. The finished product is always fulfilling.
RM: Do you like to read? If so, who are some of your favorite writers and poets?
AG: I do like to read. My favorite poets at the moment are Jericho Brown, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Morgan Parker. They are creating some incredible work.
RM: Can you tell us about any current/future projects you’re working on?
AG: I am currently the Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, SC and in that position am crafting programs and initiatives for the city. These include “Poetry in Motion” where I performed poetry on our city’s public bus system. I also created a showcase celebrating female artists in the area in March called “She Speaks”. I’m currently hosting a virtual open mic called “Vibes & Verses” every second and 4th Sunday. In April for National Poetry Month we partnered with local pizza chains to get haiku poems from local students put on pizza boxes. I am also currently working on my first poetry book. I plan to release it in Fall 2020.
Now that you’ve learned about and from Angelo, I hope you will enjoy seeing him perform.