Welcome to the Art&Seek Artist Spotlight. Every Thursday, here and on KERA FM, we explore the personal journey of a different North Texas creative. As it grows, this site, artandseek.org/spotlight, should eventually paint a collective portrait of our artistic community. Follow the Spotlight, enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Fatima Hirsi is a calm and approachable young woman who is easy to talk with and almost always sports a big bright smile. When she speaks, her voice is sweet and she is kind. But behind that gentle demeanor is a painfully honest poet.
“When people meet me I am the person that my mom raised,” says Hirsi. “Then they read my poetry and it’s like ‘holy crap I didn’t know that darkness was in there.’ And, when it’s just these words on a page then it’s very clear that there’s no comedy here.”
Hear Poet Fatima Hirsi Read A Poem From Her Journal titled “Disrepair.”
Hirsi’s approach to writing can be described as dark. She likes to say that she writes poetry about anything and everything, including what it is like to be a woman of color.
“I like to write about the world and world events, but I also like to write about what it is like to live in this particular body,” says Hirsi. She says that our bodies shape our nonphysical experiences and she believes that it is important for people to see the perspective of what it is like to be a “brown girl.”
Language has always been a central part of Hirsi’s life. As a child, her mother read to her every night before she went to bed. And when her mother’s work as a nurse began to interfere with their reading schedule, her mom came up with a clever solution.
“So what she would do, is when I would go off to school, she would record herself wherever we left off the previous night in the story, so when I was ready for bed all I had to do was push play and still fall asleep to my mother reading to me,” says Hirsi.
This emphasis on reading ingrained a love for words in Hirsi. And that helped her when she was first introduced to poetry.
“So, I had always loved reading,” says Hirsi, “When I went into kindergarten, I was one of two or three kids that already knew how to read. So, when I discovered poetry and began to write, it was like I had a double-edged sword with words. I loved to read. I loved to write. And, poetry gave me a way to express whatever was happening inside of my head”
Hirsi began to write limericks in fourth grade. And as she grew older she discovered the great American poets, as well as some underground writers, and poetry became a way to express difficulties in her own life. Like, when her mother got married and the marriage began to have difficulties that cause emotional stress to the entire family. Or when her family moved from Florida to Pennsylvania and she was suddenly only one of two kids of color in her school. Even in adulthood, poetry has been there to help in her darkest hours.
“I would really say that poetry saved my life, because if I didn’t have it, I don’t know how I would have processed everything that’s happened to me,” says Hirsi.
Hirsi is currently a student at the University of Texas – Arlington. She studies Anthropology, which is sort of fitting for a poet, because she enjoys people watching. When Hirsi isn’t studying or spending some time with her husband in their Deep Ellum artist loft, she is usually doing something involving poetry. Recently, she started a poetry reading series called Dark Moon Poetry & Arts, which provides a place and a space for feminine voices to share their poetry. Hirsi doesn’t read at the Dark Moon events, but she finds and books the venues and the poets that participate in the series. She also makes her money through poetry. Hirsi works as an artist teacher at The Writer’s Garret and she does sidewalk poetry for donations. But, Hirsi says it was only recently that she began to consider herself a poet.
“I didn’t call myself a poet till I met my “old man,” Don Wittington,” says Hirsi.
Hirsi and Wittington were coworkers at Half Price Books. They met at the store, but really connected with one another after becoming friends on Facebook. It was after the two connected online that Hirsi discovered that Wittington was a poet.
“I found out that he has a blog and that he’s writing a poem a day. And, I was like ‘I write a poem every day and nobody knows it. Why don’t I start a blog?” says Hirsi.
Hirsi also learned that Wittington was a published author and that he could help her pursue her passion.
“I meet a lot of people that want to write, but I meet very few writers,” says Wittington, “She is a really talented writer. Just extraordinary. And, I thought that she deserved a little bit of help.”
