Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

The Internet Poetry Books Pop Culture

These Instagram poets aren’t afraid to bring us the authenticity we need

Poetry often bridges a connection between one’s soul and words. It is a form of art, one which women of color are taking by storm on social media with their unique voices. These women are not only spreading universal art but are breaking barriers and spreading awareness with poetry as their weapon of choice.

I consider myself a poet as well and so I resonate with the words of other poets. They inspire me to not only resist injustice but appreciate the flaws and blessings I have within myself. Reading poetry allows me to have a deep connection with the author that goes beyond physicality. I read poetry to reflect on and empower myself.

In honor of the women of color on Instagram who are changing society by words and poetry, here are my top five poets I go to for art.

1. Pavana Reddy

Los Angeles-based writer and author of the book Rangoli, Pavana Reddy first used poetry as therapy to heal the wounds caused by the loss of her sister. Reddy initially began sharing her work anonymously under the handle @mazadohta – consisting of the words ‘Maza’ and ‘Dohta’ from her favorite book, “IQ84” by Haruki Murakami, from Reddy’s understanding the words together refer the relationship between the body and mind. After gaining confidence in her work, Reddy began associating her name with her account and work but decided not to change the Instagram handle as it was a part of her journey. Reddy has since inspired many with her resilient poetry.

“Poetry and writing, in general, have saved my life more than once. When you suffer a loss that sends you into this spiral of depression, it’s easy to cling onto anything that helps you feel better, even if it’s only temporary. When I first reached for writing as a way to deal with this hurricane of emotions I was holding inside, I was forced to face all of my fears head-on. And as long as I wanted to grow as a writer, I had to learn to keep being honest with myself,” she told Bastet Noir in an interview. 

2. Nikita Gill

Nikita Gill is a British-Indian writer and artist living in England. She first began sharing her work on Tumblr and then went on to gain a huge following on her social media handles including Instagram. Having lived in New Delhi at a young age, Gill’s poetry reflects on that experience and depicts her anger and vulnerability.

“There was so much anger inside me. Men would strip me bare with their eyes and comment on my body. My parents wouldn’t let me out past a certain point at night. You literally become caged, because your safety is constantly at risk. And you’re not allowed to be yourself,” Gill told the BookSeller.

Her core readership consists of women in their late teen onwards and Gill writes to these readers as if addressing her younger self.

3. Nayyirah Waheed

Not much is known about author Nayyirah Waheed. She has published two books of poetry, Salt and Nejma, and is active on social media, but she shares her poetry exclusively and nothing personal. The African American poet began writing at a young age which according to some outlets was as young as 11 years old.

Waheed’s work focuses on immigration, self-love and other social issues such as race and identity. She is most well known for her style of writing which makes no use of capitalization or punctuation to reflect her African ancestral tongue.

4. Jasmin Kaur

“Part of the reason why I write and why I choose to render myself very visible through my work, as a Punjabi-Sikh woman, is because I didn’t I grow up seeing women or girls like me ever in a public space,” Jasmine Kaur said.

Kaur is a writer, illustrator, spoken word artist and elementary school teacher. Her writing explores themes of feminism, womanhood, social justice, political oppression, and self-love. In an interview with Women’s March Global, Kaur said a lot of her work is influenced by the oppressive experiences that her people have suffered in her home of Punjab. Her writing reflects the experiences of oppression she has faced growing up as a girl in society.

5. Harpreet M. Dayal

After having lived her whole life in the UK, Harpreet Dayal moved to Canada with her husband. This inspired her to write Svādhyāya (Sanskrit for ‘study of the self’), a collection of poems and musings. She calls it her journey to a better understanding of oneself. Dayal is also the author of another book, a short story for children, and is a spoken word performer.

“I personally think the most important thing is to evoke emotion and really get the listeners to imagine and feel the words. I am learning to use language that will really evoke emotions in the listener,” she told Thirty West Publishing House.

While this list does not do justice to all the creatives out there, it consists of women who inspire me on a daily basis. I hope you find the same peace, love and inspiration you may need in reading these women’s art as I do. I challenge you to read more, learn more, and write more. Poetry is an art of healing for the soul and I invite you to indulge in it.

Race Inequality

Four lessons for this Black History Month, brought to you by Raquel Brown.

