Brooklyn Poetry Slams at BRIC House feature an inter-generational roster of Brooklyn-based poets who respond to city culture, national issues, and the exhibitions on view the gallery, as well as an open mic portion where the public may sign up to share their words. Hosted by the extraordinary Mahogany L. Browne, with music by DJ Jive Poetic, these slams take place regularly on the BRIC House stoop. Here, Mahogany interviews the winner of our January 12, 2016 Brooklyn Poetry Slam, Crystal M. Valentine.

How did you get your start writing poetry? I first started writing poetry when I was in the third and fourth grade. Even then, poetry was therapeutic for me. I didn't particularly enjoy school, and sometimes I would write about that. But I would also write short little poems about butterflies and springtime that rhymed. I didn't start taking poetry or my work seriously until I stumbled upon Urban Word during high school. I was inspired by how young and amazing the poets in the organization were. At first I was too shy to even attempt to perform my work in front of other people, but I gradually gained confidence, mainly because of how supportive and encouraging the Urban Word community was and continues to be. Reading my poems at Urban Word events was the first time I feel like my voice was being heard. I have to admit; even now I still get extremely nervous before performances, but I use my nerves to fuel my performance and it's all worth it when I make an impact on people with my words.  

Who inspires you to continue writing? My favorite poets and writers are actually my peers and mentors – people who I have been on poetry slam teams with and whom I've attended workshops with. I have been lucky enough to meet and form bonds with incredible poets who continuously inspire me. These individuals aided in my growth as a poet and as a person. They not only inspire me, but also push me to do better and hold me accountable for everything that I say. I am also inspired by poets such as Maya Angelo, Audre Lorde, Patricia Smith, Claudia Rankine, Morgan Parker; but I have different bond with these amazing women, I have never sat down with them and talked about life or had a good cry with them, but they still inspire because through their work, they have created a space for my poems – the controversial poems of a woman of color – to exist.  

How has Brooklyn informed your writing? Brooklyn is often time the birth place or the home of a lot of my peers who continuously inspire me. I myself am a proud and cocky Bronx Native, however I must admit that there is no place like Brooklyn. I love how the people and communities there hold space for each other. I write not only for self-expression and activism but also to build community. Every time I go to Brooklyn, whether it be for a poetry related event or just to see a friend, I always find myself building with another artist. Meeting different personalities and making different connections always gives me inspiration for my writing.  

Where is your favorite place in Brooklyn? My favorite place in Brooklyn would have to be the Brooklyn Museum. There are so many gems there. I find it to be a great plan to learn more about my culture.   What is your next step for your art? I want to fall in love with poetry again. I've been experiencing some writers' block, so I want to start from the basics and rebuild my craft. I am going to research more writers of color, specifically woman writers of color and queer writers of color. I've recently released a book of poems entitled Not Everything Is A Eulogy. I hope to travel the country and be unapologetic in sharing my work, voice and art.  

ABOUT CRYSTAL M. VALENTINE Born and raised in the Bronx, Crystal Valentine has been writing poetry since she was in the fourth grade. She is a senior at NYU studying Creative Writing and Adolescent Mental Health Studies. She is the current three-time Grand Slam Champion of NYU's poetry slam team and has won first place at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitation (CUPSI) in 2013 and 2015. She was a member of the 2014 Urban Word slam team, a finalist at the Individual World Poetry Slam festival in Washington D.C and is also the 2015 NYC Youth Poet Laureate. She has performed at renowned locations such as the Lincoln Center, New Amsterdam Theatre, the Apollo Theater, and the Nuyorican's Poet's Café. She has also made appearances on the Melissa Harris-Perry show as well as the Brian Lehrer Radio talk show. Even more so than in her own poetic talent, Crystal believes in poetry's ability to instill change in those who embrace it. As a black female poet, she believes that it is her duty to continue to share the unjust and undocumented experiences of people of color inside and outside of her community. A carrier of #blkgirlmagic and a proud author, Crystal describes herself as a lover of food, anime, people and above all, Chance the Rapper.