"CHELSEY" was released on February 7th, 2021. Listen to this episode anywhere you get podcasts.
Featuring the poems from "All Water Has Perfect Memory" by Chelsey Richardson
Theme song by Shelby Easley
Produced and edited by Francesca Betancourt and Linnea Ingalls
Linnea: it's happening.
Cessa: it's happening! i don't know why i thought i couldn't talk because i can just cut these things. i'm so sorry okay i'm really gonna start it now! okay are you ready?
Linnea: i'm ready!
she is fire
she is flame
she she has voice
she has a name
oh she is fearless
she has seen years
well you don't know
she is fierce
Cessa: welcome to episode number four of she is fierce stories from the female and genderqueer perspective. I'm Cessa Betancourt and my pronouns are she and her.
Linnea: and i'm Linnea Ingalls and my pronouns are she and her.
Cessa: we are a storytelling event and podcast that shares and amplifies stories from women and genderqueer/nonbinary people as we as well as facilitate artistic partnerships between storytellers - as well we also do it as well [laughs].
Linnea: [laughs] just so you know we do many things also.
Cessa: [laughs] we - in addition to the things that we do we do other things and lately most of those things are a podcast and giggling on our podcast.
Linnea: - basically 98 of what we do.
Cessa: yeah it's like 98% giggling 1% podcast 1% we're not really sure um is that 100? that's 100. um Linnea!
Linnea: yes Cessa?
Cessa: i just want to ask you what you're what you're doing to take care of yourself these days.. and um two days before the inauguration and month 11 i think or 10 of our global pandemic. how are you doing? what are you doing to take care of yourself? how are you bringing joy to your to your little neck of the woods?
Linnea: that's such a great question Cessa, thank you for asking! um it's sort of interesting because our very first she is fierce show was the night before the last election in 2016. and -
Cessa: - wow that's right.
Linnea: we had very different expectations of what the next four years would look like we thought we were on the eve of celebrating as we were doing our first she is fierce show. we had hopes in our little naive hearts that we would be celebrating - but we did still do she is fierce for the next four years so that did not change which is great.
Cessa: that's right!
Linnea: and you know i'm still working on how to take care of myself. i'm very sad and lonely but there's something about knowing that everyone is sad and lonely and working on their mental health right now so at least i don't feel like a total loser for being sad and lonely everybody else is dealing with that too there's not something wrong with me!
Cessa:- no no no no!
Linnea: but i am reading a lot. i'm going on walks when i can. i've been reading a lot of sci-fi written by black women and nonbinary authors and drawing some pretty bad drawings
Cessa: yes! i've seen your drawings - they are not bad!
Linnea: um how are you taking care of yourself Cessa?
Cessa: hmm i yeah i feel like that resonates with me that we're sort of all in the same boat of being like wow our culture does not value taking care of yourself or community or really anything good like we we're all sort of collectively i think realizing how the only things that matter are the things that we've been told don't matter at all - and so we're all trying to learn how to value the right things i think and how to take care of ourselves and other people in our communities. and um yeah - so i think i've just been trying to like revel in times where i feel useful. i've been caretaking for my niece and nephew and really like valuing time with them and just being able to feed them and play with them and times when i make them laugh or times when we really - yeah i told you that we today talked a lot about Martin Luther King Jr because it's his birthday today and that was a really lovely conversation. um yeah so i feel like just sort of reveling in the the connections that i DO have and the people that i CAN see has been really nice yeah lots of lots of nature finding a lot of grounding in nature um and yeah - my partner and i are moving into an a new space and so i've also been just like on etsy just being like what cool things can i get to like make this space our little haven for the rest of the pandemic and beyond? so i've been having a lot of fun like looking at like ways to to make our space -
Linnea: - and you haven't had a your own nest for a little while.
Cessa: i know yeah i yeah oh i love to nest! yeah that's true it's been about a year since i've like been able to really make a space my space and so i've been really excited about that and really feeling like that's that feels like self-gardening you know -
Linnea: - yeah! we have -
Cessa: yeah should we talk about our storyteller??
Linnea: - an amazing episode for you today! um so our storyteller in this episode is Chelsey Richardson. Chelsey's writing is the electrical current that flows between words and the spiritual world. she grounds her work and the notion that her role as an artist is to tell the bittersweet truth. she is a mother, teacher, and poet. in 2019 she was awarded the role of master poet by the center for washington cultural tradition you may have seen or heard her work in poetry on the bus intersections in interdisciplinary journal and performing with the Griot Party founded by Logic Amen or Alchemy Poetry series created by Ebo Barton and Ben Israel. she holds a BA in creative writing from the university of washington and masters in teaching english education she currently works as an educator at Nova alternative high school in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey was also a live performer in our Rebellion show in 2017 and we are very excited to have her back promoting the release of her first book of poems All Water Has Perfect Memory. here is Chelsey.