For stories of Black history and excellence, check out our Black History Month series. Celebrate with us by sharing your favorite articles on social media and uplifting the stories, life, and work of Black people.

Black History Month is not just about touting the same handful of names that we memorize as children: Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth. This year, we want to connect readers with everyday women who go largely unappreciated for what they bring to us. Throughout the month of February, we will highlight some fascinating Black women around the United States and introduce you to their work. These women are activists, writers, coaches, performers, and community leaders.

We will always honor the generations of powerful Black women who came before us since they have paved the way for our activism, writing, and art. Our goal now is to highlight the incredible powerhouses who are doing work in the present – and introduce you to their work. So, to kick off our initiative strong, we’re starting the week by learning four lessons from the prolific poet Raquel “Ra” Brown.

Ra Brown has been writing and performing poetry since teenagehood, and uses it to “express ideas and experiences in love, life situations, lust, tragedy, and traveling.” It’s clear from her writing that Brown has a lot of wisdom to go around – and we want to share some of that with you all.  Below are four of the most moving lessons I draw from her work.

Lesson one: speak up for what you want and deserve – and demand it yourself. 

In 2014, Brown’s unconstructed memoir “The Alpha Woman’s Bible” was published by KaNikki Jakarta, a black woman owner of Great Publishing Company. In it, Brown talks about the audacity of a Black woman to be sexual without shame or expectations. She once told a man, “I know that we’re going to have sex so we can take that off the table right now. No need to send in our ‘representatives’ to do the song and dance in an attempt to get the other in bed. No pretention.”

To say she intimidates men is an understatement, but the important lesson here is this: nobody but you can be your spokesperson. We have to stop putting on a show based on what we think others desire, and instead, demand the salary, treatment, and love that we want. Our pleasure matters, too.

Lesson two: you are capable of healing 

Raquel’s mother has been a huge influence in her life. Like most—if not all—women of color she had to work twice as hard as many of her white peers. And even then, there was no guarantee she would get fairly compensated. At a very young age, she was hip to this reality and her mother was well aware of how the world might treat a girl as brilliant as her daughter. As the product of “a gutter dude and a Catholic school girl”, Raquel started her love of poetry shortly after reading a book her mother gave her. Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” changed the trajectory of her life. The part that most resonated with a young Brown was the connection between behaviors and mental ailments. One lesson she has learned over the years between the heartache of losing her niece and the anger from betrayals is that the words handed to her by her mother are still true. If we are willing to put in the work, we can be healed.

Lesson three: make sure they never forget you 

I can honestly say I’ve never been attracted to anyone more than I was attracted to this woman when I met her. I am a huge James Baldwin fan and by default, a fan of anyone who is a genuine fan of Baldwin. This is not even a sexual attraction. It’s a spiritual situation— that feeling of abrupt and satisfying enlightenment is the best way I know how to describe Ms. Raquel “Ra” Brown.

In her own words, Brown is “a thought form of what is…a hungry man’s delicious…an internal war’s bloodshed. She was vegan before it started trending and it shows in her glow. Regardless of whether the stage is a little hole in the wall or the Kennedy Center, her goal is to make sure people remember her presence. And that lesson can be applied to every woman reading this.

Lesson four: Appreci-LOVE yourself

From working with incarcerated Black youth at Words, Beats, Life to running a vegetarian grocery cooperative in Maryland to touring around the country, Brown is a powerhouse. It is that same energy that propelled her to work with dozens of at-risk youth in the DC area. Raquel not only mentored Black girls who experienced trauma, but she also created a safe space for them to connect with artists during her Wednesday night open mic at Sweet & Natural—a Black woman-owned vegan restaurant. Every week women who had been abused would gather under the umbrella of artistry and be given a microphone along with the opportunity to be vulnerable in a world where Black women were otherwise not allowed to be. One year during one of her shows, a regular at the weekly open mic was harassed by her ex and she jumped in between them to stop him. After some of the men in the crowd stepped up to help the young woman, Raquel even found her a place to stay for the night.

Without these experiences, Raquel knows that she would have never performed at places like The Smithsonian, The Kennedy Center, The Lisner Auditorium, or the Black Hollywood Film Festival. She encourages more women to follow the example of great leaders like Shirley Chisolm, Mary McCleod Bethune, Queen Nzinga, and Dorothy Height. And if all else fails, Brown says: “you better give them a good show!”

