Madison’s Poet Laureate Fabu offers poetry for children
Poetic Reveries
       “I can’t tell you how many times I chose the poems that were going in or say ‘Oh, I think this needs to be different,’” Fabu said during
an interview with The Hues. “It was an intensely personal experience that reflects me. No doubt it is because of the photos in there that
that revved up the intimacy level or the fact that this was me. Kate was very patient and really good and supportive about just letting me
switch up things. Even at the very end when nine-tenths of the work was finished, I was still contemplating ‘Is that the best title, Poems,
Dreams and Roses?’ Can you imagine? It was the nth hour and I was thinking ‘Do I really like that title?’”
      “And it was as minute as having seven roses behind the cover artwork, not five, not two,” Fabu continued. “I was just struggling
with the concept because it represents me. And I wanted it to be the best that it could be. It was a great learning experience as an artist. I
even have to tell you that I made decisions around the color of the skin on the cover and the color of the hair, but more so the hair style.
A photograph inside is the original one that was going to go on the cover. It is a very sweet photograph of me. When I look at
photographs, I instantaneously go back to the moment the photo was taken. That was a younger photo of me and I like that photo of
myself. But it has straightened hair. And I wanted to promote braids because that is who I am now. So I turned down a cover because I
needed braids. I needed braids on the cover. And it was again to affirm African American hair in its natural state. So you would be
surprised by the journey I went through internally for the color of the skin, to represent myself as brown as I am. There is also something
interesting about the cover if you haven’t noticed it. It doesn’t show the white of the pupils. That was deliberate. It was the artist herself
who did the eyes that are shining. That resonated well with me as an artistic interpretation because my eyes, in my own estimation and
understanding, have been the passageway into me. Everything I feel is in my eyes, not in my face, but in my eyes. So for her to render
them as different, that worked with me a lot.”
      It was also an arduous process because the book was for children and Fabu wanted to make sure the book was a positive
experience for the children — even though it deals with sad subject matter at times — and not something that made them lose hope.
“When you are writing poetry for adults, you just let the poem speak for itself,” Fabu said. “But when you are writing poetry for children,
you want to encourage them and inspire them and give them hope. It’s not like I only chose poems that were happy because ‘Elementary
School Blues’ is not a happy poem. ‘Kiss Me Daddy’ once before you die is not a happy poem. But it is still written with an undertone of
hope because children are our future. And we want to give them hope and we want to encourage them and we want to undergird them
and strengthen them. We don’t want them to get overwhelmed with life’s problems.”
      And in Fabu’s view, poetry and writing are wonderful ways of letting children and adults get an understanding of the world around
them and what is going on in the world inside. “I really like the poem ‘Young Poets Write’ because when I go around to schools, lots of
children identify with it, even now, as poets,” Fabu reflected. “That is so remarkable to me. It makes me happy. I wish I could have
known in elementary school that this is what I really wanted to do and who I really was and I would have been just so far ahead in
accomplishing that. And so, it just delights me when I go to schools and say ‘Will people raise their hands who are poets?’ And I have
hands go up and they are quite serious and intentional. ‘Yeah, I’m a poet.’ Or they will say ‘I’m a writer.’ That makes me very happy.”
“‘Young Poets Write’ is about encouraging children to write their way out of problems, out of situations,” Fabu continued. “I am serious
when I say writing is a healing tool, that when children can write about what is happening and put it on a piece of paper, it takes those
feelings from inside to out. It’s a way of distancing yourself and in a way, making it not hurt so much. It’s like taking all of the heartache
and the turmoil and placing it in a safe place on a page. And you get to know this is why I feel upset all the time. This is what is hurting
me. Or this is what is giving me problems. So I said ‘Young poet, words break open your chest and free you to do and undo.’ I believe
that. First of all, children love that line when I read it to them. I say ‘Do I really mean that your chest is going to break open?’ ‘No,’ they cry.
So they get that it isn’t literal. They get that it is figurative language, that it is poetic. They also understand the concept that words can free
you and free your emotions. They can help you do things and also help you undo other things, undo some of the mistakes. ‘Young poets
write it all, the black on the white, but tints and shades of rainbow colors to heal your insides.’ So I like them to write their way out of
problems. And I really love poetry to be used as a tool their whole life long to help them. That means even for us as adults, when we are
being troubled, when there is sickness or illness or a situation you are dealing with and you just can’t find relief for it or you are most
unhappy or conversely if you are most joyous, write.”
