Happy day to all you BIBA readers! I'm cutting to the chase - the beautiful Q&A between BIBA and Marlanda Dekine - Sapient Soul, the current Shirley Graham DuBois Creative-in-Residence with Castle of our Skins! Note: the text is a transcription of the audio answers! Read, listen, enjoy!
BIBA : Please share with our BIBA fans your name, your origin story, and a favorite memory from childhood!
MD-SS : Hello BIBAfans. This is Marlanda Dekine. I am also known as Sapient Soul. I am originally from Plantersville, South Carolina. I was born in Simpsonville, South Carolina. When I was two, my family moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I turned six in Plantersville, South Carolina.
I was born to my mother, Vernetta Ford Dekine, and Tom Andrew Dekine. They grew up within about two miles of one another and went to school together their entire life. I have two twin sisters and a brother. My grandparents, my great-grandparents, and my great-great grandparents are all from Plantersville, South Carolina, on both sides of my family.
A favorite memory from childhood for me is actually pretty funny. It's one of defiance now that I sit with it a little bit longer and think about it. We were allowed to play in a hurricane, once, when we were small kids. My father would often open the back and the front door. He’d let the wind of the hurricane kind of sweep through the house. When I was about six (really all through elementary school) my grandparents on my mother's side taught me that when a storm is happening that the Lord is speaking. You're to turn the TV off, turn off all electronics so that you can listen to what the Lord has to say.
I think the fact that my dad had us, you know, I don't know how we came to this conclusion that we were going to go outside and play and he was okay with it. But, we were running around out there with the wind carrying us. These moments of water coming up that you didn't expect from just any direction. Um, to be running and playing freely while God was speaking I think was like...looking back...an act of defiance.
You know, as a kid, I was kind of afraid because I was an old soul. I was always thinking about safety and whether we were safe, whether other people were safe. I knew all houses didn't have the same structures that could handle a hurricane. I remember having fear, but now that I think about it, it was also like this act of defiance against...against God speaking...just running around, outside, making a joyful noise.
BIBA : What moves you the most about poetry and the literary arts?
MD-SS : I think what moves me the most about poetry is the fact that people of all different backgrounds and ages engage with poetry. And while there are academic avenues for poetry and there are ways to make it, um, more so part of your vocation, there are people everywhere every day that are just getting up to write poems and no one's telling them to do that. And sometimes these people read poems out loud and no one's telling them to do that. And these poems have a way of connecting people, um, in surprising ways, uh, across difference, across similarities. I mean, just the idea that you could speak into someone else's experience simply by, um, recalling something that you paid attention to in your own life. Um, whether it's a blade of grass, a moment with ice cream or, um, or a moment of witness of something that's happened in the world and it's connectivity to. And so that's very, very moving for me.
Um, when I think about the literary arts, I think about the way that poetry connects to every other art form and the way that it can, even if it has not. And so it's not strange to imagine poetry alongside dance. It's not strange to imagine poetry alongside music. There's music in language, um, whether there is an actual, um, beat or sound. Um, there is, uh, the fact that individuals with different abilities engage the literary arts. So there is a hard hearing or deaf community that engages. There are blind people that engage. It's just, it is an art form that everyone has access to, and it also touches many other art forms. So it's actually a doorway into the arts...a gateway drug, if you will. (laughs)
BIBA : How does music inspire your practice, and what type of music moves you in a way that sparks growth?
MD-SS : Music inspires my practice in a very intimate way. Um, more so than I that I knew or that I kept up with. Um, and what I mean by that is at a young age, my style of writing, um, I’d journal and then I would try to craft what I journaled into Christian hip hop. Um, and I would perform Christian hip hop at church talent shows with my cousin. And so he was, or is, the guy that knows all the current hip hop, especially back then, because I was very sheltered. We both were, but somehow he knew how to find out about what the songs were at the time that our friends or our bullies were listening. (laughs) And, um, what I, what I find amazing when I look back at that is I'm sitting there on Fruity Loops, like the demo Fruity Loops, like the first one that ever came out and I'm making these beats and I'm writing these songs and we're going back and forth to figure out whether it works well. And it's my first practice at collaboration between music and language. I'm not thinking about it that way. We're just having fun.
And, uh, so I have a binder of these Christian hip hop poems from when I was like somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11 or 9 and 12. Um, fast forward to when I'm in college...most of my friends were classical singers. They were learning, um, opera, instrumentation. They were doing, uh, something very intense. I remember being called juried. Like I think, I think they called them juries. Um, and they had to get really, really prepared. They'd disappear for two weeks at a time. And they were always very stressed out and, uh, I was a psychology major, so I was stressed out, but for very different reasons. Um, but I remember them having to, it was, there was a precision that they were being taught to seek after, a precision and a perfection that I wanted no part of. I found it very amazing to witness because I'd watch them hit these marks that were just for me beyond human. Um, but when I think about what it did to them, watching them do that, especially as Black musicians in a PWI, um, I, I know that that was not something I was interested in. What I was interested in was the fact that we were both drawn to what each other was doing. What I was doing, you know, open mics...they're very loose and you can even improv on stage. And if you have a voice and you have the ability to freestyle, you can, you can have a good time on stage and people are going to feel the vibe of what's happening.
