I interviewed Kyla via video from her Atlanta GA home while she relaxed with her two cats Kit and Kaboodle.
Q : 1st question: how long have you been writing Poetry? And how long have you been performing.
A : I’ve been writing poetry since I was 10. Performing since I was 26.
Q : Tell me about your first performance. What did it feel like?
A : That was in college. I wrote poems about two boys I was dating at the time and I wasn’t having sex with either of them so I guess it was ok (chuckles). I performed and no one was really excited about it, so I held off from it for 8 years or some sh*t like that. The next time I performed I was 25 and I was dating this guy. He had a broken leg while we were dating and I moved in to help him. As soon as he healed he gave me my walking papers. We’re still friends to this day- it was a while ago but I wrote this poem to get him back for it- very Love-Jones esque. I had a drink of alcohol and I wasn’t a drinker back then ( really not to this day). It’s interesting to have had to do all of that to perform. It was a scary thing and some days it still is scary.
Q : I feel that. You said you began writing at 10. Do you remember your first poem or what it was about ?
A : Yep. It was called “The World”. It was The World- all the confusion all the neglect. All the hatred and disrespect. All the helplessness and all of the lies. All the people who are losing their lives. All the homeless and all the dead. All the people who are sick in bed. There was some other stuff to it but it was copyrighted and it was something like a big deal. It was probably the only time my 5th grade teacher didn’t think I was an *** idiot. Not that I gave her a reason to think that but there was a lil’ racism growing up. I went to a mostly white school. Going from living with mostly black people to white people was a lot.
Q : So a lot of your work seems to center on politics with themes like racism and feminism. How do you cope with needing to go in and out of those themes mentally and emotionally when you write and perform?
A : I don't know, I mean if I don’t want to talk about something I won't talk about it. If an issue is too much I just won’t bother with the issue but I know that's easier said than done sometimes. Sometimes I hear from people “Let me hear your opinion on this topic.” and I’ll say “You don't really need my opinion on it.” Then ultimately end up giving my opinion on it. Other times I recenter and focus on self, and there’s really no other way to do that then to say “cool, this is when I shut down for a little bit.”
Q : What plans do you have for your art this year?
A : I’m going to be a co-host for a show called “Speak Up.” It’ll be coming out February 20th on YouTube where I’m hosting with some of my friends and super excited about it. I’m hosting a workshop as well but not sure if it’s going to be released around that time. I feel like it’s coming to an end but, who knows? So in the meantime I want to stay busy with projects while seeing what sticks to the wall.
Q : Has the pandemic affected you as an artist?
A : That goes with that saying, Has it affected me positively or negatively? It depends on which facet of my life we’re talking about. For the most part I’ve been fortunate and almost better than I was outside of the pandemic. It allowed me time to work on some of my projects around the house since I have a fixer upper
Q : So your viral poem "White Privilege" had an amazing impact. So much so that people in Italy protested with signs that contained lines from it during the BLM Say Her Name protests this year. How did that change things for you? Do you feel you were ready for it ?
A : I mean I don’t know if it necessarily changed things for me. I still have the same car, the same pets, the house. It opened some doors for sure but I haven’t necessarily walked through those doors yet, and not that those doors are closed- I just haven’t walked through them. It definitely put me on the radar.
Q : Did you attend demonstrations this year for BLM and would you call yourself an activist ?
A : No I did not attend. My answer to that is kind of for both parts of the question. I didn’t personally attend and I don’t have anything against attending. I had COVID and I did not want to catch it again. I had it before people had COVID- in February and it was awful. I don’t know it’s weird right cause one could say I did attend? It’s not necessarily about how you protest- it’s about the awareness. I’m glad I brought some awareness to the cause by being part of the soundtrack to the movement. I don’t feel like I owed anybody to be out. I think I’ve done a lot just vocally- I’ve angered enough white people.
Q : What are your thoughts on the state of poetry in current day America? Do you still like it’s viable?
A : I mean poetry is always going to exist. There are always going to be poets- always going to be someone who is the narrator of their life or somebody else’s life. That’s always going to happen. I think for personal reasons I’m moving away from the poetry community. We don’t really hype well and that’s okay. I don’t need to vibe with people who don't vibe with me. For me accountability is important. I may not always say what's the sweetest or kindest thing but I’m always going to be a truthful version of myself. A lot of people in the poetry community have dealt with a lot of trauma- childhood trauma or personal trauma and use poetry as an outlet. Some of them grew up being bullied or chastised and I relate to that. But sometimes they can’t eradicate or exist outside of their victimhood. It’s hard to watch people who want to hold those around them accountable but hide their hands when they have done things. I think it’s become so unnecessarily politicized that people are always looking for favor and they don’t know what it’s like to not need that favor enough to lie about yourself to obtain it. Tell the truth even if it fills a room or clears it out. My friend's dad told me that.