Cessa: hi! we're so happy to have you back um it's been a while.
Chelsey: yes it has.
Cessa: since you've been in the she is fierce world but we're really happy to see you and hear you even virtually. you have a book coming out!
Chelsey: yes i do.
Cessa: a book of poems called All Water Has Perfect Memory
Chelsey: yeah -
Cessa: - and we're gonna start out with some pieces from the book and then we'll talk about it.
Chelsey: all right! so um this poem is, it's a pretty short piece i wrote this just before the new year. so just before uh the first as a gift to people. and i really wrote it uh to just put on social media but i decided that it actually fit really well with the body of work that i already have in this book and so i'm just gonna go ahead and start it's really short, like i said um it's called for you:
I wanted to write something for you;
something to protect you from the
wild that is to come.
Something to make
last year’s untamed
Send a calm over your form.
Make this skin we are shedding
cast incantation over our dread.
Hold your hand.
Remind you what safe and warm does to the body.
For this birth to free up
the ache shifting through your bones.
Here, we grow skin so thick we forget to know each other.
Forget we are a speck of dust wading in space.
a perpetual birthing
a tiny patter of feet
again, and again.
And if we hold each other
just right; we might remember
what it is like to feel
so like i said this piece has a lot to do with just moving into the new year. and um one of the reasons that i thought it was really important to write was because of this quote that i read and also added to the piece and it's a quote by James Baldwin that says “you write in order to change the world if you alter even a millimeter of the way people look at reality then you can change it” and so i know that, you know, to me 2020 is is going to be extended into 2021 and as we saw it's - it already did those first seven days - um but, i really do see a part of my work as um extending my hand out and and being honest and also being warm but.. but not lying you know, not pretending like this is just - everything is going to be okay and so that's kind of what that piece is about and i'm gonna read... um this next one is actually a lot more heavy.. um i'll just jump right into it.
it's called and the goddess is pissed:
I want to know what your life felt like
before those cowards
knocked the door
to your sanctuary
off its hinges.
Before they desecrated your temple.
Left your body for your own mother
to dress for your funeral.
Treated your flesh like exotic meat
at market. Want to know
what it was like for you to open
your eyes to sunlight in the mornings.
I want to know if we would have been
some other life or if we would have
seen each other in a room full of
other black woman and only passed each other
like oceans tired of carrying heavy ships.
I would like to ask you if people treated you
like you were hard to love; your sublime skin
a stain on their perfect lie.
If you saw the world through blood-colored glasses.
The hard-to-drink truth is this:
I know you because
black death is so profitable.
I can’t even spell your name properly
when I google you.
You are as close to a sister
to me as another dead woman.
Family cried out like violets
dancing in the middle of a field somewhere
and no one noticed.
Your face is indeed just another notch on
America’s belt bragging about you, another warm
Treating your body like centerfold hanging on high
Like black women’s bodies ain’t worth nothing unless
they are for pleasure or bitter pain to good ol’ America’s
ornate belt and bursting gut.
Ain’t your smile sharp enough to break sorrow
or mend a best friend how aloe plants do
wet and ugly scars. And ain’t your life like
Nia’s ripped and torn from her family
at the train station.
Is your laugh not a twin to Sandra Bland’s?
Is our body of water not baptismal bowl, holy water, holy waters?
Are our eyes any less Goddess than Nefertiti?
Our minds worth less than Toni, Assata, Miss Angelou?
I want to know if you wore your heart
on your sleeve, climbed out of your dreams
in the morning waking to
your hair resting in silk or satin bonnet.
Did your laughter feel like buzzing bees
in your lover’s abdomen?
Were you honey on his lips?
How it was for your best friends to weep
their tears with you/
Ever felt second hand
loneliness because you learned
to love from your mother?
And your mother inherited generations of
Ever wanted to be loved by a man
so bad that you made that
same nurturing into selflessness?
I want you alive and not profit
for a mural, or t-shirt, or poem
Must we be lotus who rises from mud?
Must we be dead to be noticed?
I want to know what it is like for you to be alive.
and so that piece uh, is a way of remembrance. a way of helping myself and maybe others heal from all the traumatic black and brown death of women. and it is a dedication to Breonna Taylor - and you know just it's.. it's a.. it's a poem about just being tired of...of thinking about her and her death and really wanting to know who she was when she was alive.
so i think i'll do one more piece.. um and i hate to say this but i'm not going to end on like a happy note [laughs]... so here's another piece um, it's called setting suns as bright as wildfire:
Scientists say we are at least sixty percent water.
