Tools & Talismans #27 — Glenis Redmond

T&T #27 Glenis Redmond.jpg

My Tools & Talismans #27 is writer and activist Glenis Redmond. The first paragraph on Glenis' "about" page on her website says: Glenis Redmond’s love of words has carried her across the country for two decades. She logs over 35,000 miles a year bringing poetry to the masses. This Road Warrior Poet though steeped in Afro-Carolininan roots, speaks a universal tongue of love, loss, celebration, sorrow and hope. Her verse uplifts family, culture and community. Glenis is a gentle pen pusher as she encourages others at diverse venues across the country from prisons, universities, festivals, conferences, camps, keynotes, rallies, to schools.

I stepped out of the Tools & Talismans order on this one because of the hands (and isn't it ironic that Glenis talks so much about her hands here). Drawing or painting hands? It's long been my weak point, my nemesis. And also? One of the most intriguing parts of the human body. We use our hands all day, everyday, for various chores, for making, for holding, for expressing. They are such a connection point to our own humanity. So I finally got brave and painted Glenis' hands. And here she is:

Tribe:  any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc.  www.dictionary.com I am more tribal than not, even though I have been deprived of both of my lineages:  West African and Cherokee. I write to unearth and discover where I am from. Writing is my way of putting my heart to the ground. It is my way of listening to the rhythms of the earth. I am more tribal than not, yet I am not always connected to mother nature, because I am also a product of this modern world. I move too fast. I shield myself from the elements that would otherwise guide me.  When I write, I slow down enough to listen to what nature is trying to say. My talismans help me on my journey of whole-self listening.

Heart in Hand: I grew up with people telling me: You’re too sensitive. I was sensitive as a child and I still am. After reading Elaine Aron’s book, Highly Sensitive People, it was one of my greatest Aha moments. I realized that I am not too sensitive, but I am highly sensitive. I sense subtleties. I read people and situations. It is my greatest tool as a writer. So, as a poet I have learned to embrace the language of my heart. This stone in my hand is a reminder to always consult the heart and to trust what my heart is saying. It is a reminder to listen to the language that my heart speaks. When my heart is in my hand, it is up to me to know when to close my hand in order to protect it or to open it so that it can feel everything around me. My heart helps me fulfill my commitment to look at both beauty and struggle without flinching. I used to think my greatest tool as writer was my pen and my imagination, but alas, I now understand that it is my heart. 

Necklace: Writing for me is an ethereal act. I consort with the ethers, so it is important for me to be grounded. I wear power stones around my neck: Jasper, Hematite and Carnelian. These three stones guard and guide me as I journey the realms of my imagination.  

Jasper:  a protection stone  It brings strength and stability. It allows me to ward of chaotic forces as I travel through the realms.  

Carnelian: Carnelian clarifies the voice. It is the Singer's Stone. It promotes idealism, a sense of community and pragmatism.

Hematite: "Stone for the mind" It grounds and protects. It strengthens my connection with mother earth.  With hematite I feel safe and secure. It endows me with courage, strength, endurance and vitality. Hematite encourages, focus, enhancing memory and original thought.

My Hand: When I write and when I walk in the world to wear tokens every day that embrace my heritage: both the African and Cherokee lines that run through my veins. The African lineage is quite obvious by my dark hue — however, because of slavery and lack of records I had no idea where I came from until I did a DNA test to trace my roots. I found that my lineage stems from Nigeria and Cameroon. When I was working on my MFA, I was reading a book by Judith Gleason, titled Leaf and Bone that said that Nigerians are the chief praise poets of Africa. I began writing Praise Poems when I was 12. I’ve heard the term for this is called blood memory.

While touring in Pennsylvania, on a break between school performances I stopped at a bookstore. As I was checking out the white store clerk looked up and said: “are you Indian?”  I laughed and responded, that’s not what people generally say to me. I’m part Cherokee though.  She said: “your Indian ancestors want you to write about them.” I walked away with chills. I began having encounters with that part of my lineage. 

Last year I went to get my teeth cleaned. When the dentist came in to check my mouth he asked: “are you Indian?”  I thought he was referring to the turquoise jewelry that I was wearing.  “Why do you ask?” He got to the root, literally and said, "because you have talon cusps not just your canine teeth, but on two other teeth. These exist only in people with Native American Heritage.”

I'm black, no joke. I don't speak on my native heritage much, partially because a lot of it is unknown (except through family lore), but also because of the put downs from even people like Henry Louis Gates: that black people only like to claim to be Indian for superficial reason hair (long silky) and lighter skin tone. Well, I have neither of those, but my roots are my roots. Blood cries out and evidently teeth too. This life is both beautiful and crazy. It keeps yielding answers to this torn lineage of mine/ours.

Note: "Dental anthropology is a fascinating field of study that uses dental remains to determine, among other things, the race and heritage of a person. Talon cusp, also called an eagle talon cusp. Less than 1% of the global populations have this cusp. (A variation of this ridge is the “Uto-Aztecan” bulge (for lack of a better word) on the upper molars. These are only found among Native American Indians - mostly in Arizona!) The ridges and bumps described are prominent in people belonging to the Eskimos, Aleutians, Native American Indians, and some Chinese. These races are considered by dental anthropologists to extend from the Siberian population many centuries ago."

As I write, I embrace “All my Relations”.  It is evident in the lineage necklace that I wear that consist of my literary mothers: Lucille Clifton and Maya Angelou also my mother, Jeanette Redmond and my grandmother, Katie Latimore. 

Pen and Journal: Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote: The pen is mightier than the sword. When I write, I battle. I take on my inner demons, as well as societal injustices. The Italians call it: in bocca al lupo, in the mouth of the wolf. With pen in hand, I defend, shield and save myself. It is how I survive. Audre Lorde writes about the black diaspora and slavery: We were never meant to survive. I survive and thrive through my poetry. For forty years, I have been taking this walk. The evidence of this journey is in my journals, poems and essays.

How I use my pen? I tap it to my heart and then press it to paper. Hand to pen, pen to paper, imagination to the Divine the transmission happens. My pen is an extension of self. It is a lightning rod. The paper is ground. It is an extension of mother earth, trees. When I write, I touch ground.

Glenis Redmond, poet, teaching artist and activist