Gender Inequality Interviews

Speaking out against sexual violence through poetry: An interview with Stephanie Lane Sutton

Stephanie Lane Sutton is a Midwestern poet, performer, and interactive media artist. Currently, she is a Michener Fellow in the University of Miami’s Creative Writing MFA Program. Previously, she lived in Chicago, where she was a teaching artist with After School Matters and a co-facilitator for Surviving the Mic, a workshop and reading series for survivors of trauma. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Day One,  Tinderbox Poetry, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Dream Pop Press, and littletell journal. She is a co-founding editor of |tap| lit mag. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and her personal blog. 


after Jan Beatty

this is for the hecklers/my stage time soiled with their catcall of approval/what did I expect being friends with male poets/this is what happens when you write good poems/for the man who asked my permission to stay silent/because it made him feel safer/because it wasn’t his rape in the poem he’d written/& for the man who took the poem about rapists personally/it’s ironic you feel victimized/it’s ironic you said it’s my fault/because there are men who show up/& call that organizing/& feel fine taking credit for work done by a woman/this poem is a gravesite/get yourself a shovel/here’s one for my former mentor/the one who fucks his students as soon as they’re 18/he said they’re old enough now/did you count down the minutes until midnight on their birthdays/& for the one who didn’t wait, with or without her permission/with or without sincerely trying to teach her anything in the first place/& for everyone who said I should be grateful for male approval/& the women who are grateful for male approval/as our tongues got minced or led to the slaughter/as we were shot by the man on the other side of the door we knocked on when we had nowhere else to turn for help/& our unconscious bodies were raped into a party trick/& laughter slammed us against the lockers every day/the only ones who showed up were the cameras/& all the histories we’d written got voted out of the cannon by a panel of men/yet our arms stay in the booth selling merchandise/yet our legs stay in case we’re asked to stand & be recognized/since whether or not you’re listening you won’t have to live it/this poem is your tombstone/get yourself a chisel.

The Tempest: When did you realize that poetry was your passion; was there a moment when you just knew that this was a part of you calling?

Um, no (laughs). I don’t think there was one moment when I knew I was going to be a poet, it kind of just happened for me and I think that a lot of people who are poets have this experience where they’re interested in other things and then they start writing poems maybe in a high school English class or in college or just because they see someone else doing it and want to give it a try. I started writing poetry in my diary when I was in middle school, really emo, angsty stuff, and I just kind of kept doing it and then I ended up going to college and doing it more. I think that poetry has always been really challenging for me. There are always ways to challenge yourself in a poem, there’s always a more succinct way of describing something, and that’s the thing that kept me writing. And now I just am a poet, yeah it just kind of happened over time. I just like to think I couldn’t have done anything else, maybe I was just meant to be a poet.

The Tempest: Can you please give us some background on your poem, Slammer?

Yeah, so Slammer is a hard poem for me to talk about, it’s not a happy poem but a lot of the poems I write are not happy. But when I was in my early twenties, I was sexually assaulted and I ended up turning to slam poetry to cope with that. I was living in Chicago and slam poetry started out there and it was just such a huge, vibrant community so I found my way to the slam in the youth community and I kind of grew up in it. Then, as I got older I became one of the adults on the scene, I started teaching younger poets and talking to other women on the scene and I started to learn how rampant sexual assault is in the poetry slam community and not only that I just started to have my own experiences with misogyny with things that made me feel traumatized in a way that reminded me of my own assault. So I ended up writing this poem, as I was inspired by Shooter by Jan Beatty. What I love about that poem is that she takes the violence that she’s experienced at the hands of men and makes it into a metaphor. I wanted to write in a way like that so I wrote about all the things I had experienced in the slam community and that other people had told me they experienced that had made them feel so powerless. I wanted to sort of call that out and metaphorically dig it a grave and bury it. So that’s where the poem came from. It was a poem that I had to write; I don’t think that I could have kept being a poet if I didn’t put that experience into words. 

The Tempest: What has been the most challenging part of being a poet?