Wittington told Hirsi that if she was serious about being a poet, she needed exposure. And, to gain that exposure, she needed to be part of the literary community. So, Wittington shared Hirsi’s poems and introduced her to other writers. He also encouraged her to attend the Austin International Poetry Festival, which changed the trajectory of her poetry.
“Suddenly I was surrounded by poetry and before, I didn’t know this community existed,” says Hirsi.
It was he first time Hirsi knew there were other people like her. People who expressed their views and their feelings on the page. She was ecstatic. And her “old man” made it all possible.
But, Wittington doesn’t take much responsibility for Hirsi’s success. He believes she just needed some confidence and a bit of a push.
“She just needed somebody to tell her, ‘Hey. This is real. You should pursue this. This is a real thing that you can do and that other people cannot,’” says Wittington.
Following in the steps of her mentor, Hirsi now helps people across North Texas embrace their inner poet. She teaches children through workshops organized by The Writer’s Garret. And, she provides a platform for feminine voices in her monthly reading series, Dark Moon Poetry & Arts.
How does working in North Texas affect the production of your art?
Before I lived in Texas, I lived in Pennsylvania, and I was one of two brown kids in the entire school. That was not a good experience for me. Then I came to Texas as a junior in high school. And, I went to Sam Houston in Arlington, which was a school that everyone said was one of the “worst schools,” but I was surrounded by people that looked like me as well as people who didn’t look like me. There were people from everywhere. And being active in the arts scene in Dallas has mirrored that experience.
It’s been a very diverse and inclusive community and there’s a lot of work being done to make things accessible for artist of color in this city. I really appreciate that. I just really appreciate the way the community works together for its artists. That definitely helps to inform my work.
There are things like the Michelada Think Tank that help artists on their journey. And if I were in another community, like where I lived in Pennsylvania, I don’t feel like I would have the freedom to say some of the things that I say in my writing. Or the comfort – I don’t think I would be able to put this stuff out without feeling very self-conscious about what I am writing. I feel very free. I feel allowed to express what’s going on both in myself and in the world.
Considering all of the things you do in poetry around North Texas, how do you maintain balance in your life?
I find it very hard to balance my life. I’m very bad at balancing “work-poetry” [like teaching or selling poems on the street] and doing poetry things with being a poet and writing poetry. So I have not been writing. I’ve been doing all these things and I haven’t really found a way to even the scales.
I’m also very terrible at balancing the people that I care about with writing poetry and doing poetry and work. So, I’m still trying to find that balance. I have a cat that lets me pet him and love on him. And, I have yoga and meditation and I have writing. Those kind of give me some peace, but there could always be more peace.
When did you begin to call yourself a poet?
I didn’t call myself a poet till I met my “old man” Don Wittington. He’s constantly on me about what I am. He tells me, “You are poet. It’s okay to call yourself a poet.” But it wasn’t until this last year that I called myself one. When people ask me what I do I say, “I write poems.”
This last year is when I became the most active as in my community. So, that’s when people started talking about me. People began introducing me as a poet. I started receiving emails saying, “Hey! I hear you’re a poet and I am interested in this thing you’re doing.” But, being active in the community really helped me understand that I am a poet.
Are you creatively satisfied?
I am not creatively satisfied right now, because like I mentioned earlier – I am so bad at balancing everything. So I am doing all of these things and being active in the community, but to make art, you have to be alone. I mean, maybe it’s different for some people when you’re collaborating or whatever, but to write, to be a poet, you need that solitary experience. And, I am so busy with work as poetry and I am so busy with poetry as community that I’m not reaching the creative place that I know is obtainable for me. I feel very stunted and halted right now and I am not happy with what I am writing at home for the most part.
What sets you apart from other poets in North Texas?
I think what makes me different is that I am not afraid to share everything. I will put everything into a poem and I will go on stage and I will read it. I will cry on that stage. There will be an ocean by the time I am done. And I am comfortable with that. I am okay with that. And there aren’t a lot of people that I have seen that go up there and talk to the audience like you’re talking to god.