Artist Spotlight: Alexa Patrick

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
A dark-skinned woman wearing all white sits on a white box against a white background. She looks at the camera confidently.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, NMWA Assistant Editor Alicia Gregory spoke with poet Alexa Patrick, who wrote and performed a new work, “Possibility,” for the museum’s grand reopening in October 2023. Read the poem in its entirety on NMWA’s website, and buy your copy of Patrick’s debut poetry collection, Remedies for Disappearing (2023).

1. Describe your process for writing “Possibility.”

I was allowed a sneak peek of the museum before it opened. I walked through the galleries, taking in and talking to each piece, imagining what the art or artists might say back to me. I realized that I was physically and artistically in a space that those artists made for me. If not for them and their struggles to be seen and heard, my art might not have a platform. I felt a deep gratitude. I wanted to make sure my poem captured that feeling.

This reopening felt like a time to ask: Where have we been? Where are we going? These questions remind us of how far we’ve come and the work that still needs to be done. That is where possibility comes in. While pondering possibility and legacy, I allowed my poem to take me where it wanted. I am grateful for the thank you letter/ode/call-to-action/welcome that it turned into.

2. Can you talk about the role of performance in your work?

My work has always been rooted in performance. My mother is a professional singer and raised me to be a singer as well. Her mother, my grandmother, was a gospel singer. Her father, my grandfather, was a pastor and knew how to move a congregation. I come from a long line of folks who use/d their voices to affect people.

As far as poetry goes, there is a music and a sermon to it. If I am reading a poem and I maintain the same volume and tone, eventually the audience will stop listening. If I modulate my voice with the meaning of each word or phrase, if I say the word “possibility” like a celebration, the audience will lean in and let me guide them.

A woman with a dark skin tone wearing a beige beret is giving a speech by a lectern in front of a building. Behind her, it says "National Museum of Women in the Arts" in large, white letters on a glass door.
Poet Alexa Patrick performs at the ribbon cutting ceremony for grand reopening day at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, October 21, 2023; Photo by Elyse Cosgrove/Asico Photo

3. As a writer, what is your most essential tool (besides your pen!). Why?

Community! That is a mixture of the community of the books on my shelf and the brilliant writers who wrote them, various artist groups that I frequent, and being out in the world observing the people who inhabit it. I see my writing and art as a means to strengthen community and (hopefully) make the world an easier place in which we can exist. Without my community, not only would my art not be good, but it would also lack purpose.

4. Can you tell us a bit about the poems and themes in your debut poetry collection, Remedies for Disappearing (2023)?

Remedies for Disappearing is an exploration of the various ways Black people disappear and resist disappearing, specifically Black girls in predominantly white spaces. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, where I was one of less than 1% of Black kids in a school of 1,200 students. It was often lonely, and I struggled with being hyper visible while simultaneously being overlooked.

As I wrote poems to the theme of disappearing—writing about my family history, D.C. culture, the other Black girls I went to high school with, and Black girls from critical missing person posters—I began to see a thread connecting us all. That thread became a remedy to the loneliness of feeling invisible. My hope is that my book will reach anyone who has ever felt like “the only.” If that is you: I hope the poems reassure you that you are not alone.

5. There is a series of poems about prom in your book, and I hear you even hosted a prom-themed party for its release! What five women artists would you want in your prom clique? 

I LOVE this question! My prom clique would include Toni Morrison, who taught me what is possible with language; Morgan Parker, whose books always make me feel seen; Carrie Mae Weems, whose photographs make me feel both powerful and beautiful; Toi Derricotte, who has taught me so much about love and communal responsibility; and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who did the cover of my book! We’d get a white stretch limo, blast Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and take turns waving at strangers from the sunroof!

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