Keneisha’s Key to Creativity, Connection and Joy

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My parents divorced when I was nine. It was really painful because I didn’t understand why my father was leaving. I was close to him and I looked like him and I felt that he excluded me. I stayed up every night hoping he would walk through the door. I also started having seizures around this time and struggled a lot.

When I was 14, my mom started dating a guy who had two kids.

My stepsister, Amber, and I became close and she suggested I watch the movie. Anthony Fisher about a guy who had a rough childhood. Antwone wrote a poem: “Who will cry for the little boy? of the little boy crying inside. And it was the first time I liked a poem. Right after seeing the movie, I wrote my own version: “Who Will Cry for the Little Girl?” It incorporated the pain I was going through. Communication was not encouraged in my home and writing poetry gave me a safe space to express myself.

I have won four poetry contests organized by our church.

One was about my difficult experience transferring from one high school to another. Our church secretary, Mrs. Flakes, encouraged me to write poems for special events. She said I was very talented and bought me a newspaper. Later, I started university, which I loved. I had to leave because I needed to find a job and earn some money. But I continued to write poems.

I’m 32 now and six months ago I thought my talent had come to an end.

I had writer’s block. The words didn’t come together and I felt frustrated – I was struggling at work and drinking too much. I ate a lot of pastries and cookies. I felt exhausted. Then, on my way to work one morning, I had to stop because my feet were swollen and I was out of breath. That’s when I decided to make some changes.

I start each morning by writing down my goals. Then I do 50 jumping jacks.

It wakes me up and keeps me going. I take a deep breath and make myself a cup of tea. I started a low carb Keto diet. Wow, it was hard at first, but I was motivated, and soon I had more energy and felt lighter.

I was inspired to pick up my pen.

I made a commitment to just start a poem. I went to the park, sat by a waterfall with my journal, and wrote half a poem. The words were flowing again and I was so happy. I kept writing poems every day and felt so creative.

My best friend and roommate, Latoya, is my biggest supporter.

She helped me so much. She’ll say, “Hey, don’t give up.” A defining moment for me was when we were sitting together on a park bench and she played a Sade song called “The Sweetest Taboo.” I felt raw and I cried. The next day I wrote a poem for Latoya, and she was so honored. It’s called “It’s All You”.

It starts:

“I looked at my hurt inner child.

Steer, not jump, as the ship sails.

Reading poetry inspires me.

I love Maya Angelou and my favorite is “On the Pulse of Morning”. I like the hope that there is in his poems because that’s what I yearned for during my adolescence.

I have a window in my room and I look at the trees while I write.

I tapped into my gifts and I feel like I’ve succeeded. I am closer to my mother and my father contacted me last week after 10 years. I don’t know what will happen but I hope for the best because I want to get to know him.

I believe in myself as a poet and I publish a collection of my poems in the form of an electronic book.

My goal: to encourage young people who feel isolated and let them know that the world is better because they exist.

— Keneisha Hailey, Neighborhood Market #7137; Jacksonville, North Carolina; $5,000 winner

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