The Dance Interview Series with Blythe Baird

Chances are that if you love poetry, you’ve heard of Blythe Baird. Blythe is a superstar of slam poetry whose poem “Girl Code 101” has amassed over 500,000 views on YouTube and with lines brimming with fire like “male kindness is so alien to us we assume it is seduction every time” and “this is not female privilege / this is survival of the prettiest”, it’s no surprise that her performance went viral. Her first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To, was released this fall through Where Are You Press and she represented Chicago in 2014 at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland as the youngest ever competitor. This girl is a force and when she steps up to a microphone, you just know you’re about to witness some poetry magic mixed with feminism and dazzling descriptions of growing up as a girl in a patriarchal society. Oh, and did I mention she’s only 19?

Fortesa Latifi : If you could begin this interview, what question would you ask yourself?

Blythe Baird : I would ask myself about how I feel about poetry slam as a game, just because I love to geek out over strategy and my philosophies on why slam matters in a competitive format.

Fortesa Latifi : When did you first start writing poetry? On that same train of thought, when did you start sharing it online?

Blythe Baird : I started writing poetry at Slam Camp when I was 16, almost 17, the summer going into my senior year of high school. I started sharing it on Tumblr later that year in April 2014 for the 30/30 national poetry month challenge.

Fortesa Latifi : You’re 19 and you’ve already accomplished some incredible things in the poetry world- in 2014, you represented Chicago at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland and were the youngest ever competitor,  your poem “Girl Code 101” has gone viral on the internet and spread across the globe, and your first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To, is being published this month through Where Are You Press. Which of these accomplishments are you most proud of?

Blythe Baird : Thank you! I appreciate the recognition. All of those things were such powerful and meaningful experiences for me. Being the youngest competitor felt like a dream. When “Girl Code 101” went viral, it was immensely validating as a young artist to see something I scribbled in the back of my notebook during high school study hall utilized in academic settings or speech competitions. But I have to say I’m proudest of this book. Some mornings I wake up and I’m like, fuck, I’m 19 years old and definitely still count on my fingers doing basic math. Other mornings I’m like, damn girl. You’re 19 years old and wrote a book.

Click here to watch on YouTube

Fortesa Latifi : How do you feel about being considered a feminist poet? Is this something you aspired to do in your work or something that occurred organically?

Blythe Baird : It definitely occurred organically. I was introduced to feminism through spoken word poetry, so I feel like my writing and my feminism have always been naturally intertwined. When feminism came into my life, I was able to see the connection between my personal experiences and the greater power structures and -isms at play. I understood that I wasn’t catcalled when I was 9 because I was a particularly seductive 4th-grader; it was the result of a misogynistic culture. This realization shifted the lens I saw the world through. It allowed me to think about my poetry as a tool for social awareness and change.

Fortesa Latifi : Your friendship with Sierra DeMulder (a fellow slam poet goddess) is well-documented on social media. How did you two meet?

Blythe Baird : When I was 15, I went to rehab and bullshitted my way through all of it. I was hell bent on going back to starving myself the minute I got out. My first day back at school after treatment, Sierra DeMulder just so happened to be performing for this event called Writers Week. One of the lines in her poem was, “Your body is not a temple; your body is the house you grew up in. How dare you try to burn it to the ground?” and that line just rocked my shit up. From there on out, I started taking recovery seriously. All because of a poem. I was initially enchanted with poetry because I saw it as a radical form of healing. It was empowering. I wanted to make someone feel like Sierra made me feel- like they were capable of changing the world AND themselves.

The summer going into my senior year when I went to Slam Camp, Sierra was one of my camp counselors. We’ve had an indescribable bond since then. I got my first tattoo with her. When I had mono, she took care of me. When I got my heart broken for the first time, she was there. She’s always there to remind me I’m unstoppable. I couldn’t be prouder to be her little sister.

Fortesa Latifi : What do you do when you can’t write? What’s your favorite comfort food? Where’s your favorite place to rest?

Blythe Baird : When I can’t write, I usually don’t. If I truly can’t write, it’s generally because something else has my attention. I have to deal with the situation in front of me before I can write at all. My comfort food is chicken fried rice, avocados, dried fruit, and cheeseburgers.  All day. My favorite place to rest is on balconies, in rocking chairs, or on porch swings.

Fortesa Latifi : What does your writing process look like? Is it messy? Is it quiet? Is it loud? Does it scream or whisper?

Blythe Baird : I don’t really have a consistent process. After Slam Camp, I started finding the poetry in everything around me. I couldn’t ignore it. I would look at the word divorce and see a half-made bed. I would watch my mother refuse to leave the house without makeup and see the reason she still keeps her wedding ring on. I began to look at situations in my life as components of a story. I rarely sit down with the intention of writing a poem. It happens when I’m in line at the grocery store, during class, while I’m falling asleep, when I’m babysitting. It sounds strange, but it’s like suddenly I can see the poem with features as clear as a person. I see its little legs stretch out. Until I literally stop what I’m doing and write it down, I can’t focus on anything else.

Fortesa Latifi : Who are the writers that inspire you?

Blythe Baird : Sierra DeMulder, Siaara Freeman, Clementine von Radics and everyone from Where Are You Press including YOU, Rachel McKibbens, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Muggs Fogarty, Sasha Banks, Danez Smith, Rachel Wiley, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

Fortesa Latifi : What is your favorite novel?

Blythe Baird : Bluets by Maggie Nelson.

Fortesa Latifi : Do you have a pre-show ritual that you go through before you perform spoken word? If so, what does it look like?

Blythe Baird : It depends on if it’s a big deal slam or not. If it’s something like nationals or qualifiers, I will literally go stand outside the venue or go face the wall off to a corner in the room and run my poem over and over and over again. I’ve never dropped a poem on stage, but I’m terrified that one day I’ll just totally blank out and embarrass myself. So I run it a million times right before to get myself warmed up. If it’s a minor or low-stakes slam, I don’t do anything. I just go up there and do my thing.

Fortesa Latifi : Tell us about your first book, Give Me A God I Can Relate To.

Blythe Baird : The book is a collection of what I’ve been working on since I started writing a few years ago. It’s kind of messy and scattered, like a teenage thought process.  I wrote this majority of this book when I was 17 years old (I’m 19 now.) I touch on five major themes/storylines: developing anorexia after growing up as the fat kid, sexuality and coming out as a feminine lesbian, my strange high school experience, feminism and combating rape culture, as well as recovery and self-love.

Check out more of Blythe on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & you can buy her new book here!

Thank you, Blythe!

Contributing Editor

Fortesa Latifi is a 22-year old poet. Her first book, This Is How We Find Each Other was published through Where Are You Press in 2014. She hopes you find something good here. She knows you will.