Philadelphia poet Ursula Rucker finds salvation in poetry

To mark the end of National Poetry Month, Ursula Rucker sat down with WHYY’s Jennifer Lynn to discuss her writing.

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Spoken word artist Ursula Rucker. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Spoken word artist Ursula Rucker. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ursula Rucker’s words have danced on pages, soared in song, and have been given a home in film. She’s worked with Philly greats: King Britt, Josh Wink, The Roots and says her “soul mother” is another celebrated poet Sonia Sanchez.

For National Poetry Month, WHYY Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn interviewed Rucker.

Here’s Rucker sharing her poem “L.O.V.E.:”

On this day there will be no talk of war. Or politic.
Or disaster or death.
Love is alive today so.
We will speak only of love.
There will be only love on tongue and lip.
And in heart and thought.
And it won’t be that Hollywood type of love
Not T.V. novel love
Not dimestore novel love
Not mainstream music love
You know, love.  

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It’s very beautiful.  

Thank you.  

In words, you find what?  

Poetry is my savior.  

Why savior?

For me, and it turns out for many others, it is an absolute blessing and the most challenge. It’s my therapy.  

Do you remember the first poem that you wrote?

I do remember a poem that I wrote because I had scoliosis and I had a spinal fusion when I was 14 and a friend that I made in the hospital I wrote a poem for her when she was leaving because we were there for three and a half months together. It was just about love and about friendship.

So your relationship with words with poetry it’s your savior. What is your relationship with voice?

I’ve grown to just love and appreciate it. I mean I’ve had this voice since I was a little girl. Twelve-year-old boys used to fall out over this voice. So this has been a long time and I’m grown. ‘Hey, hey, you know I think I have something here.’

Most people don’t like their voices.

I love mine.  

We’re gonna play a little bit of, “Sometimes I.”

I love it.

And this is you:

Sometimes I dream
If I had hollow bones and feathers I could fly.
And sometimes I dream if I had all the answers than I’d never wonder why.

Your relationship with rhythm — that’s really at the spine of your work in my opinion.  

Thank you. I appreciate that. It probably comes from the amazing musicians and producers that I’ve worked with. I’m constantly learning from the masters, from the highest teachers.

Is the music matching you or are you matching the music?  

Oh, you would think that I had learned about which key I’m singing in after all of these years but I think I’m like lazy and I just love to leave it to the professionals and I love the little game we play. “What key should I be in?”

You know you and I can walk the same streets of Philadelphia over the decades and have very different experiences, but when I’m listening to you. I’m all yours. I’m following your path. Even though it’s not my path.  

That’s the beauty of art in general and then you know the art of the word, the message. You know languages. Oh my goodness.  

It’s a lot. Some of your works are very heavy. I think of “Womansong” and I start to be like, “Okay. I got it I got it.” And then I just get swamped. Is there a responsibility like you as a leader in what you’re sharing?

There’s a definite responsibility.

Ungrateful, ungracious eyes ogle
at 8th wonderfuls
wonder fills small minds
that make no time
for sincerity…for sincerity

What things are stewing around in that song “Womansong?”  

I do get super uber personal and graphic and you know whatever people may call it for lack of better words deep.

God-fruit, we
sugary, plentiful
Not rib bone alone
soul, home
No, evil does not derive from my name
No, evil does not derive from my name
Ungrateful, ungracious eyes ogle at 8th wonderfuls. They make no time. For sincerity.
See the whole power, magic, resilience you know just everything we have, everything we are. We are not to be ignored.

Who is that a message to?  

Everybody. Even women themselves who for whatever reason cannot welcome that into their being that they can celebrate themselves. That is okay. It’s needed. I try my best to be gentle and then I’m like, ‘Hey it’s not my responsibility to be gentle with you.’ So I have a kind of mix of both of those and they’re always working like it’s not my job to make you feel comfortable. That’s one of my taglines.  

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