By Jenny Wallace
Arts & Entertainment Editor
On Nov. 11, KU’s Women’s Center hosted a slam poetry event, featuring Joan ‘Lyric’ Leslie from the College Agency.
Leslie, an author, a slam poet, a back-to-back Queen of the South Poetry Slam Champion and a storyteller, started off by singing her own rendition of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” by Chance the Rapper, one of Leslie’s favorite hip hop artists.
Leslie then read her poem about matriarchy, featuring a home led by a strong woman, asking questions like, “Who inherits the plastic bags full of plastic bags?” and more serious ones like, “What about the urn?” Leslie asks readers to consider what happens when the matriarch passes and leaves her belongings, and even her own ashes, behind.
After her first poem, Leslie took time to talk about herself and spoke about finding pride in her racial identity as a black woman from Harlem. Due to the systemic racial injustice this country faces, Leslie admits she “missed the blessing” of being black.
While racism is an ongoing issue in this country, Leslie finds joy in being a black woman by celebrating Kwanzaa, idolizing women like Michelle Obama and knowing every word to “The Wiz,” calling herself “as black as they come.”
She went further into the subject of race by talking about famous artist Jay-Z, who is from her hometown’s rival Brooklyn, and how he uses his platform to bring awareness to these issues. Leslie stated that people like Jay-Z write songs so people don’t forget about these injustices, saying she does the same with her poetry.
While writing about systemic injustice at work, Leslie had an epiphany that came to her in the form of a haiku:
“Plot twist the black boys
In my poems now live to see
How the story ends”
Leslie then spoke about her struggle with loving herself in her own body.
“I’ve learned to love myself through self affirmations—why be a trophy, when you can be a mountain? But sometimes affirmations don’t work,” Leslie said.
When this happens, she thinks of people who have loved her, like her grandfather, whom she speaks about in her poem, “Dying Wish.”
The night ended with Leslie speaking about her faith and how, to her, God is “petty” because He gives power to things that otherwise seem insignificant.
She then told a story about her best friend and how a night of them drinking together turned into the two of them discovering Leslie’s “Black Girl Magic,” which she then turned into a poetic short story filled with comedy, soul and genuinity.
Leslie’s work journeys through self-discovery and self-love while incorporating a fair share of humor and wit. She uses poetry to call a spade a spade and to challenge systemic injustice.
Leslie’s book “‘My Blackness Rhymes with Joy,”’ highlights experiences with love, healing, justice and the reclamation of black joy through it all.
Learn more about Leslie at harlemsownlyric.com.