"My art is like going to church for me," she says. "I'm none of my words -- they just come through me."
Poetresse, one part poet, one part Theresa Robbinson, is a 22-year-old spoken-word artist whose messages ignite emotion: They admonish, puncture, nurture and heal. "I want to be a vessel, someone who gives you something to think about," she explains. And her debut CD, Progression, does just that.
As a slam artist, her punchlines penetrate. In "The War Song," she wants Bush to reconsider where the battleground truly lies: "Are you ready for the heavens to encompass the Earth?" she asks.
Similarly, "Belly of the Beast" unrepentantly hits the consciousness, knocking down walls of silence and apathy. Describing a pungent side she smells of Cincinnati that reeks of "wet dogs, dirty hogs and dirty draws," her words begin to echo, ebb like a crashing tide, then calm. "It ain't clean here," she finishes sedately.
Coursing through levels of understanding, she becomes resolute in "I'm Ready to Go." "I'm ready to go," she says, "is like that Baptist church-preacher experience when he tells you, 'Look to your neighbor and tell them, I'm ready to go.' If we were to blow up tomorrow, I'd be ready. You never know."
Vocally, standouts like "Pain," "Higher Ground" (which is slated as the CD's breakout single) and "Finish Line" are why Progression delivers more than a typical spoken word disc. Following along the vein of artists like Mystic, India.Arie and Floetry, who color poetry with soulful vocals and tranquil arrangements, Progression experiments with ways to keep you listening.
Heavily syncopated drum patterns decorate "Higher Ground," produced by Chuck Wood, who's also worked with local Capitol Records signees Czar-Nok. "He just plays with sounds, zoning out pushing buttons," she describes. "He makes beats that are compatible to my voice."
Organs on the spiritual "Finish Line" hum confirmation as she sings: "I'm headed for the finish line/Can't stop for no traffic/I'm almost there/I ain't got time/I'll holla back when I'm passing."
Apparently, before she became Poetresse, it was written. During study hall, a School for Creative and Performing Arts teacher saw her journals and invited her to an open mic event. Not knowing she'd entered a poetry slam competition, she says the poem she did was very basic.
"I was still getting into learning about my Black heritage, and it just started shouting 'It's even black comin' out my pen, it's black, it's black all over again,' " she recites, stifling giggles.
Poetresse made it to the next round against Kofi and Obalaye, two seasoned poets from 144K who eventually mentored her. While attending UC, she won four consecutive Lyricist Lounge competitions and became the brainchild behind Liberation, a momentary open-mic night at Sitwell's. After graduating with a B.A. in Communications, she says Progression is an allegorical look at where she now sees herself, graduating to another level of understanding along life's winding road of development.
She also says her boyfriend, producer Skee Tha Sergon, helped her turn the page. Already recording his own material, he pushed her to compile her performance poetry into a CD and produced many of its tracks.
"He's always believed in me, sometimes more than I believed in myself, honestly," she says. "He taught me the process of putting it all together, which was tedious, but just to know I have a completion of something is very therapeutic."
As Progression ends a four-year writing phase, looking ahead she says she wants to concentrate next on digging deeper.
"It's kind of how the '60s poets did when they moved from the whole civil rights movement in the U.S. to pan-Africanism on a global level," she says. "I want to talk about bigger problems, not just the internal things." ©