Q : What are your favorite parts about being an artist? Give me your top 3 things.
A : I wake up when I want to, I have a lot of downtime and I get to create things for a living. They may not have a mechanical use but it’s being used to tell a story and create a pathway. I get to have a concept, see it come to fruition and I get to see people enjoy it- engineering memories for people.
Q : What are the top 5 people that inspire you as a writer ?
A : Kyla Kyla Kyla Kyla and Kyla! Inspiration is like such a raw term. I wouldn’t say there's any poet that I know where I hear their poems and think “I have to write to that”, like that doesn’t happen to me. But I have had people who have inspired me in who I am today- like Toni Morrison and definitely my mom. She was amazing at allowing me to be creative and be myself. I kinda grew into my weirdness and quirkiness. I just grew up with a mom that allowed me to be creative. I love painting and crafts and came from Michael’s about an hour ago. Toni Morrison’s “The Blue Side” was one of my favorite books and the only book I felt angry at when it ended. She said she didn’t consider herself a “writer” until after she wrote her 3rd novel. Women do that. We diminish ourselves and we diminish our greatness. I have to watch the documentary again because it’s an exact quote. In Song of Solomon she says “if you wanna fly you gotta get rid of the shit that weighs you down” and in the book “Love” she says “hate does that. Burns off everything but itself so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy’s.”
My german teacher in college said something that I think changed the course of who I am. She said “society rewards liars and punishes people who tell the truth and we train people to lie by our reactions to it.” My high school german teacher was my favorite teacher overall who spoke several languages and was also my humanities teacher (and taught history). She taught me a lot about culture and history. She was one of the few teachers who loved me despite my blackness (not in spite) but she didn’t treat me differently than any other student. I’m still in contact with her til’ this day She lived in Korea, lived in Switzerland as a 17 year old. She’s lived all over and is just an amazing woman. The fifth person would be an old mentor who I don’t like as a person but she’s a fantastic artist and that’s inspiring as well.
Q : I have to ask. Have there been any crazy or really exciting moments for you since you went viral ?
A : Oh absolutely! Absolutely! I was already following Lenny Kravitz when I got his message and I screamed and every once in a while he’ll watch my stories which is weird. I broke my shoe and then when Billy Porter messaged me I broke my phone. I got to talk to Salam Remi on the phone which was amazing. For those who don’t know who Salam Remi is, he’s a super producer who did half of Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black album as well as Frank so it was cool to talk to him on the phone- via my conversation with Busta Rhymes who is really nice and called me on my birthday. Aries Spears is really cool and nice- I’ve done his show a couple of times. It’s interesting finding myself on the internet. I was trying to do my CV and I found out I was in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore and I didn’t know so that’s been really cool and interesting.
Q : Do you see yourself dabbling in any other mediums as an artist?
A : I already do- I’ve written for The REAL, Huffington Post and BET. I’m trying to actually ease out of poetry. I’ll always be a poet but I want something more sustainable and that pushes my creativity. Poetry is really easy for me- almost too easy. I spend more time not writing something than I spend writing it. I do think sometimes it’s made me complacent and I would like to venture out to stuff that is more difficult and sustainable. That’s not to say that poetry isn’t difficult, because to a certain extent it is. I recognize the difficulty even in the ease of it. But I would definitely like to expand to other areas of entertainment.
Q : What's your overall goal with your work? What are you looking to accomplish?
A : The major goal that I’ve had for the last 15 years is to be able to live off my art full time- that’s it.
Q : Last question. If you could say anything to a child or young teen looking to do poetry like you what would you say?
A : Don’t do it! No seriously, I don’t know. I never really had poetry as an ambition of mine, like it was never something that I thought about doing. I didn’t come up in the era of YouTube so I wasn’t trying to become a youtube star. I was just doing poetry to do poetry- not for any particular reason. I was being vulnerable and remaining vulnerable in my artwork and not getting caught up in being famous- it was just making moments. That was the freeing part about it for me. I was just doing it because I was good at it and I was sustaining some sort of a living with it. But I didn’t know I was gonna go viral or anything. I was in Texas doing a feature for my friend and we were taping- and that was it. There was no big poetry channel at the time. We never thought this was going to happen.
I had no idea. I was happy with doing college shows- I never knew that would be the way I would begin making my mark on the world.