Ashley Lumpkin was born a poet. Poetry just came easily to the Jamestown-based writer, and she’s honed that natural talent over the years to become a sought-after slam poetry performer, teacher and author of several chapbooks.
“(Poetry) continues to be my preferred medium because of its precision and power,” she says. “The musicality of the language. The way it can be nonlinear. And because of that ineffable thing that happens when I put a pen to the page and say something ... just right.”
Lumpkin will share the power of poetry at the North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference during a session titled, “Metaphor & Memory in Poetry,” April 27 at UNCG.
Lumpkin’s appreciation of the art form — particularly the performance aspect of poetry — changed dramatically in eighth grade. That year, her teacher had the class memorize and recite Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.”
“After we’d all done our recitations of ‘Still I Rise,’ Mrs. Harrison played us a video of Dr. Angelou’s reading of the poem, and I remember that in all of the ways that our recitations had been abrasive and almost combative or defensive, hers was so light and inevitable and calm,” Lumpkin says. “I remember feeling like it wasn’t just a different reading — it was a completely different poem, and it became important to me that even if people were going to be able to access my words on the page, that it was also important that they heard them as well.”
Performance has become a major part of Lumpkin’s art. She has competed with the Bull City Slam Team since 2015, and the experience has not only brought professional satisfaction, but an opportunity to make connections with the audience and her fellow poets.
“I love competition; love being onstage; love the camaraderie of the competitors and the cheers of the crowd,” she says. “Some of my best friends are the people that I’ve competed with and against. In particular, the Bull City Slam Team has become a second family to me.”
Lumpkin shares her love for performance with up-and-coming poets, too, co-curating a series called “First Draft,” a reading of new works and works in progress sponsored by Greensboro Bound.
“When I was a young writer, I think it was very clear to people that I was enthusiastic about writing and perhaps might even have some natural talent for it, but there weren’t many places to go for mentorship, particularly once I knew that my passion was spoken word in particular,” she says. “I really enjoy the opportunity to provide even small bits of guidance or encouragement for emerging writers, because I remember how badly I needed it.”
Lumpkin hopes to impart some of that same guidance to the attendees of her course during the North Carolina Writers’ Network Conference, showing them ways to not just tell their story, but express the emotions of experience.
“I think that the expectation of poetry is for it to express the most profound emotions with the most precise language, and how amazing would it be if we could communicate our stories that way to other people?” she says.
“To not just explain what happened or how, but to clearly articulate how a thing felt, in way that another person can understand it exactly as it was — that’s powerful. The workshop will focus on ways to build metaphor into a piece in order to achieve that goal.”