It's Lit: Q&A with writer and spoken word poet Rhiannon McGavin
Rhiannon McGavin is a writer from Los Angeles who first started drafting poems to attract the attention of a cute boy in her children’s Shakespeare group.
While she never won his affection, she has performed original poetry on Grace Cavalieri’s “Poet and the Poem” podcast, NPR, and at venues from the Troubadour to the Lincoln Center. Rhiannon is also a 2016 YoungArts Finalist in Writing for Spoken Word. In her free time, she enjoys reading and making lip balm. All Photos by: Ariela Barer
If you had the opportunity to perform one poem to all girls and young women in the world, which poem would you choose?
I’d perform my new piece, “Things that could Happen to a Girl wearing Jeans”, because it celebrates female friendship and camaraderie as a tool against trauma. Honestly, talking to your friends is the most powerful weapon we have against abuse and its aftershocks. I reread that poem sometimes, just to remind myself that I do have best friends that I can stay up all night with, so hopefully that piece would have a similar, healing, post-it note-esque effect. Also, I’ve been writing some poems in French, and this piece uses pretty simple diction which makes it easier to translate, so the meaning would possibly get across in other languages as well!
One word that describes how you feel when you go on stage to perform?
What’s something you wish you could tell your 16-year-old self when you were going to perform in The Queen Latifah Show?
I would repeat the advice of the Los Angeles slam team coaches, Matthew Cuban and Alyesha Wise: stay humble, keep working. They’ve been doing poetry for ages, and they’re actually getting married next year!
What are some of your personal favourite spoken word performances?
Sunni Patterson is a living legend, and I had the honor of watching her perform and attend her workshop last year at Brave New Voices in Atlanta.
This is her piece, “Faith Ain’t Got No Eyes”
Team Chicago, BNV 2015, with their piece “Reparations”, combining poetry and dance in a powerful display of talent and truth
Team DC, BNV 2014, with their piece “Waters”, discussing the natural element through the lens of Black history (Momo, the girl on the far right, is a friend of mine and a real-life mermaid)
This is from when Matthew Cuban coached the Richmond team, and you can hear him snapping in the background.Laren G Parker commands the stage and her writing so thunderously here.Team Richmond, BNV 2012:
Is it easier to write poems with other people as a collaboration or solo?
Solo for sure!
Besides social issues what are other things that inspire your poems?
My garden, my cats/friends, and the fruit aisle of the local supermarket.
One of my favorite lines that you’ve delivered is from Somewhere In America when you say, “But God forbid I bring my girlfriend to Prom.” What’s one of your favorite stanzas/lines that you’ve written?
One of my favorite lines is from “First Base Gold” it’s “all my love for a slingshot”. It’s the moment in the video where Ariela Barer brings the music all the way back. I like how the words sound together, and it’s the peak of a lot of allusions I’m working with throughout the piece.
It’s a fairly weird and esoteric poem because it’s The Song of Songs, Gustav Klimt’s paintings, and the photography of Henryk Ross (particularly this picture) jumbled together in my skull, and it does require some former knowledge of religious texts and art history. “All my love for a slingshot”, in itself, is a reference to Kristallnacht, the David and Goliath story, and Jewish wedding rituals, but even without knowing all those different backstories, the line still sounds nice. This is an important balance for me, that my writing can have deeper references and meanings, but still be enjoyed without needing to know that like, Gustav Klimt had fourteen paternity suits. Fourteen! Oy.
Tell our readers more about your Leaf Issues
I started LEAF because I really wanted to be published in proper books, and to have something physical that I could give to people who liked my writing. Of course, it’s way easier to mess around with your printer at home than get a literary contract, so last March I started producing my own little booklets. I’m happy to say that I’m published in a few anthologies now, but I’m going to keep making LEAF because it’s fun!
Each booklet consists of a few poems and pictures, all written/painted/wept on by me. I have 3 issues up on my etsy currently; Leaf #1 and Leaf #2 are new poems, with a few older things from a few years ago, and the special issue Post-Winter is a modern retelling of the Persephone myth. The original pages for each booklet are quite messy, since I use plant bits from my garden as decoration. I have to make master copies of each issue really fast before the leaves wither up! In Post-Winter, for instance, Persphone’s poem is covered with pomegranate seeds from my tree, and the juice bled over to the other pages for this really creepy effect that I didn’t plan on. Mother Nature gives great creative input.
Describe a Rhiannon Friday night When I get home from class, I’ll do all my homework for the weekend because I’m a nerd with an academic-related guilt complex, then water my yard. If I’m going out with my friends to a movie or concert, I’ll put on some makeup (mascara, an aggressive amount of lipstick and perfume), then bake us something to snack on (banana chocolate muffins are universally palatable).
If I’m staying in, then I’ll draft whatever YouTube videos I’m shooting that weekend and do some sewing while I watch Netflix. And take a really long bath and get way into the ten-step skincare routine. Like, four different essential oils and a pound of Epsom salt in the tub, plus two face masks and 3-5 moisturizers. It is extremely intense and hardcore.
Why did you decide to start your own youtube channel?
Like most of my exploits, I started making videos because I was bored at school! It was towards the end of 6th grade, and I got out of class early and didn’t have a ton of homework, so I just started recording myself in those goofy cat ears. I kept going because of the friends I made through online video, and it’s still such an accessible for teenage girls to talk about stuff! All you need is a laptop! So now I yell about everything from skincare to Shakespeare, and maybe I’ll get a better camera soon. Maybe.
Will you be attending Vidcon? If so who do you wish to meet? Will you be part of any panels?
YES!! I’m happy to say that I’ll be part of the Spoken Word open mic, which is fun because I participated in a similar thing in 2014 as the collaboration between Soul Pancake and Youth Speaks. Other than that, I’ll be bopping between the feminism-related panels and the Uplift booth (http://uplifttogether.org/). I'd like to meet everyone who wants to make the YouTube community safer!
What other forms of art are you really connected to?
I actually just started listening to podcasts, so I’m glad to flaunt my new knowledge! I typically switch between The Beauty Brains and the New York Times book review, because the topics are cool and the hosts have nice voices. I love having nice things to listen to on my commutes, and musicians like Regina Spektor, Mother Mother, and Mitski really help a girl bicycle around town.
I read a lot, especially when I have a sheet mask on and thus have to stay still for 30 minutes. Glossier’s blog Into The Gloss pairs very well with such activities. There’s a couple essayists that I follow around the web. Arabelle Sicardi and Devan Diaz both write for a bunch of different places, and I would follow their articles and cosmetics tips to the depths of the New York subway system. As for books, I’m currently reading The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck and How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are, which give very, very different perspectives on Europe throughout the 20th century. One of my favorite directors, Park Chan-wook, has The Handmaiden coming out this year, and I’m really excited about it because I loved No Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.
And if you want to watch four hours of straight Shakespeare and Kate Winslet with my dream hair, Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet is a classic. My favorite painters are Marc Chagall and Helen Frankenthaller, and I’m actually wearing a Monet waterlily scarf to prom! Thanks, Claude!