Sometimes that goes very badly. So I'm not saying that everyone should just get up and riff on stage, but I realized that at this point in my life, it's, it's my knowing what those friends were going through and then when I listen to, when I listen to classical music now, especially from Black folk, or I listen to jazz, a lot of jazz or the blues, um, or even, um, like ambient, electronic instrumentals, uh it's, it's like a film moving through me so that when I'm writing, it's not, I don't think I'm creating a film, but I don't think that's what's happening at all. But that feeling that I have when I'm watching a film, it's in my body and, um. Ah, music invigorates me and I sometimes have to turn it off so that I can write...it can be a distraction for me actually. Um, so usually when I've, you know, say I've submitted something for the day or I've revised something and I'm done for the day, then I turn on music to celebrate.
MD-SS : The music that sparks growth inside of me, I mean, I have to say it's music that is, uh, coming out of the UK from individuals that are of the African diaspora. So like, um, I won't give examples just because they're going to be so...well, maybe that's, maybe that's the point.
Um, so I go back to, um, Marian Anderson is a voice that really encourages me and expands me. Um, Little Simz is a hip-hop artist who I think plays in different soundscapes in a way that I really love. I love their voice. I love the music they make. I love the topics that they, uh, interact with in their, in their music. Um, another, I'd say someone else that maybe stretches me when I'm listening. Absolutely Nina Simone. It's going to be...I, you know, I'm one of those people that I listen to and read a lot of dead people and I’m, I'm trying to do better about, um, listening to contemporary, like what's happening, um, in the contemporary scene, but that's something that I've always done since a kid. That's just something about the old soul, the old soul of me, I will feel connected (laughs) to dead folk. Um, but, uh, yeah those, those are the three that stand out to me right now. Marian Anderson, Little Simz, and Nina Simone. And now I'm wondering the three of them sitting down for a conversation that would be really, really fun to (laughs), uh, to witness.
BIBA : Where have you found moments of peace and healing in the world?
MD-SS : I have found moments of peace and healing in the world, in the midst of, um, intense chaos during intentional conversations with people, um, whether they're my family or with close friends, um, or in a, in a space that is being made for the purposes of intentional conversation around something difficult that we're all trying to heal through as people...we're all trying to understand as people. Um, I have found moments of peace and healing by any body of water. Water is very, very peaceful and healing to me. Um, and I would say the same about...not being in a forest cause I haven't gotten that far yet, but that's something that I want to do. Um, forest bathing. Um, but driving through the forest on the back road, um, like driving through old, um, how would you say. I guess I'm thinking of them as old landscapes. They're current landscapes. There where people live now, but they’re historied landscapes and where I'm from that's, I mean, I guess we all have history landscapes, but the way that I see where I'm from, it becomes a bit mythological in a sense that I began to imagine, um, the people of different times that were in the forest or in the field or, um, outside somewhere doing anything. And somehow that brings me immense peace and healing.
BIBA : What advice would you give to people who are wondering how to capture and treasure beauty?
MD-SS : I would encourage people in the same way that I have been encouraged, um, which is to give yourself permission and to allow yourself to go into that child-like space of wondering, to allow yourself to notice and pay attention to things that seem mundane, that seem to no longer have importance to how our days go about, but they are very important. I'm talking about the sound of birds in the morning. I'm talking about the laughter of children. Um, for me the sound of a woodpecker on the catalpa tree in the morning or the blue jays outback, um, these little things that seem like if you stopped to pay attention, it might throw you off from your very important activity, pay attention to those things. I feel like, um, at least in my own experience, because I'm a, you know, my moon is in Capricorn. So when it's time to do something, I put, you know, it's hard work I got to, (laughs)
I've gotten very better, I’ve gotten a lot better at that, but there's been this part of me that, you know, we've also conditioned in this way that, you know, there's hard work to be done. And even as artists you're taught, this is hard work. This is work. You need to treat it as work. And all of that is true, but there's something about work that if we forget that it's beautiful, we are hurting ourselves. And so I am very interested in what it is that is freeing us in the art that we're making. And so in my own work, I've been able to feel myself, become lighter, become more jovial, become, uh, you know, a person that is able to have coffee in the morning without doing eight other things at the same time, because I'm paying attention to the snake plant or because I'm paying attention to my dog.
And there's something about even my dog and the things that my dog will pay attention to. There's, there's a beauty in those mundane and simple things, um, that I think an artist ought to capture and treasure. Um, if not for yourself, for someone else. I just think that that is such a gift. And when I think about the land that my family lives on, um, and the pieces that have been left behind by ancestors that have passed on for more than, I mean, I'm talking decades, they've been gone and there are things on the land that their hands touched. There's beauty in that. And I think the more that we are able to treasure and document and archive, um, that type of beauty, I think it, it, it saves us. I think it loves us. I think it gives back to us.
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