By C.S. Satterwhite
Asia Samson is one of the movers and shakers in Pensacola’s eclectic and diverse poetry scene. Having lived in Pensacola since 2012, Samson is a constant presence at several venues and a promoter of the slam poetry scene.
Also a national sensation, Samson continues to share the spotlight with locals. His latest venture into the national spotlight is the upcoming Southern Fried Poetry Festival, held in Fayetteville, N.C., and bringing a team of local and regional poets with him. The poets will be the first Pensacola group to compete at the event in over a decade. Prior to the festival and their local send-off show, we caught up with Samson to talk poetry in general and learn about the team heading to North Carolina.
INWEEKLY: How long have you considered yourself a poet?
SAMSON: If I really had to say, I would say second grade. I was about 7 years old, and I remember writing a poem for this girl because I thought she was pretty. At the time, that was the only gift I had that I knew I could use to get someone’s attention. Also, I was heavily into reading Shel Silverstein books and that’s when I was exposed to poetry. But as far as actually writing and performing poetry, since 2002. In 2006, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. After beating it, I decided to quit my job and pursue poetry full time, and I’ve been touring colleges professionally since.
INWEEKLY: That’s certainly a life-altering moment. Was there a certain moment, certain person or certain poem that drew you to poetry?
SAMSON: I don’t really think there was a certain moment or person or poem. Looking back, I feel like it has just always been a part of me—being a writer. I’ve always had a voice and thoughts inside that I needed to let out, and I would express those thoughts with writing, whether it’s a poem or a short story.
INWEEKLY: Tell me about the competition. Southern Fried Poetry is pretty big. For those who aren’t familiar, what is it and why is this significant?
SAMSON: The Southern Fried Poetry Festival is a regional competition where poets from all over the South come and compete with their poems. This has been going on since the ‘90s, and it’s important because it keeps the vibrant culture of spoken word alive. And I love this culture. Sadly, Pensacola has not sent a team since 2005 as there has not been any pre-qualifying slams here. When I moved to Pensacola in 2012, I wanted to make it a goal for this city to bring back the poetry slam culture and start sending a team again. The community has been so supportive in helping make that happen.
INWEEKLY: Tell me a little about the people from Pensacola that are a part of the team.
SAMSON: There are five people on every slam team. For our team (Burn Beautiful) there’s myself, Tessica Williams (from Mobile), and Kataalyst Alcindor (from New Orleans). From this city, we have Keegan Anderson and Jamal Steele. All four of them came and competed at our qualifying slam we held at Live! Juice Bar. They’re all amazing poets. Tessica and Kataalyst are slam champions while Keegan and Jamal will be experiencing Southern Fried for the first time.
INWEEKLY: I know a lot of them, especially Jamal. In fact, I did an interview with him about a year ago. This sounds like a great team. Now, besides the people you’re bringing to Southern Fried, who are some your personal favorite poets?
SAMSON: I have a too many poets to name, to be honest. I think I’m in love with the art form more than any one particular poet. I just love how so many of these guys can write and articulate their own version of truth and can convey emotions into words that always leaves me so in awe.
INWEEKLY: There’s a lot of misconceptions in the art worlds about what a slam poet is and what slam poetry is. Now’s your chance to clarify. What is the greatest misconception people have about slam poetry?
SAMSON: For years, people see a “representation” of slam poetry as this coffee house, finger-snapping environment where poets get up and speak in a certain rhythm that is boring to watch. This couldn’t be further from the truth. When I host Word Live! (at Live! Juice Bar every fourth Thursday of the month), there is a vibrant energy in that room where people are laughing and cheering and hearing these poets weave words that hit you in the gut. It’s an amazing thing to spectate. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, you should. We always say, “Everybody loves spoken word poetry. They just don’t know it yet.”
INWEEKLY: I like that. I say that about poetry in general all the time. You just have to find the right ones. Sometimes you’re lucky and you find the right poet at the right time but usually have to try it a few times. This sounds like a great opportunity for those unfamiliar. Now, back to writing. For you, what are the things that make you want to write? For those who haven’t heard your words, what do you usually write about?
SAMSON: Someone once gave me a compliment that I’ve “mastered conveying the essence of human emotion.” I feel like that would be a good description without sounding too egotistical. I just know that I’ve experienced a lot of joys and pains in my life, and I’m blessed that I have the gift of telling those stories in a way where many of us can relate. So to answer the question, I write about what I can excavate from my own life. I believe everyone has a story—the challenge is finding it, but you can find it if you just look hard enough.
INWEEKLY: I know this is one of those standard interview questions, so forgive a little cheese, but Asia, what inspires you?
SAMSON: Goodness inspires me. I think when people are at their kindest, at their most empathetic, at their most generous … I get inspired. It reminds me we can really make life a wonderful experience if we just start listening and trying to understand one another.
INWEEKLY: Nice. Now, let’s turn to the other side. What do you hate?
SAMSON: I hate apathy. I hate the thought that one person thinks they’re more superior than another. I hate the unwillingness to understand. I hate ignorance and close-mindedness. I hate that there’s too many voices talking and not enough ears listening.
INWEEKLY: I hear ya. Literally, but figuratively too. Last question for you, at least for now. What is the one question about your poetry that you wish someone would ask but they never do?
SAMSON: Surprisingly, just when I think someone will never ask me something in particular, eventually, someone does. In fact, sometimes people ask me things I never even thought one would ask. But I like that. It’s a testament that I’m willing to be transparent and open to questions. I think to be a successful writer and poet, one must be willing to be transparent and open to questions. Because in that, there is discovery.
Burn Beautiful Slam Team Send-off Show
When: 6:30 p.m., Thursday May 23rd
Where: Live! Juice Bar, 532 W. Garden St.