Honey Bell-Bey has always innately understood that she's a poet.
“It’s like breathing or walking,” says the author of I Rest My Case and Genetic Abduction. “You don’t think about it because it’s just who you are.” After Cuyahoga County Council voted unanimously to appoint her as the county’s poet laureate in January, Bell-Bey has taken the attention her poems have given her and spent much of the last few months giving back to the community.She opened a food pantry as the pandemic struck to make sure needy families had free meals on the table, and her virtual academy is keeping kids busy learning while they’re away from school.
In May, the Academy of American Poets, which supports and fosters appreciation for poetry, named Bell-Bey as one of 22 poet laureates to receive a $50,000 fellowship award to fund projects or workshops. The unrestricted award gives Bell-Bey the opportunity to do even more outreach. We get her takes on poetry, the award and more.
On The Inspiring Nature Of Poetry
Poetry has always been in me. It’s who I am, and I’ve always wanted to give that back. So the same poets I loved as a child I now require of any group that I work with — young people and adults. Harlem by Hughes. [Hughes’] The Negro Speaks of Rivers. The work resonated with me as a child, so I always wanted to pass that on. [Poetry] has a type of revolutionary power, and I think now, like never before, we’re in a time where it’s necessary.
On The Academy Of American Poets Laureate Fellowship
As with every award that I’ve received in my lifetime, this is one that was just unexpected and came at a great time, because it doesn’t have restrictions on it like a grant. The project I’m working on is called P.O.E.T. — Power Over Emotional Trauma. It’s designed to help women, particularly who have trauma, through the power of poetry. People hold onto their trauma, so I want to use poetry to help them put their finger on it and heal. Really heal.
On How Poetry Can Help During The Pandemic
Whatever can be created that helps encourage people to be creative while at the same time being safe and engaged, we want to do that. I think you try to see blessings or silver linings in storm clouds that can’t be avoided. When this is all over, what will you say the pandemic birthed in your life? Will you be able to say it birthed anything, or will you just look at it and say 2020 was a horrible year? I have yet to say that.
On Writing Her New Poem COVID, Crisis Chaos
The worst thing I thought we would see in 2020 was COVID, and then you have the death of George Floyd, and then you have racial unrest like I have never seen in my lifetime. You would have to have your head in the sand if you are not a part of it right now. If you are not a part of some solution or understanding, then you are a problem.