The poetic joy of Glenis Redmond

Going on 10 years ago, Glenis Redmond made a decision that caused some to question her sanity. Pregnant with twin girls, Redmond dropped out of her doctorate program in sociology and decided to become a full-time poet.

But Redmond, who also holds a master’s degree in counseling, never looked back. A member of the National Poetry Slam Team, a two-time winner of the L.E.A.F. Festival poetry slam and a poet/educator in schools across the Southeast, Redmond harbors a vision of “success” that is solidly rooted in her soul’s poetic passion — and in providing a nurturing environment for her two girls — rather than in making big bucks, or working 9-to-5.

Though she’s often described as a “black, feminist poet,” Redmond herself identifies more strongly with the latter. “But I’m a human being, more than anything else,” she notes. “[And] I’m certainly more encompassing than a ‘black feminist.'”

After leaving graduate school in Virginia, Redmond moved back to her home state of South Carolina and began exploring Greenville’s small literary community, while cultivating her passion for wordsmithing. “I had so much material to put down [on paper],” she remembers, adding, “Creating [poetry] is a fluid and natural walk for me.”

But Redmond soon learned that acceptance and respect did not necessarily go hand-in-hand with her new role as a performance poet. “I remember reading somewhere that in order for [a poet] to get respect, [you] have to get out and create your own audience,” Redmond recalls. Get out there she did — to churches, cafes, schools and anywhere else that would let her share her work. And people started noticing her talent and enthusiasm eventually paid off. She established the first poetry slam in Greenville, and in 1995 received the prestigious Carrie McCray Literary Award from the South Carolina Writers Workshop. More recently, she was the 1997 commencement speaker at her undergraduate alma mater, Erskine College.

Redmond credits her family with nurturing her strong will and inner strength. “My parents always provided an environment that allowed me the freedom to be what I was,” she says. At one point, that environment included a three-year stay in Abiano, Italy, where her father was stationed at an Air Force base. Redmond recalls the base, where she lived between the ages of 9 and 12, as the most racially diverse place she’s ever been. “[Experiencing that diversity] was very transformative for me,” she says.

Two years ago, Redmond was commissioned by South Carolina anthropologist Jonathan Greene to prepare some poetry for use in a presentation about the Gullah people — an African-American culture of coastal South Carolina that has retained many ancestral African qualities, including native speech patterns.

In trying to identify with this often poverty-stricken group, Redmond began researching her own history and was inspired by what she found. “My mom had this picture of the two of us standing in front of a shack,” recalls Redmond, adding with a sense of amazement, “I had no idea we were dirt poor.” Upon questioning her mother, Redmond learned that, before her father joined the military, the family had barely scraped by. “It amazes me that I never thought our house was inadequate,” she marvels. “My mother always made it such a wonderful home.”

That look into her past resulted in one of Redmond’s best-known poems, which is also the title of her upcoming video, Mama’s Magic.

“[The poem’s] description of a parent’s love leaves most people in tears,” says Debra Roberts, co-owner (with husband Joe) of Heron Productions, the company responsible for putting together Redmond’s performance video. The Roberts are producing the work at their own expense, supplemented by donations and funds to be generated at Redmond’s upcoming Jubilee! performance.

“Glenis is so inspiring,” enthuses Debra. “The energy she gives off is addictive.”

The video’s documentary-style format will include clips of Redmond performing original works on location, as well as candid interviews, in which the poet discusses her life and craft, Roberts explains.

Redmond credits her daughters, 9-year-olds Celeste and Amber, with making her the person she is today. They call Redmond “Miss Poetic” and often invite her to their classroom to perform.

Redmond is always impressed with young audiences, because “they’re so there and honest.” That honesty often includes shocked looks on some faces — particularly those of minority children living in the inner city — when she’s introduced. “They can’t believe I get to express my thoughts for a living,” Redmond says. “I tell them that they can be anything they want; they just have to believe in it.”

She pauses, then adds, “I consider being an artist a luxury. I just want my children to have the same opportunity to [live out their dreams].”

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