This piece was produced by a student reporter in the Madison365 Academy. To learn more and support our educational programs, visit madison365.org/academy.
Through our life times we conquer a lot of firsts. Our first words, first steps, first A in a class, and many more. Fabu Carter who identifies herself as Poet Fabu has an incredible first. Fabu was the first Black person chosen as Madison’s poet laureate in 2008.
Carter is originally from Memphis, Tennessee and has been writing poetry since she was just 11 years old. When she was younger her father was in the army, so she traveled around the world and the U.S often. She lived in Memphis since her father had been sent to war in vietnam during the 1960’s just before Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Fabu used her poetry to express what she was seeing, feeling, and hearing.
“My father’s going to Vietnam to fight for our freedom, my mom’s in Memphis marching for our freedom, and then the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was killed,” she said.
Witnessing many historical events is one of the many reasons Fabu feels she has developed not only as a person but as a poet as well.
Fabu writes to encourage. “I want to encourage Black people that, though the world may consider us on the bottom, we are really not on anybody’s bottom,” she said.
Fabu writes to inspire: “I want to inspire us to be the best that we can be when we look at and when we know our history, which is largely unknown in this country.”
Fabu says she also writes to remind: “Remind us where we came from, what made us strong.”
Fabu said she started writing very young. “I wrote a book while I was in elementary school,” she recalled. “So, for me my way of expressing myself in the world, was through writing. I initially wanted to be a novelist.” Fabu had planned to just use poetry as a building block to eventually write a novel, but just fell in love with poetry and never really wanted to do anything else.
“In a poem, because of your use of words and description, and imagery and expression, all of those things combine to give you a more immediate sense of what someone is saying, than a novel,” said Fabu.
Being the first Black poet laureate of Madison was a very interesting road for her because she was starting to feel discouraged here in terms of being an African American artist. “In our community I didn’t find spaces to do my poetry,” she said. “I found lots of inspiration. People, places and historical factors.”
After she was chosen as Madison poet laureate her experience doing poetry changed. “I not only represented African American people, which was very critical to me, but I was also representing Madison, and in another way I was representing Wisconsin. It just really was a very wonderful experience,” said Carter.
She didn’t always have a welcoming space to write her poetry or connect with other poets. “So being chosen, which was a year-long process, Madison Poet Laureate, really was affirmation and exposure. It was affirmation that my words were being heard. It was exposure to do more across the city. It gave me the opportunity to increase my territory as a poet and to expand.”
There used to be a group of poets of color called “The Hibiscus Collective” that she was a part of but unfortunately it doesn’t exist anymore, so Fabu had to create her own space. She now has a place where she meets with other artists called “A Place At The Table.”
“As the modern day writers here and for the writers that come, we need a welcoming space,” she said.
Fabu said her favorite thing about writing and telling poetry is the healing aspect of it. “You never write a poem or share a poem without some kind of beautiful connection and a healing process. Whatever you’re writing about, just the act of writing it itself, taking it from the inside, putting it on the outside. That’s why I love to do writing, from the various ages from children to seniors because all the things that are inside, you clarify them when when you put them on a page and you get to see. And then when you read my poem and say, “Ah,” you enter into that experience, you know what I know, You see what I see, you feel what I feel and that’s a very beautiful thing,” Carter said.
Another first for Fabu is becoming the first African American editor of the Wisconsin Poet’s Calendar. This year she created the 2019 calendar called Celebrating Wisconsin People. “What it is, though, is looking at the whole of Wisconsin and all of Wisconsin people,” said Carter.
“Someone said something peculiar to me, they said, ‘If you say people of color, then we feel like white people are not invited into that, that means people of color.’ Well normally when you said Wisconsin people, we (people of color) haven’t been invited into that. But in Celebrating Wisconsin People, I was asking everybody to go a little bit deeper and talk about their roots. Talk about their legacy, talk about where they’re from.”
The 2019 Wisconsin Poet’s Calendar is is the epitome of what Fabu has always wanted to do.
“As an African American artist, I celebrate myself and my people, but I also celebrate the connections between Wisconsin people,” she said. “The fact that there’s always been an African American presence, the fact that there’s been connection between Native American people and African American people.”
She then goes back to her favorite things about poetry and adds that it has the ability to cross all lines. “When you have a poem that speaks to every human experience, which by the way, they all do, because there’s nobody who hasn’t suffered, there’s nobody that hasn’t loved. There’s nobody who hasn’t laughed.”
Fabu has specific topics that she writes about. “For me, as a poet, when I look at the kind of poems I write, I’m always about people whose voices are seldom heard, or (voices that) others try to mute,” she said. “I want their voices to be heard clearly. So that oftentimes can be children, that can be women, and in general, that can be Black people. I like working with children and speaking for children because children are important. You just don’t grow up to be who you are, it’s in you, whatever age you are. And it develops and you develop and grows as you.”
Fabu says that she wants her poems to be controversial because it gets people talking and it gets them to feel.
“Just the fact that I exist is controversial and then when you add on, I’m healthy, I’m happy, I’m thriving, I’m productive, and a poet. That is controversial,” she said.
To add on to this she quotes Malcolm X: “To be Black is to be political.”
“I will own that voice and I will own that power. It doesn’t bother that it’s controversial,” she said.
Fabu also works with of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Research. She uses her poetry to help ignite their memory and sometimes she even brings props to further help.
Fabu’s favorite poem that she’s written is “The Mary Turner Lynching.”
“That’s my favorite poem because it’s my most difficult poem, it’s my longest poem, and I think it’s the poem that’s the hardest for people to hear,” she said.
Fabu doesn’t stop her goals here, she hope to continue growing in her writing and possibly becoming the national poet laureate some day.