We are our ancestors' wildest dreams.
It is no wonder we are melting glaciers,
and setting suns as bright as wildfire
across The Amazon and California,
We are flooded with centuries of unfinished business.
And if our ancestors are still dreaming; I believe
they would not hesitate to invite us in to their
and wanting nightmare
like cracked teeth begging for a smile
like sheets of ice retreating in Antarctica and Greenland
Screams escaping to the back of the throat
Like the ocean absorbing the earth’s fever
for the body to catch and hold.
The Mississippi Basin’s love affair with this dying
And wide like the volatile waves who swallowed
your great mother’s and father’s
whole. The pale green reef that dressed their bodies and
wrapped ‘round neck lines.
But don’t you remember; the way the water
The perfect memory eroding time?
Precious arms and elbows flailing like tree arms in hurricanes.
Chains and endless blue night sky rippling underwater.
Tender twinkling stars from heaven drifting into their open eyes.
Maybe, Saturn or Jupiter waving across their drowning chests.
How the moon wanted so bad to taste their black skin
that it shoved itself into the
bottom of the sea, so that it could
sit with them.
Doesn’t this water taste different now?
Thick as blood
choking on bullets.
Like Tamir’s 12-year-old lungs
filling up to the brim of this earth’s
Her kiss of death along shorelines.
It is no wonder we are up to our neck lines in
See, this water is unforgiving.
It doesn’t matter how much we refuse to reckon with our past
who it loves, or how
much it is unloved
if it isn’t nurtured it will become fresh with poison.
Did you think a pure white house and fresh
reef colored paper would protect you
We are all just a few degrees separate from
Wading in this water
Water curtsying to ward off demons
While this water is still
of a human
Chelsey: yeah so that last piece um i like to just leave it up for interpretation.
Cessa: great. thank you for sharing those three pieces with us - made me breathe a little deeper, which is good.
Cessa: yeah, we missed your words - um great well i'd love to hear you tell us a little bit about All Water Has Perfect Memory - tell us about the book.
Chelsey: okay so this book like a lot of other books that authors sit down to write has been something that is something that i have wanted to do for a really really long time. and there have been pieces in this book that i've like taken out and rewritten and actually, sounds sort of unbelievable, but some of these poems i've actually been working on for years! and i'm proud to say that because i - i want to be the kind of writer who doesn't just put whatever out there you know? but it really is meant to be gift to myself and those who read it. and it can be difficult at times to read through some of the pieces. i also tried my best to make it more of a cohesive piece or story, because i have difficulty sometimes also reading through people's poetry, and you know sometimes they're just they're meant to be read as separate pieces. but i really wanted it to be...kind of flow like water. and so that's been a struggle and i don't know if i've achieved it but that's what i'm trying to do.
Cessa: yeah is this your first book?
Chelsey: this is my very first book.
Cessa: that's so exciting, congratulations!
Chelsey: thank you.
Cessa: so how has the process been like as you try to - because you've been a poet for a long time but the process of trying to to group them to try to feed them into each other, what was that process like to try to think of it as one piece?
Chelsey: well to be honest with you um like i said i don't know if i've been successful, so it's just a it's a process of - of just trying to make it do the thing that i want it to do. and part of that is just rereading and sharing it you know getting it edited and...and looking back at it and finding mistakes and - and then also, actually trying to feel that feeling you know? and you know - because you're you're an actress right? that the feeling the.. the... the idea of emoting and feeling those things when i'm writing and working i think hopefully that energy kind of transfers into the book and so that's that's what i've been doing. Yeah.
Cessa: did you have collaborators? like did you have people that you had helping you formulate it?
Chelsey: i have uh editors i have two editors that have worked on it um Ebo Barton, and one of my students actually - my older poetry students who i really am inspired by. their name is Esther.
Cessa: what are some themes throughout the book? like if you were to tell us a little bit more about some things that come up and up again and again?
Chelsey: one of the themes is definitely loneliness. i have struggled with depression for as long as i can remember and maybe that's just a symptom of living in seattle my whole life with the rain. but also i have had a lot of trauma in my life and so that obviously transfers into my work. i remember i had a professor tell me once when i was doing my undergrad um that writing is not cathartic and it really actually made me angry. and i understood what he was going for but i think he was trying to say it's more of a practice. you're not - it's not therapy - but i do believe that you know the pieces have been cathartic and so i'm hoping that is also a theme that is expressed. and joy hopefully. joy somewhere yeah.