      In Fabu’s view, writing can heal a lot of what ails people. And there are so many difficulties that many children face that can burden
them for their whole lives unless they somehow deal with it and move beyond it. Fabu recalled the impact Poems had at a Madison
school. “One of the teachers took the book and was reading through it and said it was her reality as a child,” Fabu said. “She was very,
very poor and she suffered a lot. She used poetry a little bit to help her with her suffering. Just reading the poems brought up her
childhood, but more importantly brought up the idea that poetry can be useful. One of the reasons she went into teaching was because of
her own trauma as a child around these very same issues. I would like to say that in general, children are not doing as well as maybe 10-
20 years ago just in terms of the respect level of adults, just in terms that they have a lot more stress, they have a lot more problems and
situations that they are dealing with that I know in previous years they did not have to deal with. The poverty is increasing. The single
parent head of household is a phenomenon that is increasing. Since writing and poetry is my gift to the world, I hope the children will
realize through reading the book that they are not alone. There are people who have suffered the same that they have suffered. But there
also is a way out. One is that you do grow up. But even when you do grow up, there are issues that you are just going to have to have
healing around. You’re just going to have to have it.”
      While some may have the opinion that poetry is something that exists in isolation to everything else, for Fabu, her poetry can only be
completed by the people who read or hear it. “As a poet, I do firmly believe it is not a completed process until the book is read,” Fabu
said. “Some poets don’t think that. Emily Dickinson’s work was not read outside of her family and a few close friends until she died. That’
s when she became famous. So there are some poets who feel that in writing the book, that’s enough. But I feel that it is a circular
process. For example, when I read to children at Midvale and got there feedback, that is part of the poetic process, to get audience
reaction, for people to say ‘This is what I like. I don’t understand that. Can you tell me when you wrote that? Why did you write that” What
were the circumstances.’ All of that is part of the poetic process because it refreshes and affirms me as a writer. ‘Yes this is meaningful
in the world. This counts for something. This is worth something.’”
      Fabu will also be publishing a new adult book of poetry, “In Our Own Times,” which will be published by the University of Nairobi
Press. It’s about three generations of African American women and, according to Fabu, deals with subjects like lynching and marching
with Dr. Martin Luther King. It deals with subject material both serious and sad.
      There are several ways that people can help Fabu complete her poetry. On Saturday, March 13, Fabu will be reading from Poems,
Dreams and Roses at Literacy 24/7 at Edgewood College, 855 Woodrow Street. She will also have books for sale. And Poems is also on
sale at Avols Bookstore, 315 West Gorham Street, Borders Bookstore, 3750 University Avenue, and Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative,
426 West Gilman Street.
      In one of her poems, Southern Love, Fabu equates love to a good pot of greens that are savored and simmered. Poems, Dreams, and
Roses is a heaping serving of Southern Love for the children of Madison. Enjoy this home cooking.

      For more information about Poems, call Fabu at 235-4745 or e-mail her at
fabu@artistfabu.com.
By Jonathan Gramling

     For the past two years, Fabu has been Madison’s poet laureate. It hasn’t been a title for Fabu; it
has been a license to spread her love of poetry and communicating one’s inner thoughts to the people
— and children — of Madison and beyond. She has established relationships with several
publications in town — including The Capital City Hues — to publish children’s poetry. She has
established her own website, www.artistfabu.com that has, among other things, snippets of poems
that Fabu reads to visitors to the site. And she has been making appearances here, there and
everywhere promoting her work and the work of others, joyfully reading before groups both large and
small.
     During the past month, Fabu published her latest project “Poems, Dreams and Roses” through the
fiscal support of the Madison Arts Commission and the MG&E Foundation. Poems is a book of poetry
for children and the young at heart. It is an easy-reading book filled with the graphic designs of Kate
Gillman and photos of Fabu at different stages of her life. In some ways, Poems is autobiographical
with the subject matter either being directly related to Fabu’s life or about other’s lives that struck a
chord in Fabu’s life.
     Putting Poems together was an arduous task for Fabu. It isn’t something thast she haphazardly put
together to make a nickel. It is her effort to help children make it through the initial passages of their
lives and to make sense of it all. Nothing, but nothing is coincidental in the book because Fabu poured
over — and suffered through — every detail and poem in the book.
      Take the front cover for instance that has a drawing of a beautiful young African American woman
and yellow roses on it. It wasn’t easy coming up with the final design.
Fabu was installed as Madison’s
Poet Laureate in January 2008