Poet Glenis Redmond struggles with pain, both personal and historical
Twenty-eight years ago, Glenis Redmond was a clinical counselor for the state of South Carolina and mother of young twins when she learned that her excruciating condition had a name, fibromyalgia.
After having assimilated the ramifications of her diagnosis, she remembers having thought of a premonitory verse from the poet Lucille Clifton.
â’Every day something tried to kill me and it failed’, and it was kind of a wake-up call,â Redmond recalls. “This poem made me think, ‘Well, if you’re going to be sick, if you’re not feeling well, what’s going to make you want to wake up in the morning?'”
Redmond came from a family of storytellers, and she first wrote and performed poetry as a form of personal expression.
âI was worried about having toxins – mentally, emotionally, psychologically, culturally – I was determined to get that out of my psyche, out of the vessel of who I am,â she said.
In no time, she became one of the prominent voices in the country connecting contemporary black experience with black lineage. Remond lives in Greenville, but she said she had grown her wings as a poet in Asheville.
His latest connection to Asheville is a collaboration with visual artist Julyan Davis. He contacted Redmond to compose and recite verses inspired by the South Carolina water spirit folk legend “Cymbee”, which has roots in West and Central Africa.
Redmond said the âCymbeeâ legend is linked to his work. Although the text of the poem is expected to be published in a book, Redmond’s performance is only released on vinyl. She performs the poem on August 26 at Citizen Vinyl in Asheville. (Note: Citizen Vinyl is a commercial sponsor of BPR).
âI have my record player here. I love vinyl, âshe said. âWhat a way to weave a thread between the worlds from Africa to the United States, which is at the heart of my work, and which is therefore embodied in this vinyl. “
Redmond, whose father was a jazz-blues-gospel pianist, helped develop the poetry slam scenes in Greenville and Asheville. The shape reminded her of the energy of black Baptist churches, but she saw her own poetry come more from the tradition of griot storytellers. She performed in domestic shelters, boys ‘and girls’ clubs, and schools, hitting an initial target of five public readings each month.
âThe introvert was the poet who looks within,â she said. “And the extrovert was the teaching artist, the literary citizen, who feels obligated to give what I have received.”
The performances took Redmond nationwide and internationally and elevated her to the rank of Kennedy Center Teaching Artist.
âI traveled the world like an able-bodied person, but I was disabled,â she said. âEven though I had the passion and motivation for poetry, it tore my body apart. It was killing me.
It reduced its movements a few years ago but has maintained a strong presence in this region. She said that new poems continue to reveal themselves in her.
âMy poems are lined up in front of my door. Earlier in my career, I answered the door for who knocked the hardest, âshe said. âWhen you start writing you are young in your practice, so I was doing these hymns. As I advance in my career, I have more patience and time to listen to the poems whispering outside my door.
Earlier this year, Redmond was diagnosed with stage 3 with a form of blood cancer that hospitalized her for a month. She said she would take medication for the rest of her life.
âThe pain I feel from cancer is sometimes overwhelming. I live a very painful life, “she said.” I try not to let this get in my life but, to be honest, it is a difficult life to live. “
Redmond moved from Asheville to Greenville 10 years ago, and since her poetry saved her life almost three decades ago, she has said it is the same for her today. The poems Redmond recorded for the “Cymbee” project will be part of a book of her poetry that she hopes to release in 2022.
I think this return to South Carolina rooted me in a way of telling the ancestral story that was not taken, âshe said. âIâm on a path where thereâs no chance Iâll run out of gear. I will run out of life before I run out of material.