Cessa: yeah our last our last live show was about good mourning - like positive experiences of mourning and i feel like we don't think of things like loneliness and depression and hardship as paired with joy or as like they have to sort of like, live simultaneously right? but they they do - inside of people all the time and yeah -
Chelsey: - yeah there's something about um, pain that eventually it has at some point we hope that it turns into joy right? that we do get to experience joy and so it's just something that i'm kind of grappling with and trying to figure out how that works even though i've obviously experienced a spectrum of emotions in my life and sometimes every day - so yeah that's what i'm hoping for.
Cessa: what was your journey to becoming an artist? like how long have you been writing? how long have you been performing? because i know you performed in our show and i know that you perform your work quite often, what was your journey into that like?
Chelsey: well firstly, thank you for ever inviting me to she is fierce- because oh absolutely - that being able to do a show and tell a story in a way that's different from performance in spoken word which i'm... which is i guess the thing that brought me into um, the performance aspect of poetry at all. because i think that - this is not me trying to do like some kind of plug or kiss your butt or any of that [laughs] - but doing a show like that actually gave me an opportunity to see myself as a different kind of artist and open up myself to being a little bit more experimental. so just before i completely answer the question um i wanted to say that.
so i've been writing poetry since i was uh i don't know as young as i can remember - like fifth grade. i had a poetry class or a poetry section in seventh grade where i had to do a poetry portfolio and that actually really opened my eyes to poetry then there was this spoken word artist who was the very first artist to win um, the first place at the apollo um and her name is Jessica Caremore and i think she was about 20 years old when she won but i never knew that people did spoken word. i never knew that was even a thing until i saw her and then seeing her win and she's a black woman and she was so young and so amazing. seeing her win just made me think “oh i really want to keep writing and i want to perform one day.” my writing was always kind of a secret until until then and then i started you know sharing more um and honestly like the journey into becoming an artist has just been partly that, and then also just trying to keep doing it just no matter what. just trying to keep...have it be sort of a grounding force you know? and then share it.
Cessa: yeah that... yeah that really resonates with me as an artist. especially as an artist where - like we can't do all of the art forms in the way that we want to right now - and just keeping doing it feels crucial to that
Chelsey: yeah i'm glad that resonates with you because hearing other people say that feels good too.
Cessa: yeah and even just hearing those few pieces i think...i think that sort of hope that...that more of the book will resonate with a lot of people. i think you don't have to worry about that. i feel, i already feel like it will. and i...remembering your piece too. i remember a lot of people felt that way about your performance piece in she was fierce
Cessa: yeah, what are some things that are on your mind as you prepare for the release? it's releasing on february, 27th, 2021. what are some sort of - and they don't have to be necessarily like specifically book related - but like what's -
Chelsey: things like…
Cessa: rolling around in your head?
Chelsey: yeah well, of course the world and politics and war. those things that are happening are always on my mind. i don't know i think maybe even in this case the book has been kind of a form of escapism for me. so it helps me to deal with the feelings that i have about
horrible and terrible things that are happening in the world. but honestly i try my best to just stay present in the moment um and live every day. like... like before i was getting ready for example - um i have a tendency you know, anxiety makes makes me feel like crawling into a hole somewhere, and i was fixing my hair and i was thinking about all these things i needed to do like “dang my laundry's talking to me” or “my - you know - i need to get something to eat” “i need to do this thing” um and i was fixing my hair and i was like “wait fix your hair, work on just that's all you're doing right now is just fixing your hair.” so one of the things that this book i think is kind of forcing me to do is stay present because i feel the world is coming at me - my own life - keeping my house clean. and then i'm doing all of the work that uh like a marketing person would do. i'm reaching out to people. i'm trying to figure out how i can get the book into people's hands and in the world you know like so i'm oftentimes like when i first wake up in the morning i'm already on empty.
Cessa: yep yep yep [both laugh] yeah so yeah speaking of how we can get the book into people's hands how can people get the book once it's released?
Chelsey: well people can actually purchase the book...when does the show actually this we're going to release this?
Cessa: yeah so... february yeah yeah we're working on the the uh specific date but we're hoping to get it out by the end of the first week of february so we have we'll have a couple weeks of it circulating around.
