In recent years, Glenis Redmond has logged more than 360,000 miles on her car. She travels the country, meeting students and elders, teachers, and administrators. She shares and encourages. She cries and laughs and dances (a lot!). She inspires.
And she is a poet.
“I help people find their voices,” says Redmond. “That is the most important thing there is. I try to be a poetic bridge.”
Whatever you hold in your mind as what a poet is, what she looks or acts like, be ready to rid yourself of the stereotype. Redmond is a working poet. A hustling poet. A road warrior poet. She makes her living—and her life—as a teaching artist with a social justice angle, most interested in the disenfranchised, that individual who has not had the opportunity to express his or her own voice.
Redmond’s current bio reads like one found on the back of a lifetime achievement award: a Greenville native, she holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College; she is an esteemed Cave Canem Fellow and also a NC Literary Fellowship recipient from the NC Arts Council; she participated on the task force that created the first writer- in-residence at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site; she’s written hundreds, if not thousands, of poems and has published in literary journals and anthologies across the country; her book Under the Sun has been bought and read widely; she is a Kennedy Center teaching artist and is listed in their National Touring Directory; she is the poet-in-residence at State Theatre, New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the poet-in-residence at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts, here in Greenville.
More than 21 years ago, this is the path that Redmond deliberately chose. As a mother of toddler twins with an ever-present heart of an artist, she was unsatisfied with working a “normal” job. “When I made a vow to poetry I was living below the poverty level, but I was committed,” remembers Redmond. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘What would happen to my life if I just did this?’”
Redmond got her break when a booking agent heard her perform poetry at a unity show in protest of a KKK rally in Asheville, North Carolina. Through this agent, Redmond got a glimpse of the future: that there was indeed a place in this world as a career poet.
In addition to being a full-time poet, it’s Redmond’s work as a Kennedy Center teaching artist and poet-in- residence that puts miles on her car to share her voice and to enable the voices of others. She works with teachers who understand the value of poetry in the classroom. She often spends a week at a time in each locale, teaching students the power of the poetic word.
Claims Redmond, “When I go into these schools, I am like the vitamin shot—perhaps a little painful at first, but full of life-giving and life-affirming stuff at the end.”
More locally, through Peace Voices, the Peace Center’s newest outreach initiative, Redmond visits local middle and high schools, working with students and their teachers in brainstorming and writing activities. Most conclude in student-written poetry that explores both personal and public themes, such as the reactions to the tragedies of Ferguson or Trayvon Martin.
As an extension of this work with youth, Peace Voices involves students in poetry slam competitions, which offer a venue for young writers to perform their original poetry. Redmond has a particular fondness for performance poetry, as slam was her entry point early in her career. “Before I got my MFA, I got my master’s on the road performing Poetry Alive! shows three times a day, five days a week during the day and competing in poetry slams at night,” she says. “I gained my poetic ear with this kind of stage rigor.”
Peace Voices Poets is a separate leg of the program, where students participate in an ongoing poetry workshop at Ramsaur Studio every other week for two to three hours per session. The center just “graduated” its first class last year. Peace Voices also offers public poetry readings, allowing locals to share their own words, as well as hear nationally-recognized poets.
It’s her work through Peace Voices’ community poetry workshops, however, that epitomizes Redmond’s ideals of inclusivity and informs her goal to be a poetic bridge. These Saturday workshops held at Ramsaur Studio encompass the whole community: from the middle school and high school student to the Ph.D., from writer and artist to the 80-year- old elder, from the professional looking to enrich his living to the parent wanting an outlet for her voice. Truly, these workshops are designed for “people from all walks of life,” and the supportive atmosphere sets the tone for participants to safely and confidently share their words (and maybe even bare their souls).
“If you look at the Peace Center as a whole, Ramsaur Studio is like a third stage for the community,” says Redmond. “Peace Voices has the potential to have wings, to be a mainstay for the center and the community. I am so glad and thankful that [Peace Center president and CEO] Megan Riegel opened the doors to poetry.”
Poet Glenis Redmond: A road warrior? Absolutely. A poetic bridge? Unequivocally.
And she is building that poetic bridge right alongside the Liberty Bridge through the thickest artery of Greenville. She is building a bridge in all those communities she visits up and down the East Coast.
And, especially to the disenfranchised students who experience having their own voices heard for the first time, she is most certainly building a bridge to the future.
“When you look in their eyes,” Redmond says, “it’s as if they are saying back, ‘I’ve been waiting for you. What took you so long to get here?’”