Conducted by Caitlyn Siehl, Managing Editor
1. What does the word “survivor” mean to you, and how do you think your work explores that meaning?
For me, the word “survivor” is always an affirmation of the strength and resilience I never knew I had in me. When I think about everything I’ve survived and being right in the thick of my darkest moments, I never thought I would make it through. I could never see myself the other side. I always felt like, “Oh my god, this is the thing that’s finally going to defeat me. I won’t make it back after this.” But here I am. I’m still here. Maybe a little incomplete, maybe a lot unraveling. But I’m here. And that counts for something. It’s such a powerful thing to simply declare your existence. Even if all you can manage to do right now is exist. To say, look at all these things that should have killed me but didn’t. To be the last thing standing. I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for just being here, still.
2. Do you agree that art promotes empathy? In what ways?
Art definitely promotes empathy in ways that other forms of communication and expression cannot. You can tell someone exactly what happened, who was there, and how long it lasted, but that doesn’t give them the power to understand how it felt. What the air tasted like in the back of your throat. How you couldn’t make your hands let go. That’s the void that art fills. We live in a world that’s suffering more and more from a lack of empathy. Art, when we allow ourselves the vulnerability to be open to it, reduces us to undiluted emotions bound by flesh, and everybody has emotions. Feelings are a currency we all use and art gives a common ground to exchange those feelings and understand how other people emote with the world around them.
3. What is your opinion on art as it relates to healing?
When my little sister died five years ago, I didn’t write anything at all for a full year. The world had ended and left me behind — what more was there to be said? Towards the of my year of silence, I joined online writing circles and discovered a wealth of poetry and prose that shocked me awake. These words written by strangers were everything I’d been trying not to feel. They pried open trap doors I’d locked away inside myself and flooded the dark spaces with light. I will always consider the moment I started writing again to be the start of my actual healing. The stuff I wrote was not good at all, but I had to let out the poison before my blood could run clear. There is healing in consuming art, and even more, I think, in creating it. When you make art, you become the architect of your own suffering.
4. What do you love most about writing poetry? Do you prefer it over prose?
I don’t so much prefer poetry over prose, it’s just that I’ve let my prose muscles atrophy a lot in the pursuit of strengthening my poetry muscles. My favorite thing about poetry is stealth of it. That I can talk about myself without actually talking about myself. I’m the kind of person who is terrified of being vulnerable with people (and sometimes even with myself!), but when I write, I can fully explore my emotions about something while burying it in the subject matter of another thing entirely. When a friend of mine attempted suicide for the second time, I wrote a poem about the goddess Isis gathering all the pieces of her lover Osiris to make him whole again. It’s the whole idea of hiding in plain sight, of keeping my audience’s attention on one hand while the real magic trick is happening in the other hand.
5. If your art could say one thing, what would it say? Why?
If my art could say one thing, it would say, “I’m trying.” I’m not okay a lot of the time. I know I can do better, and I know I can say more, but right now I have so much love and darkness swirling and expanding inside of me that I don’t know what to do with it all. I haven’t figured out how to make any of it matter yet, but I’m trying.
Anita Ofokansi is a writer from Kansas City, Missouri. She mostly dabbles in internet poetry, but her work has appeared in publications such as Winter Tangerine Magazine, Voicemail Poems, Kansas City Voices, and the Rising Phoenix Review. Anita is currently working on her first collection of poetry and is very stressed out about it. She aspires to one day write and direct movies.