A part of me feels like everything is hard about poetry. and at the same time, everything about poetry brings me so much joy. There’s no money in poetry really. You can find a way to teach poetry or you might get paid for a reading, maybe there are other ways to make money that I just don’t know about. You really have to be in it because you love it. For me personally, the most challenging thing has been finding my authentic voice, because when you do poetry slam competitions, there’s a lot of pressure to write poems in a certain way which will get you to win. I’m in a creative writing program MFA right now and in academia, there’s a different kind of pressure that I’m seeing now. Because sometimes my professors want me to change a poem completely and write it in a different way and I think that’s just something you might experience in whatever context your writing is that people want you to be more like them or what they think you should be and you have to learn to take feedback but then to also learn how to push back against that.

I feel it’s especially hard if you’re a woman or you’re queer or person of color because there are always these boxes that you’re being put into anyway. I feel like I am constantly pushing back in all these different ways but in the end, the purpose of that is to find who I am in a way, how I express myself and how I think. It’s difficult but it’s very rewarding and I guess that’s the challenge that drives me forward. There’s no formula for writing a poem, there are no rules. I think that’s part of the thing that makes poetry so valuable. It’s what makes writing poems hard but also what makes poetry matter so much.

The Tempest: Can you give some words of advice to anyone who is thinking about trying poetry, and yet has some fears holding them back?

I don’t think being afraid is a bad thing; I feel afraid all the time that at the same time if you are afraid of something you can also confront it, and that feels very brave. Feeling brave is the best feeling and that’s kind of what you have to strive for. I think if you’re afraid to write poetry, start there. Write a poem on why you’re afraid, or write 10 poems on why you’re afraid! I really believe that writing is transformative and if you put it down in words and confront it, you will feel brave and will transform. You’re going to find inner strength and that’s a magical thing that poems can do. Embrace the fear and move forward.

The Tempest: What do you hope readers take away after reading your work?

I think the most important thing for me right now is for other people who are sexual assault survivors or been through abuse to know they are not alone. I think Slammer might have been the first poem I wrote that was so direct about rape-culture, and right now that’s a lot of what I write and just stories about our culture and things that have happened throughout history and I just want people to not feel alone. And I think that if you’re not a sexual assault survivor or someone living with trauma, and you read my poetry, I want to offer a different perspective on what a poem can be and what a poem can do, whether that’s in form or content. I want anyone who reads my poem to feel that poetry isn’t dead and that it still matters and can make a difference! And if I ever write something which inspires others to write poetry like that that would be my marker for success.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Food & Drinks Life

Dear Nutella, it’s not you – it’s me

Dear Nutella,

I’m writing this letter to you because as you well know, I’m a bit old-fashioned and I thought to break up with you via email was a bit cold.

Yes, you read right. Breaking up. Let’s face the truth: our relationship has never been good. It’s never really worked, and after so many years together, I think it’s the right time for both of us to take separate ways. It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m the aberration who hates sweet things, and you just happen to be one of them.

Maybe it sounds cliché, but it’s not your fault. You’re great, and everyone loves you.

Since the day we met, many years ago at my friend’s house for a merenda, everyone was raving about you. How sweet and charming you were, how you could make any situation better, how you were the perfect partner for every situation. I reached out to you then as my friends encouraged me to make a move, but even then you didn’t manage to conquer my heart.

Years passed by, and we tried so hard to make things work. We tried to have breakfast and merenda together, as you suggested, but there was a part of me that always preferred spending time with someone else.

So, again, it’s not you, it’s me. I’m the aberration who hates sweet things, and you just happen to be one of them. And, according to most of the world, one the best sweet things on earth. That’s why I know you’ll find someone that will make you happier.

This letter doesn’t mean we have to hate each other now. I’ll always respect and support you. It’s just that our relationship needs to change. Even my family adores you, you know, and they don’t understand I’m doing this. They’ve begged me to try to make things work out, and I did for years, but Nutella – you must know by now that it wasn’t meant to be for the two of us. At least now we are completely honest with each other.

You will never truly lose me.

I’ll never forget you and how you’ve helped me when I was in need. You were the perfect ingredient for my brother’s favorite cake for so many years. Your crepes recipe were always the perfect way to sweeten my father before asking him for something. You were incredible with strawberries and whipping cream, with pancakes, on top of ice cream – I could go on for ages.

I hope I haven’t hurt you with my words. I still need you in my life. I still need your help, your magical touch with people, and I have to admit I love collecting your special edition jars. You will never truly lose me.

Wish you all the best, dear Nutella. I know you’ll go on and change someone else’s life.

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