Natasha Ria El-Scari is most known for her honesty about motherhood, womanhood, politics and love. Once asked in an interview what makes her unique she replied, "most people lie to themselves, but I like to reveal myself.” Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Natasha El-Scari has a BA from Jackson State University and a MA from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her poetry, academic papers, and personal essays have been published in anthologies and journals. She lives in Kansas City.
Ria El-Scari will offer a poetry critique session at our 2017 Writers Conference.
When and how did you first start writing poetry?
My 5th grade teacher gave me a journal, probably with hopes it would help me talk less. I’d journal every day after school and thought everyone did this. I read a lot, and I wrote a lot. I didn’t think the act of writing was unique. Later I moved from journaling to short story writing and finally to writing poetry.
What does poetry mean to you? What does it allow you to express that other parts of your life might not?
I am an open book. Not much about me is private, and I don’t struggle with self-expression. I’m very comfortable with my desire to express. Poetry is one part of my life expression.
Your poetry addresses many social issues – feminism, race. How do you know who your poetry is for? Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
In my early 20s I performed poetry and discovered that people were not accustomed to black women expressing themselves in the way they spoke to other black women. I write my truth as an African American women, and I want my identity to be clear. Toni Morrison talks about the white gaze – how the white perspective permeates the culture, along with its values, beliefs and worldview. I don’t want the white gaze to censor me. I won’t allow it. Black women are an ignored demographic and often thought of as too small a market to create profit. Often black authors wouldn’t have their photograph on a book for fear that that the book wouldn’t sell. I want my audience to know who I am. If I don’t tell my story my way, someone else will tell my story. And he’ll get it wrong.
You mention that you want to reveal yourself. How do you recognize your own denial and then move into truer expression.
If we are in touch with our physical body, then we are in touch with our fear. When I recognize fear, say the fear of being unpopular, that’s when I speak. That’s when I strike. I resist apologizing. I tell myself I have to get through the fucks. You know, the fuck! Fuck! FUCK! stage. When I feel a judgement coming from a comment I want to make, that’s when I know to reveal myself.
You mentioned that feminism is “dealing with your stuff.” I got to say this is one of loosest but best definitions of feminism I’ve heard. Where do you think feminism is heading today? Is there a place for it to still be radical? Do you think feminists are dealing with their stuff?
Feminism is not monolithic. The term encompasses more than one ideology or proscribed belief system. The first wave of feminism carried a lot of anger, but I don’t want to live with that anger, and I don’t want to exclude men. Black feminism includes men and children, and is for the whole community. White women have men to lose because they are aligned with the patriarchy – not so for black women. All African American women are automatically feminist – it is the only way to survive. While white women don’t need to be allies with one another, African American women need their female community – often as a community in opposition to white women.
Feminism is a lot like the evolution of hip-hop – many people want to protect the first wave as they do with feminism, and there is a tension between the ideals of feminism and one’s personal ideals. For my daughter, feminism means she can make her own decisions, such as what she wants to wear or how she does her hair. There is no code of behavior or rulebook.
Movement and the body appear in a number of your poems. I really like how in Love Knot – you begin with the yourself as a child moving as a snake does – warming itself on concrete, moving in the grass, and then at the end of the poem the child, now and adult, sheds her skin. What is it about the body that inspires your poetry?
The body is the truth of who we are. Our intuition is in the body – for me it’s in the pit of my stomach. That’s where I get the signal.
Paying attention to the African American body is a revolutionary act. My book The Only Other really disturbed people, and initially I was terrified to release the collection. Usually my poems uplift, but this collection is about a not so glamorous voice. The woman in the poem is the “other woman” in a relationship, and the imagery of the serpent is intentional but not accusatory. People were angry that I wrote from empathy, but children of these relationships were so appreciative! They knew their parents loved one another, though this was seldom if ever recognized. I challenged myself to write from a different perspective, and it’s frightening. It frightened me. This is feminism. Making a choice. Exercising something outside the status quo and not allowing expectations to confine me.
Thank you so much for your candid and provocative answers. We are very excited to have you here at our Writers Conference. Where can we find out more about you?