Rachel Wiley is tough. A force on the slam scene, she stands at the mic, loudly and proudly delivering her thoughts on body image and the media, race relations in the U.S., gender and sexuality, tattoos and OkCupid.
Rachel Wiley is proud. She is spunky, blunt, and funny. In an interview, she described her poetry as made up of what “I wish I could say to people, or wish I had said to people, and then I get to go back and say it to them with all of the fierceness that you wish you had in the moment.” And fierce she certainly is, raising battle cries for people everywhere who have felt beaten down and insecure, told that they are somehow defective. In “10 Honest Thoughts on Being Loved By A Skinny Boy,” she tells us,
“My college theater professor once told me
That despite my talent
I would never be cast as a romantic lead
We put on plays that involve flying children
And singing animals
no one has enough willing suspension of disbelief
to buy anyone loving a fat girl.”
You can watch a video of Wiley performing this poem in its entirety below:
Yes, Rachel Wiley is certainly all of these things: tough, proud, spunky, blunt, funny, and fierce. But Rachel Wiley is also human. And while her poems often fill up the audience with laughter, appreciative claps and “Oohs,” and a shared sense of pride, some of the most moving moments in her poetry come when she shows us the cracks and scars, the memories she wish she could forget, the moments when she didn’t know exactly what to say.
In the poem “Americana,” from her forthcoming first full-length book of poetry, Fat Girl Finishing School, Wiley writes about a party that she went to during her high school years. At this party, one teenage boy used a racial slur in Wiley’s presence and Wiley, who often speaks about her complicated relationship to her racial heritage, tells the reader:
“I want to tell you how I set fire to this boy’s lawn
I want to tell you how I renamed him and denied his history
I want to tell you how I shoved this passing right down his throat
Instead I am left to consider the 14 years I spent pretending
I didn’t let him kiss me anyway.”
This admission might be the bravest move she makes in the whole book. Because it is in this moment that Wiley pulls the reader aside and says, “Psst. Just so you know—I don’t always do or say the right thing, either. I haven’t always been this tough. I’m still not always this tough.”
Wiley’s poetry, first and foremost, requests that we not just tolerate, not even just respect, but celebrate difference. Wiley helps us to open ourselves up to her calls for celebration not only by giving us jokes and battle cries, but also by whispering into our ears, “You’re not perfect, are you? Me neither.”
Phew, we say. That’s when the fear, and the differences, really dissolve.
We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.
For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org