By Khea Pollard
ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
Each week The Vista aims to showcase student artists. Junior Tarez Lemmons, also known as Suede Cursive, is a former football player with a passion for spoken word poetry. Though he is relatively new in the poetry scene, his love and appreciation for the art is evident. Lemmons agreed to sit and talk with us about his creative process.
TV: Football is completely different from writing poetry. What pushed you to make the transition from football player to poet?
TL: I came here for football and met many great people through football. These people were my family and the only friends I had on campus. I didn’t come in with any relationships with any other people. I loved playing, don’t get me wrong, but I had to reconfigure my priorities one winter break. Over our Christmas holiday last year, I got my grades back. I had a 2.2 GPA I believe. I was still eligible to play and could have played, but I had to call the coaches and tell them I was no longer interested because of my grades. After I left the team, I no longer had a family of people I was close to.
When I got into poetry, I did so because I wanted to perform and write. However, when I discovered how interconnected the poetry scene is in San Diego, I was in love. I had found another source of family, competition and something to strive for all in one. Poetry in a lot of ways has replaced football for me, so the transition was perfect!
TV: How did you get your start writing poetry?
TL: I started because Black Student Union has open mics. My girlfriend, CJ, was talking about an upcoming open mic. So, I wrote a poem while on the plane flying to the football team’s away game. I read it to a few friends and they liked it, a lot. People really liked it. They kept telling me to continue and that encouraged me.
TV: What’s the story behind your stage name?
TL: I was sitting in my Biblical Studies class one day and I was looking at my shoes. They were black and made with suede material. I happened to be writing in cursive. There you have it. I said, “What if I called myself ‘Suede Cursive.’” I told my roommate and he said “No that’s stupid.” But I just stuck with it. I performed for the first time at the spoken word venue, Elevated, with that name and the host called me on the open mic. I loved how it sounded.
TV: What most inspires you to write?
TL: To be honest with you, I’m not inspired by any specific topic because I feel that I can write about a wide variety of different topics. What inspires me is actually going up and reciting the poetry, hearing people’s reactions to it. Knowing that what I’ve said has resonated with someone, has made them think differently about something. I love seeing that what I’ve said has made a difference in someone’s consciousness. That really inspires me to continue.
It’s one thing to do a poem about love and have people think it’s good. But it’s another thing, as one of my favorite poets said, when people come up to you and say ‘thank you, I believe in love again.’ I make a lot of my decisions based on other peoples’ approval I guess [laughs]. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.
TV: Do you have a favorite piece of poetry?
TL: My favorite piece of poetry is not my own. It’s called “Love Poem” by Carvens Lissaint. He is my inspiration. His poetry is immense. You’re a poet when you start writing but eventually you come across something that shows you what you want to do with it. It’s almost like your major in poetry. It’s a very simple poem in very simple words but the meaning behind it is absolutely there. He makes you fall in love with the person he’s talking about for three minutes. Before I perform, I listen to his poem at least once or twice. It helps me ‘go there’ and bring out that same sort of passion.
TV: Do you write new pieces often?
TL: Writing takes a little while. I write what’s called a ‘throw up draft,’ it’s basically just jotting down all your thoughts. Then you edit it. Because it’s such a long process, I usually wait until I have time to do it, just because I don’t want to have to stop in the middle of a poem for weeks at a time. But when I do sit down and do it I really enjoy it. It’s the most ‘me time’ that I can ever ask for these days.
TV: Looking back on your first poem and first performance, how does it make you feel now? How have you grown since then?
TL: My first poem is called “Eyes Like Language” about beauty. The typical poem about beauty. I would say that that poem was like learning how to walk. Learning that I could write well. From being in the poetry community and meeting a lot of different poets, I was learning how to sprint. It was like discovering the olympics. I still have that original poem on the original paper I wrote it on. I look back at it with such an appreciation. It was the start of something I really love now and I don’t know where my commitment would be if it wasn’t for poetry. It’s a great thing.
TV: Do you believe you have a future in poetry?
TL: Yes. I’m young, I know some great poets and real great mentors. I have a lot of conversations with Rudy Francisco, he’s already been where I want to go. So, I’m in a good position. I have the ability and desire to cover a great distance in poetry. I would love to be an underground champion, a world slam champion. I would love to be a full time poet. That’s not something you can plan for. If I was given a shot I’d definitely take it. And even if I don’t get a shot, I’ll take one anyway. It would be a dream come true.
TV: What do you love most about your craft?
TL: Poetry is not just writing. A poet might recite a poem about an issue in the community but more often than not they are also doing something to combat that issue, to make an impact on that community for the better. That’s one thing that I love. When I think of a spoken word artist, I think activist. We have a tendency to think of activism as one man marches, sit ins and riots but I love how spoken word artists have become the activists and thinkers.
They are people that will challenge authority and change the world. That’s something I really admire and believe everyone can be a part of. Poetry inspires positive change. Chris Wilson, one of the leaders at Elevated, often says that ‘poetry is not the answer, it’s a step.’ All of us can take this step. Poetry is not just beautiful words, not just speaking change but actively creating it in the world.
TV: What advice can you give to people just starting out with their own writing?
TL: It cannot, will not progress if you don’t love it. We can workshop our poems as much as we desire, but above all, I’d workshop how much you love poetry. Study the art form every day because you love it. Not to get better, not to workshop, just for fun. Learn how to appreciate it. When you really appreciate art you don’t have to work on it. Of course you must put in the work, physically, the regimen, the practice, but when you truly have an appreciation for the art, it works on itself. So, really appreciate the craft for what it is and you’ll learn and progress from there.