Yolanda J. Franklin, poet and friend, is a third-generation, north Florida native who gives voice to the palmetto-scrubbed, the porch-sittin’, the southern city-limited, the Uncle Kents and Leah Chases of her world. I’m happy here, in the very first interview of this series, to learn more about her writing – the process, the influences, the obsessions.
Yolanda, as a third-generation, north Florida native, how do place and memory influence your poetry?
Since my serendipitous return home to Tallahassee, the importance of the preservation of memory has heightened. The loss of close family members plays a large role in memory as a re-memory—as a praise or sense of restitution of some sort to memorialize time spent with loved ones. My poetic process channels the recalling of my lost memories and lost ancestors as a rekindled connection to the people and events that are all parts of who I am becoming. Returning to Tallahassee, the place I call home, after being away for sixteen years, parallels Diana Ross’ role in “The Wiz” as Dorothy: her initial desire to flee her hometown in search for something better, only to return, knowing that no other place has the same magic as home. The sheer fate of my acceptance to Florida State University’s PhD program permits time for me to not only write, but to remember and capitalize on the opportunity to share my stories.
Who are the writers you most love? And why?
The list includes the living and the living on, both women and men. Miss Lucille [Clifton], Sharon Olds, Toi Derricotte, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Gwendolyn Brooks, Natasha Trethewey, Jake Adam York, Langston Hughes, Terrance Hayes, Major Jackson, Nikky Finney, Derek Walcott, T.S. Eliot, Harryette Mullen, Yusef Komunyakaa, Li-Young Lee, and more…
Why? Because my daddy was a musician and I love to dance. Because the perception of stories and the lyric are the marionette strings of great poetry.
How do you balance your writing time with teaching and your graduate work in the PhD English Program at Florida State University?
Balance? It’s an illusion. I have great mentorship from professors and my peers.
What are your obsessions, things that you keep coming back to in writing and in life?
Family, love, loss, politics, unanswered questions, and the explorations of daily living are common returns; yet, ultimately, I am obsessed with “knowing.” Knowing why and how the components and histories of family, along with the interactions and perceptions, reveal what makes my stories and my worldly observations is important to who I am as a person. Staying in touch with those realities is what motivates my work.
Given the rhythm and breath and tempo of your poems, how has music played a part in the poetic forms you choose?
I heart Hip-Hop and I wasn’t born, raised, and nor have I ever visited Brooklyn or the Boogie Down Bronx; yet I remember the first time I fell in love with Hip-Hop. This, of course, indirectly addresses the question at hand; however, I can’t remember sound without music in the house where I grew up. My father played the electric guitar, harmonica, and piano, could play anything by ear. My son has the same gift; I guess I “donated” it to him when I finalized my interests in band and the clarinet. I spent summers in band camp at FAMU High (DRS), memorizing sheet music without an actual instrument, and learned to play by reading music while simultaneously fingering the notes, sometimes peeking at my best friend Ilena, first chair. Thomas Sayers Ellis taught me that the music comes first, so I’m glad that I was on a dance team and that my father was a musician. Cate Marvin taught me the importance of the relevant sound of a loud poetic voice; plug in an amp and add bass. Miss Lucille taught me to listen to the poetic line and ask, “What does the poem want to do?” Cave Canem continues to teach me that my voice is important and not alone. The determination of form is organic.