“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
By Steven Dolan
- For The Capitol Hill Times -
A year after covertly slipping her poems into books by “the greats” at Elliott Bay Books and other bookstores, Rose McAleese has made her way onto the same shelves through the proper channels with her book of poetry entitled “Strong. Female. Character.”
McAleese, who will turn 23 this Halloween, has been writing and performing poetry for 10 years with both Youth Speaks Seattle and Seattle Poetry Slam. Though her creative and professional endeavors span genre and medium, she most closely identifies as a spoken-word poet.
“I have many hats and they’re all very good-looking hats,” she joked in a recent interview.
After years in the poetry scene, it was recommended that McAleese put together a chapbook, an often self-printed, self-distributed collection of poetry. She assembled it with the help of a friend and released it one year ago. The concept for the book emerged out of a job McAleese had right after high school at a film production company. As the only female at the company, she was instructed to evaluate “young strong female characters,” which, with the requirements presented, both physical and otherwise, was difficult. However, she realized that what she found to be strong female characters were present in her own life.
“I’m surrounded by all these amazing, not even just women, but just humans that are surrounding me in my everyday life and they are all strong characters,” she said. “I put the “Female” on the title because that’s what I identify with and that’s what I feel like what I’ve been looking for, but you could replace that with anything.”
Interested in distributing in a distinct way, McAleese went into bookstores and hid individual poems in books featuring works by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Emily Dickinson, an act a YouTube video can attest to. As she slips a poem into Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” she says, “If I do this, he’ll probably be rolling in his grave. A love poem,” which is followed by a cackle. She also laced them into chain-link fences and gave them to strangers.
“All of a sudden I got this weird reaction from people watching the video and then emailing me and hitting me up on Twitter being like, ‘Who are you? This is really strange, but this is kinda cool,’” she said.
“The best part is not just only seeing my poetry, but all of a sudden these people are going on YouTube and Tumblr and seeing this whole massive world of spoken-word poetry. … So I was kind of their gateway drug in a weird way.”
After doing a show in New York City in late October of 2011, McAleese put her remaining chapbooks on a shelf in Spoonbill and Sugartown Booksellers in Brooklyn. In February, the vendor emailed her saying her book was sold out and her paperwork could not be found. She admitted her self-stocking. The owner praised her, saying if the book were published, the store wanted to stock it. This prompted McAleese to speak to her mother, Kathleen Cain, a freelance writer and former journalist, about publishing.
Shasta Wilson, the publisher at Litsam, a Seattle-based publishing company, came across one of her poems at Elliott Bay Books. It so happened she has had a longstanding relationship with Cain—beginning nearly 30 years ago when Wilson’s husband won the Daryl Bob Houston Journalism award, selected by a group that included Cain. Wilson examined the book’s potential and decided to publish it. The book was released in October of this year.
“The decision to publish was about [Rose’s] work, not about Rose,” Wilson said via email. “I saw a maturity and fresh voice in her poetry that I felt had value.”
While McAleese has found new emphasis for her work in page poetry, at heart she is a performer. “I think as a spoken word artist, I gravitate more towards the performance aspect of things, just because it’s the actor in me and it’s a great way to get people to listen,” she said.
Her performance style is aggressive, peppered with profanity and a hip-hop influence.
“Some bookstores don’t know what to do with her, or don’t understand that spoken poetry encompasses far more than slam poetry,” Wilson said. “Some venues are not well suited to her dynamism.”
The poems in “Strong. Female. Character.” are inspired by and address a diverse range of subjects including pop culture, hip-hop, Shakespeare, race, heritage, and unsurprisingly, gender. Daemond Arrindell, a mentor and the Slammaster of Seattle Poetry Slam, says that performance enables her to actively address issues that resonate with an audience.
“She is very aware, she’s always been very aware and very savvy in regards to what’s going on, but in the innocence of ‘I don’t think it has to be like this. I don’t think it needs to be like this,’ she addresses things and topics that a lot of other people don’t,” he said. “Rose is always gonna be and do Rose. And I think that’s one of the brilliant things about her. She has her own style.”
Rose McAleese will perform alongside three other poets at the Richard Hugo House on Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. Her book “Strong. Female. Character.” is available locally at Elliott Bay Books and Third Place Books and online at litsam.com and other book retailers.