Ever since she was young, Radiance Alexsys has turned to poetry to give voice to her thoughts and how she made sense of the world around her.
Having faced racism, isolation, and depression in her youth, poetry became her solace, her intimate friend, and a cathartic release through difficult times. Today, Radiance continues to write poems that reflect her views of the world. As a young black woman and member of the Baha’i Faith, much of her work is informed by Baha’i principles of racial unity, equity and justice.
In this interview Radiance answers a few questions about her journey through life as an artist, the motivation behind her poetry, and the teachings and stories of the Baha’i Faith that inspire her work. We’re grateful that she agreed to share a couple of her poems in the interview, too.
Q: What kind of creative experiences were you exposed to while growing up?
A: My mother is a poet and author, so I’ve grown up watching her write and recite poetry that reflected her thoughts and feelings. Throughout elementary school, I often wrote songs, poems, short stories and children’s books that were inspired by my experiences, the books I loved reading, and/or lessons I hoped to teach my fellow classmates. For a brief period after elementary school, I somehow forgot that I was a poet and that I loved writing. I always had a deep love for all of the arts and had also wanted to be an actress, singer, and dancer growing up. During elementary school and some of middle school, I was taking acting and dancing lessons and went to a performing arts magnet school in sixth grade to pursue acting.
Q: What gave you the courage/motivation to start writing your own poems again?
A: I was about 14 when I began to write again. I was attending a magnet school in a rural area that became a very cold, racist, and hostile learning environment. I found poetry to be a necessary remedy for healing from the depression I experienced while attending that school. In an environment where I felt so isolated and ignored, poetry was my most intimate companion, my cathartic outlet, my personal form of expression as it chronicled my journey from painstaking isolation to proud independence, from dismal doubt to daunting courage, and from somber sadness to sweet serenity.
Poetry definitely uplifted and exalted me, as it wasn’t just a talent I inherited from my mother, but a coping mechanism that gave me a voice, to share my experiences, heal my wounds, and document my journey.
Q: What gave you the courage/motivation to start sharing your own work with others?
A: My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and supporter. Whenever I write a new poem, she is always the first person I share it with. Watching her enthusiastic expressions as I read each line encourages me to share my poems with others, especially those that can relate to and appreciate what I have written.
Q: What sort of content are you inspired to write about?
A: My poetry is inspired by the Baha’i writings, and my reflections, feelings and experiences. My poetry often tells a story, details lessons I have learned, shares the pain I have experienced, chronicles major turning points in my life, and discusses important principles and teachings of the Baha’i faith.
Since Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, defined racism as “the most vital and challenging issue” confronting the United States, I’ve felt it especially important to share poems I’ve written that address racism, religious prejudice, and political prejudice with my audiences.
The recent resurgence of divisive racial attitudes, the increased number of racial incidents, and the deepening despair of minorities and the poor make the need for solutions ever more pressing and urgent. To ignore the problem is to expose the country to physical, moral and spiritual danger. – The Vision of Race Unity, a statement from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States.
Q: Is there a story or teaching in the Baha’i Faith that has inspired a poem? Could you share one or two of your pieces?
A: Some of my poems are focused solely on Baha’i teachings, while others indirectly incorporate principles of the Baha’i Faith. I think almost all of my poems are inspired by the Faith in some way, though, because they are written by me and the Baha’i Faith is at the core of who I am.
The following poem was inspired by the book The Seven Valleys, a book in which Baha’u’llah characterizes the stages of the soul’s journey to union with God through the metaphor of seven symbolic valleys—search, love, knowledge, unity, contentment, wonder, and finally true poverty and absolute nothingness. This poem tells my version of a classic Persian tale of a man’s journey to being reunited with his beloved, usually known as “Layli and Majnun.” Baha’u’llah referenced this tale in The Seven Valleys to compare Majnun’s story of being reunited with his soulmate to the journey of a soul’s reunion with its Creator.
The Story of Layli and Majnun
There once were two people
That loved each other very much,
But her parents didn’t like him
And their courting and such.
So they sent that poor boy
Extremely far away
So the girl would never see him.
She had absolutely no say.
And she prayed and she begged
To the Lord every day.
Praying for his safety
And return while he lay
In that old, dark, dank, cold jail
Where he was badly mistreated
And called names through the rails.
“Oh God! Let me see her,
The mighty wind in my sails!”
And he prayed and he begged
With great fervency each night.
“Oh please let me see her!
I need to know she’s all right!”
And he prayed and he begged
With every ounce of his might.
“Oh God, please bring me
To my true love tonight!”
The boy, now man,
Sat in that prison for years.
Then one day he couldn’t believe
What he saw through his tears!
The door to his cell….
He hesitated in shock,
Then started to run very far.
Soon after, big guards with guns
Were on his tail.
“Oh why would you do this!”
As he started to pale.
“Darn you God!
All this just to fail!!
And to think I thought God,
That you were so just!”
And he climbed over a wall
That had started to rust…
And he fell near a woman
Who knelt praying with trust.
“I’m dreaming…” He said.
“This can’t be true!”
“My love?” She asked.
“Is it really you?”
And he pulled her in his arms
For the longest embrace
And said thanks to God
For such wonderful grace.
© Radiance Alexsys, All Rights Reserved 2018
I’ve written other poems about my reflection of the significance of this story, and its implications for how we should live our lives. Patience was a major theme of the story and Baha’u’llah wrote in the Valley of Search that “without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal.” – p. 5.
Q: What platforms do you use to share your work?
A: I suspect it’s a more moving experience to hear me recite my poems because people can hear the tone, inflection, emotion, and experience behind every word.
Q: Any advice for others who want to find their voice through poetry?
A: I think advice should often be specialized to the unique individual that needs it. If you’re an intuitive, feeling person like myself, my advice is to let your emotions drive your art and let divine inspiration guide you as you write your heart out. Don’t stop until you feel relieved. Write because you love to and feel that you need to. You need to write from the heart if you want to connect to a heart.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to get in touch with you and see more of your work?