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CINNAMON, LILAC AND POETRY: an interview with poet Sabrina Benaim

Photo by Ian Keteku


The first time I heard one of Sabrina Benaim’s poems, I was having one of those days where you just feel… ugh.

Like a basin of dirty dishwater. The poem was called ‘First Date’ and it was magic. Sabrina’s poetry is filled with this incredible sort of whimsy and truth and rawness, and after listening, all of a sudden I felt like all the dirt had been polished off. I felt empowered. Less like dishwater and more like myself again. In this interview, I got the amazing opportunity to discuss Sabrina’s inspirations, her upcoming book ‘Depression and Other Magic Tricks’ and her thoughts on the overwhelming response to the heartbreaking and beautiful ‘Explaining My Depression To My Mother’. How long has poetry been a part of your life?

Ever since I learned how to rhyme. Have you always written poetry with the intention of speaking it out loud, or did that come later?

When I was twenty-four, I had a tumour the size of a squash ball in my thyroid. My friend & I joked that since I am always swallowing my words this must be the physical manifestation. A few weeks later, he called to convince me to sign up for a spoken word workshop. Here we are five years later! Your performance of the poem ‘Explaining My Depression To My Mother’ at the National Poetry Slam in 2014 went viral. What was going through your head as you spoke this poem onstage?

Oh goodness. I could not tell you. That was the first time I shared that poem on stage and it was very raw. The video now has over 5 million views! How do you feel about getting such an overwhelming response to your poetry?

I feel supported, grateful, less alone, held by a sea of strangers’ hearts. It feels truly surreal. Five million! I wish I had a peanut M&M for each view! Is poetry the only medium you use to express yourself or have you experimented with other creative outlets?

I actually grew up in a dance studio. I am still quite prone to tap dancing any time I am left to stand still, or sit for too long. I’ve also dabbled in improv and puppetry since beginning my spoken word journey. What does poetry mean to you?

Freedom. Which poems/poets resonate with you the most and why?

Right now, I would say, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib is consistently putting out important, excellently crafted work that I hold my breath while reading. It’s really stunning. Donika Kelly’s debut collection Bestiary is a fiercely beautiful inventory of creatures. I carried it around for weeks, rereading the love poems. Gala Mukomolova is another poet whose work I always swoon for. There has been a huge influx of new poets surfacing over the past few years that use social media as an outlet for their work. Some argue that the rise of the “Instagram Poet” has cheapened poetry as an art form. How do you feel about this?

I think the “Instagram Poet” is a person who makes art. Their followers are the consumers of their art. Both the “Instagram Poet” & their follower are connected and content. Isn’t that the whole point of art? Your poetry book, ‘Depression & Other Magic Tricks’, comes out later this year. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Depression & Other Magic Tricks is a collection of poems that explores and interrogates themes of memory, love, & family, while navigating mental illness. I could not be more excited to release these poems out into the world, they have been living inside of me for so long. Here at Mimp Magazine, we love to recognise and celebrate talented women who may otherwise go unnoticed. Are there any underrated women in poetry or other areas that you feel deserve more recognition?

I think there are too many underrated women on this planet. But, if I am to say one name, every time, it would be Chimwemwe Undi. Her debut chapbook The Habitual Be, was just released by University of Nebraska Press and I want to scream from the rooftops for everyone to read it. Who or what inspires you?

My mother. Beyoncé. Baggy jeans. The scent of cinnamon, and lilac. My grandmothers. Flowers. Ladybugs & fallen pinecones. Strangers who smile back. My little cousin Victoria. Music. The leaves of trees catching the light. Dancing. Watching other people dance. Literature. The Food Network. The sound of the rain. Emojis. Milk chocolate. Equality. Vulnerability. What is one piece of advice that you think everyone should hear? I find myself coming back to this quote from Rihanna time and time again : “One week they love you. One week they hate you. Both weeks I got paid.” I think it is a fantastic reminder to block out the noise, the praise & the flack, and focus on getting yourself what you need. Bless her. Sabrina’s book is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released on the 8th of August this year. You can follow @badass_sab on Instagram and Twitter to keep updated with Sabrina’s adventures.


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