Chelsey: so the book is still - it's actually on pre-sale right now. so um basically the people, anyone who wants to purchase the book, can go to my website chelseyrichardson.org and you can click on the link and purchase my book. there are also bundle packages and whatnot if you want maybe a t-shirt that has a quote from the book in to come to your house with the book um like what am i saying? um but yeah so you can do that. um hopefully also as the book is released on february 27th i will be releasing a pre-recorded performance um that is going to be um part poetry part music uh with Omar Orunga. and my daughter raven richardson - he will be playing trumpet i will be um doing poetry and my daughter will be tap dancing. it's not all going to be simultaneously but maybe at some points there might be a little bit of that um so yeah that's that's how you can purchase it for now and then uh will likely be in some independent bookstores. if people want to they can always call a bookstore for an indie author and say hey do you have this book yet? if anybody wants to do that…
Cessa: yeah yeah so a little nudge to anyone who's who's listening just call your local bookstore and be like “do you have chelsey richardson's book? you don't - mm - interesting…”
Chelsey: and just hang up! [laughs]
Cessa: yeah we'll put your website in the show notes so that people can access your website but that's chelseyrichardson.com right?
Chelsey: dot org.
Cessa: dot org chelseyrichardson.org she's an org! um actually i did want to ask you - this is an impromptu question - but i did want to ask you - um as an educator and like such a staple i feel like of your community and the arts community in seattle - are there any like organizations or movements you want to shout out or artists even that you want to shout out that you're finding particular like inspiration in right now? or people that you wanna...
Chelsey: oh my gosh!
Cessa: yeah I threw that at you! but you can also give us...you can also give us a list and we can put that in the show notes but
Chelsey: yeah i think i'll add a list but obviously um Decriminalized Seattle um Ebo Barton who helped edit and also wrote a really beautiful piece for me as an afterward in the book um so Ebo Barton is a community organizer um poet uh and performer. Ben Israel who is also a poet performer i would say organizer i don't know if he would say that about himself um they also have been um they they both released books uh pretty early on in the beginning of quarantine. but they are curators of a show called Alchemy Poetry series which is beautiful and amazing all the time. so them. uh i would also look out for um a hip-hop artist by the name of Talib Collins who created the cover of my book um so it's very multi-talented artist um who else can i even think of right now? um yeah you know i'll write a list because that's a lot.
Cessa: yeah yeah please do and we'll put it in the show notes and make sure all those... all those people who are doing good work get shout outs. okay um so the last thing that we ask everyone is what makes you feel fierce?
Chelsey: um such a powerful question um i think the thing that makes me feel fierce that comes to mind right away is sitting in the moment. like i was talking about earlier because it gives me the opportunity to really feel and understand myself and know what it is that i need in order to be more powerful in order to um you know protest a horrible things that are happening in the world but also again to sometimes feel joy or hopefully most of the time in order to live in and be the person that i want to be. i don't know if that any of that just made sense but that's what i that's what…
Cessa: absolutely yeah yeah definitely i think, i think that makes perfect sense. well Chelsey we're so happy to have you back. we're so excited to read your book and see this multimedia performance featuring Raven - Raven was also - for listeners - Raven was also in the performance that Chelsey did however many years that... two years maybe? a while ago but it was great and i'm so excited for you and i'm sure it's going to take off. we can't wait to see all the all the thousands of books that come after this or -
Chelsey: thank you.
Cessa: whatever you end up doing. is there anything else you want to say or want us to know before we wrap up?
Chelsey: just i'm just thankful to be here and thank you so much for you know putting all this energy out there to to help people feel fierce you know.
Cessa: our pleasure. truly truly our pleasure. thanks so much Chelsey.
Chelsey: thank you!
Cessa: again Chelsey's book All Water Has Perfect Memory is out February 27th and you can pre-order it at chelseyrrichardson.org so go to that site and order it, read it, she's brilliant.
Linnea: if you want to support us you can do that at she is sheisfiercestories.org/donate. we have a donation page and a Patreon. otherwise you can find us on facebook and instagram She Is Fierce Stories and on our website sheisfiercestories.org. look out for more podcast episodes in the next few months!
Cessa: She Is Fierce is produced by me! Cessa Betancourt.
Linnea: and me! Linnea Ingalls. and our theme song is written and performed by Shelby Easley.
Cessa: please take care of yourselves, wash your hands, wear a mask, do nice things for yourself and other people/ we'll see you next time. stay fierce!
Linnea: say fierce! i mean... stay fierce. you could also say fierce as well. everyone say fierce one two three - fierce!
Cessa: fierce! [laughs]
Linnea: thanks for participating with us.
Cessa: that should definitely be our outro, that we all just say fierce at the same time. thanks y'all - we did it!
Linnea: we did it!
whoah-ah-oh she is fierce