Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “You left your Porchlight on Neighbor” utilizes slashes in lieu of line breaks, staying true to your voice as a slam poet while also structuring the piece as a prose poem. What was the motivation behind formatting in this way?

Chanice Cruz: In college I had a class where we would study poets each week and try to imitate some aspects of their writing. When I got out of college, I noticed myself not writing as much and if I was writing I would find myself staying in my comfort zone. So, each month, I got a different poet and used their work as inspiration to challenge my writing, sometimes it worked and other times it didn’t but at least I felt like I was challenging my voice in different spaces. My motivation behind using the slashes was after Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. I’ve never really played with form as much as a slam poet, I was much more focused on performance. It wasn’t until I was spending time with Villarreal’s work that I started to think about how using form could change how my audience would read my work, how I could use form to drive the themes within my work.

RR:  It can be difficult to convey the same voice from spoken pieces versus those read from text, however we love how your work retains such a strong sense of voice. How do you ensure that? 

CC: No matter what I am working on, I ensure that I am showing my most authentic self. Even in the editing process, I am making sure I didn’t edit myself out of it. You can edit a poem too far, where you don’t recognize your voice in the piece. So, I am always comparing the essence of my freewrite or first draft to my last draft.

RR: We understand you’re originally from Brooklyn, but have spent most of your life in Richmond, VA. What about RVA makes the city such a draw for not just you, but so many aspiring poets?

CC: RVA will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a place where I found slam poetry. Even when I go back, art can be found everywhere, there are so many creative souls. Performing poetry in RVA will always be like going home. I think that’s why it’s such a draw, because it’s like home. You meet so many people who want nothing but your best self. Everyone truly wants you to be your best and willing to lend a hand any way that they can, not trying to best you but bringing out the best in you. It’s a welcoming, challenging, authentic environment. It was the first place I felt like art and home was synonymous.

RR: You co-host “The Poet & Reader Podcast”—how do you feel the platform of podcasting supports the accessibility of poetry to a wider audience?

CC: When I was in school, we were only introduced to a certain type of poet or just a handful of them. Having a podcast where we talk about all types of poets, and uplifting what some people might call a niche genre, breaks the barrier of the same types of poets we learn about in school. The podcast not only introduces poetry, but I’ve also found that I found other people who read poetry and through them I’m introduced to other poets, and I introduce them on the podcast. That can only happen when you create the space you long for. I always wanted a place to show poetry is more than what’s introduced in schools or how spoken word is made fun of in the media.

RR: You were one of the founding members of Richmond’s “First Youth Slam.” What other goals or aspirations towards the development of young poets, slam or otherwise, can we expect from you in the future? 

CC: When I found slam, I was in a very dark place in my life, and through poetry I was able to express, challenge, and come to terms with not only myself but the things around me. I am here because of poetry. As an open mic host, I’ve had a handful of youth poets come in, and I take my time to encourage them to keep writing, even if they don’t want to be performers, but to continue using poetry as a tool. I also listen during their performances and give them recommendations at the end, poems, or poets they might identify with. If it wasn’t for Slam Richmond or RVA and the adult poets that invested in me, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. In the future, I want to continue creating spaces for young poets. I just performed at a junior high school where I was able to talk to about six-hundred eighth-graders about my experience with poetry and I performed for them. My goal is to keep encouraging youth to use art, to be constructive with the feelings they might have, honoring what Slam Richmond and the RVA poets gave to me.


Read “You Left Your Porchlight on Neighbor” by Chanice Cruz in Issue 11.1.