Interview with poet and spoken word artist Yakari Gabriel
By Laura Paloma
“That’s what we do in the Caribbean,” Yakari Gabriel says stirring sugar into her cappuccino. She has just paid for my coffee and I feel embarrassed because that was not the plan. She leads me through the bustling corridors of the Hogeschool Utrecht, the building next to “the Lego house” as she described it in her Facebook message, to a table where she is studying with her friends.
Yakari Gabriel is a 23-year-old poet, spoken word artist, media student and feminist. Having grown up in Aruba but from the Dominican Republic, she moved to the Netherlands to study Media and Communication at the HU. As we sit down, she asks if I have prepared questions for the interview, seeming uncomfortable with being the interviewee not the interviewer – she writes a weekly column for a paper in Aruba. With a golden star hanging around her neck, her red lipstick on point and a raw sincerity in her voice, she shares with me why she writes poetry, what it is like to be an Afro-Latina and how she wishes to empower other women with her writing. Her poems can be found online, almost all of them, except for the “horrible” poems from 2007 that are in boxes back home which she hopes no one ever opens.
When did you start writing?
I started writing when I must have been about ten. I was often alone growing up because my mother was always working. I was just always in my thoughts. I was raised in a household where children weren’t given a voice. As a child you’re told to shut up because you’re just a child and you don’t know. So, I thought okay if no one is going to listen then I’m just going to write.
What inspires your writing?
It’s going to sound really sad but struggle is really what inspires me the most. I feel like there are a lot of people going through so many things, especially minorities, who are so stigmatized. Through my writing I can push back stereotypes and say ‘you don’t know the whole story’. I am very inspired to tell the stories of people who have not been given the chance.
How would you describe your writing process?
My mind is constantly in writing mode. I’m inspired by raw moments – that’s what sparks the fire. I think the difference between a writer and someone who just likes writing is that people who like writing do it whenever they feel like it but writers, they don’t ever stop.
Would you consider your poems political?
Me being vocal about everything that I feel is political. Me existing is already political. I am a Latina but I am also Afro-Latina. So, I am a descendent from slaves. We are women that are erased, nobody tells you about Afro-Latinas in history books, you don’t see us on TV, and people think all Latinas look like Sofia Vergara. It is a very political act – me daring to claim back my heritage. I am saying ‘you don’t believe that women like me exist but we do. You know what. You cannot shut me up. I am here’.
How did you start doing spoken word?
The change happened when I came across Alysia Harris’ work. She’s my idol. I always did soft poems, read them in a normal voice. When I stumbled across her, I thought, ‘poetry doesn’t have to be boring.’ She also inspired me to dig deeper and be more honest with what I feel.
With spoken word, you can combine being an entertainer with being a poet. It’s like you give the poem another identity when you perform it. Delivery makes the poem yours. When it’s read, it could be anyone else’s.
What role has social media played in your writing?
Social media has allowed me to connect with other poets and also to empower women – who see my work and think ‘well, you’re brave and if you’re doing it then I can do it too’.
Any tips for aspiring writers?
Just start. Just write. You don’t have to be good, you just have to go for it. There might something that you have written down that someone needs to read, you may be the only one able to vocalize it in a way they understand. Just listen to your own voice, own your story because that’s what sets you in your own lane.
At the end of the interview, I tell her I am about to graduate and she says: “You go girl!”, looking proud. Well, right back at you Yakari because that book you have always wanted to publish is long overdue and girl, with that strength and honesty, you’re the next Maya Angelou because not only do you rise, you soar.