Spoken word poet and teaching artist Alexandra Stewart, who recently won the 2020 First Citizens National Poetry Slam for a historic second time in a row, said her prize-winning poem was an appeal for self-reflection among those who hear it.
In the poem, Stewart alternates between portraying herself and Amazon’s well-known virtual assistant Alexa, asking again and again, what is the difference between a racist and a robot? Using movement, facial expression, and voice, Stewart weaves current events worldwide into a stunning poem which ponders the harm that racism causes.
Speaking to Newsday via email, Stewart said, “My poem is a contemplation upon the recent occurrences of racial injustice, both home and abroad. It is not a political statement. It’s a call for a long look in the mirror; an appeal for self-reflection. It’s a cry for empathy; a call for love. My hope is that those who listen will heed the call.”Stewart said winning the competition two years in a row “feels tingly, like every nerve in my body is dancing. Last year, a few weeks after winning, my mum beamed at me and said, “So you’re gonna do it again next year?”
My only answer was scandalous laughter, you know, the kind that makes strangers turn around. Winning the poetry slam TWICE was unheard of and doing it consecutively seemed like a humongous challenge. And yet here we are. I am humbled by my mother’s belief, support and prayer.” Her winning poem in 2019 explored the reality of starving artists who were often asked to perform for free. This was the fourth year Stewart has been a finalist in the poetry slam. In 2020, due to the covid19 restrictions, contestants performed in front of only the four judges, in stark contrast to the ever-increasing crowds which filled the Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) Auditorium at NAPA each year.
Stewart said she anticipated performing without the energy of the audience would be challenging.“In a valley of silence, it is easy to second guess yourself. I visualised my people filling the auditorium; their faces and reactions. I remembered my “why” and pushed every ounce of myself into the microphone. It’s also a matter of perspective: if one person could change everything, then a panel of four judges is a big audience.”The 22-year-old former student of St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph, said she’d always had the desire to write.“Long before my love for writing blossomed, there was a gnawing need to write - a compulsion born of a love for reading nurtured by my family. I wanted to read stories that didn’t exist and realised the only way to do so was to write them myself.
Then stories became poems, and spoken word became my limited edition printed collection OFFSTAGE - a chapbook I released at Talk Tent 2020. It contains many of my past Slam poems including the 2019 Finals Poem. There are still a few copies left, which people can contact me about if they’re curious about what spoken word poetry looks like when it’s lying down and soundless.”Stewart said she enjoys creativity in all its forms. “Creating is such a wonderful aspect of human design and I enjoy exploring the different ways we can turn the imagined into a reality. Sometimes I’m up till 3 am writing songs no one gets to hear. I love building puzzles, painting, travelling and most of all forgetting myself at the beach. I also enjoy studying the Bible and sharing what I learn with others.”Stewart said her future plans are to keep forging the connections she’s built having performed locally, regionally and internationally.
“I would like to expand my role as a teaching artist. I am exhilarated by the prospect of writing about new topics and look forward to further developing the alliance between spoken word poetry and marketing. This will involve reinvesting in my craft. I remain awed by spoken word poetry’s ability to build bridges.”To learn more about Stewart and find out about OFFSTAGE, find her on Instagram @talktothefro, Facebook @ Alexandra C Stewart or visit her website at alexandracstewart.com.