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National Poetry Month: 'We Be Womxn' by U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo

On the podcast: We're celebrating National Poetry Month with a series of shorts highlighting the work of Lesley poets.

Find the full transcript after the Episode Notes.

Episode notes

It's National Poetry Month and we're doing things a little differently this month. Each week in April, we're inviting one poet from the Lesley community to share some of their verses and talk about their work. Zimbabwean-American poet U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo shares two poems, her Cyrano de Bergerac beginnings, and more. Read what U-Meleni is working on now.

About U-Meleni

U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo is a Leominster, Massachusetts- born Zimbabwean-American grown, author, actress, singer, stylist, and educator who has performed nationally and internationally in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria, Portugal, and Ireland. She is a featured Storyteller on GBH “Growing Up Black Part 2” Stories From The Stage and is a 2021 recipient of a Creative Entrepreneur Fellowship from the Arts and Business Council in Boston. Her poetry collection Soul Psalms (She Writes Press) was described by David Updike as “written in a fearless female voice tempered with optimism and healing possibilities of love.” She has worked on two films that showcased in 2021 in the recent Boston Globe Black History Film festival: Memoirs of a Black Girl (as a wardrobe stylist) and Code-Switching (advisor) about three generations of METCO students exploring identity and belonging. U-Meleni is a member of the New England Poetry Club and an advisory board member of Write On the Dot. She is also a fitness advocate and marathoner who has run over 45 races and was interviewed on the Emmy Award-winning Basic Black on GBH. For more information, visit her website: www.u-meleni.com.

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  • Transcript

    Georgia: This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode we bring you conversations with authors from the Lesley community to talk about books, writing and the writing life.

    Hi, everybody. My name is Georgia Sparling, I produce Why We Write, and this month, I'm excited to bring you a special series in honor of National Poetry Month. Every week in April, I've invited a Lesley poet to come onto the show, give us a behind the scenes look into their process and share one of their poems with us. 

    Today is week two of our celebration, and appropriately, today's guest is sharing two poems with us. U-Meleni Mhlaba Adebo is a Zimbabwean American poet, author, speaker, singer and educator. She's also a graduate of our Masters in Education program. U-Meleni often performs her work live and says that's the best way to experience it. Although we can't exactly do a video, it is a real treat for us to have her read some of her work for us today.

    (Music plays at 1:00)

    U-Meleni: Hello, everyone. My name is U-Meleni Mhlaba-Adebo. I am Zimbabwean-American, currently Boston-based, and proud Lesley alum, 2003 specifically. And my entrance into, sort of, the creative realm was first through poetry and, specifically, spoken word. My first inclination was to write for myself. I wrote in a journal first. It never occurred to me that I could share the words out loud on a mic with other people. And when I realized that there was something that happened between the page and when I spoke, that it lived differently, I realized that people can enter my work through different ways, but I feel the most connected people feel to my work, from what they've shared with me, is when they witnessed me sharing it live as a performance. A lot of times when I perform my work, I also include melody and music in my native tongue, Shona, or in English, and so there's a lot of sort of rhythm and song to it and that's much better experienced in person, in real life.

    So I'm going to be sharing a poem that I wrote in 2018, actually. It's called "We Be Women Running." And this is a piece in the Write on the DOT: Volume Five. It was inspired by my experience running with over 100 women in Boston in July of 2018. We ran downtown area in Boylston, together in unison. It was a bra run. We wanted to sort of show positive body image, sisterhood, empowerment. It was a wonderful, inspiring afternoon and after that experience, I wrote this poem that I will share with you.

    (3:07 music plays)

    We be women, a sunkissed natural unbossed we be boss unashamed spirits of flame we be women. We be women, beautiful bodies sashayed sway, glide, strong strides rooted in pride. We be women. We be women in capslocks curls, afros, headwraps, hijabs in your face empowerment and resistance, pounding the pavements down Newbury Street, Boylston chanting, "who runs the world girls" in unison, cheering on for our sisters' information. Avalanche of high fives, breakbeats of sound claps and yes girls, we be women. We be women, ruby lips, purple hair, don't care, nose rings, tattoos, kaleidoscope of wonder. We be women. We be women running, beautiful bodies glistening in the sunlight. We be women, we be women, we be women running strong.

    (4:07-4:35 music fades to silence)

    Georgia: I hope you enjoyed that first poem. Now, U-Meleni has a different kind of poem to share with us, but first she’s going to take us back to her early days of writing as a teenager in Zimbabwe.

    (4:35 music starts)

    You know, when I think about it, a lot of my poems, particularly when I really started taking it semi-seriously I would say, I was probably around 16 and 17 years old in Zimbabwe, and I realized that writing poems could get me out of being bullied at school. Which is kind of interesting because I was able to write beautiful love poems for some girls who wanted to write, like, little love poems for their boyfriends at the time, and they couldn't. And so they're like, "Can you write some love poems? You're good at this whole poetry thing."

    So I started my love game back then, and I love it. I mean, I do write a lot of poems about love, particularly when I was single and trying to figure out you know, who I am and relationships and getting burned and falling in love and all that jazz. And then when I got married, really writing a lot about, you know, love of my husband and my child and just how love feels different when it's the right fit. So I wrote a book called "Soul Psalms," it's a collection of poetry. Some of the poems in this book were born when I was in graduate school. This particular poem I'm going to share was birthed around that time. This poem is called "Inspired by a Night at “Wally's Jazz Cafe.”

    (5:53 music changes)

    You blindfolded my heart, you've got me staggering, and I don't know where I'm going just following the chocolate sound of your eyes. Damn, you mesmerized. I follow the ocean breeze of your scent, vacation me, place your sexy island lips on, me and don't walk away after giving me sweet ecstasy. I want to stitch you into my anatomy. So anytime I can find you. Love me in reality, I am sick and tired of being patient. I want to touch the rainbow, eat the sky, don't ask me why. I want to gently part your locks like the seven seas, wring out the pain and break the seven seals so I can drink from the fountain of thee. Rescue me, climb into my soul. You can visit me explicitly, most definitely. You've put your seal on me. You are entering a hurt free zone. Don't leave me alone. Let me feed you while you feed me. Sowing seeds of fresh eyes and memory. So show me who you are. Take me where you've been. Because I'm here. And dammit, I'm interested.

    (7:07 music fades)

    Georgia: Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed hearing from U-Meleni. To learn more about her book, "Soul Psalms," to see videos of her performing spoken word poetry and more, check out the links in our show notes. And make sure you're following Why We Write so you don't miss any episodes, especially of this mini poetry series that we're doing this month. If you've enjoyed it so far, we'd love it if you tell your friends. And as always, you can let us know what you'd like to hear and who you'd like to hear from by emailing news@lesley.edu.