Denise Frohman is a poet, performer, and educator from New York City. A CantoMundo Fellow, she’s received residencies and awards from the National Association of Latino Arts & Cultures, Leeway Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, and Millay Colony. Her work has appeared in The BreakBeat Poets: LatiNext, Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of Color, The New York Times, ESPNW and garnered over 10 million views online. A former Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion, she’s featured on national and international stages from The White House to The Apollo, and over 200 colleges and universities. She co-organized #PoetsforPuertoRico and lives in Philadelphia.
We have a moral responsibility to become the most ourselves we can be. In order to do that, I think kindness, justice, compassion, empathy, art, truth, and beauty better facilitate our ability to be uniquely ourselves than do injustice, cruelty, acrimony, lies, etc. It is more of a function of how we fulfill our purpose. In that sense, faith and spirituality motivate my sense of justice.
To me, this is a really interesting example of how complex racism can be. It doesn’t matter if Kodak was acting in a racist way, because the lived experience of people was the same. If you were a person of color who was trying to get your wedding photo taken, that was the grinder with Kodak. You have dark skin and a white dress. If you’re a photographer trying to capture the detail in the dress, all of her skin tone is gone. She just turns into kind of a black smear. No bride wants to spend all the money on a dress for her special day and see no detail in the pictures.
During your reading at Wednesday Night Poetry, you said something that struck a chord with me, which was: “My being alive is a protest even if it is a protest against something inside of me that I am struggling with.”
Yes. I have been having a difficult time figuring out my place as a poet and what my responsibility is as a poet, especially as a poet of color that identifies as Afro-Latina. I’ve been trying to figure out how to lend my voice and whether my voice needs to be heard or not, and whether what I have to say is important.
A man and I stand on a New York street corner waiting to cross. Music playing in both our ears. He looks down and says something I cannot hear. I remove an earbud. He points “nice kicks man” I return “thanks man, cool shirt” a few beats later we both agree that you gotta stay fresh out here in these streets cause “you never know who you’re gonna meet” I joke “Rihanna could be right around the corner” we laugh and end with “have a good day, be safe” a few hours later I am sitting on a stoop enjoying my peace. A door slams behind me. A man looks down at me, at my shoes. “Fresh ass adidas” he doesn’t wait for a response. My voice chases after him “thanks man, preciate it”
I am many half things, which is not strange at all. Sometimes I am a metal sculptor, other times I am a blacksmith. Sometimes I am a 3D/CNC technician; other times I design artistic installations with robots. Sometimes I am an artist. I serve tacos part-time. There is nothing too strange about that.