Alumni Poet Spotlight: Audi Barnes ’17 ’20MFA
April is National Poetry Month! National Poetry Month was launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this annual celebration.
Throughout the month of April, we will be spotlighting a few of our UCF alumni poets! Meet Audi Barnes ’17 ’20MFA:
Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m a poet, essayist, and the founder of the WE HAVE VOICES reading series Black writers local to Central Florida started last summer. I graduated from UCF in Fall 2017, joined the UCF Creative Writing MFA the next year as a fiction writer, and graduated last spring specializing in poetry and nonfiction.
I can read upside down and backwards, relearned how to ride a bike during quarantine, recently bought a bubble gun (trust me; worth it), and will maintain to my dying day that Patti Labelle’s mac and cheese is the best food in all existence, which is most unfortunate given that I am extremely lactose intolerant.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
This one’s gonna be a little controversial: I don’t actually want to be a writer—at least not in the conventional sense. I’ve always been more attracted to editing and helping good writers put out great work. When I joined the MFA, it was mostly because the Big Five publishing houses required at least five years in the publishing industry or an MFA from a creative writing program. The MFA was more accessible, two years looked way better than five, and they had editing and publishing classes that I knew would benefit me in the long run. My priorities changed and editing for the Big Five is no longer my goal, but my writing career was launched by that initial desire.
I also think the publishing industry is too capitalistic and homogeneous for me to take part of it as a traditional writer, and I’m not super motivated to publish with the large publishing houses because of the lack of diversity and the prevalent practice of profiting off of Black pain narratives. Though my work often centers my own Black pain, there’s sometimes a deeply uncomfortable voyeuristic delight some non-Black readers take in consuming those narratives, and I sure don’t want to be a part of it.
On a lighter note, I am awful at sitting down to write for any length of time, particularly since I switched to poetry, but more on that later.
What do you love the most about writing poetry?
Hauling buckets of anger from the well of rage inside me. I also love puns.
What’s your writing process? What inspires your writing?
I’m definitely not one of those people who carve out thirty minutes every day to sit down to write. When I try to do it, everything feels robotic and forced. There are some great writers out there who run a marathon with their writing and come out months later with an incredible book; I probably eke out a poem every few months.
My writing process is generally waking up in the middle of the night, writing out an entire poem, discovering it in the morning and editing it when I’m coherent. Sleepy brain comes up with some pretty cool sh*t, I gotta tell ya. I also usually bang something out after attending a poetry reading or reading a collection. Nothing inspires poetry like poetry itself.
Sometimes a particular turn of phrase will strike me as urgent and I’ll craft something around it while it’s fresh in my mind. Sometimes I’ll hear a song that triggers a vivid memory. I bought a bag of hardough bread from a Jamaican bakery the other day and ripping into it inspired a poem about my childhood. Absolutely anything can be a poem, especially as more people embrace hybrid forms.
What was a class or club at UCF that helped you grow as a writer?
The MFA, of course. Her Campus UCF was also awesome to be a part of. It’s not a creative publication, but it gave me free reign over the content I created and helped me feel confident in sharing my early non-creative writing. The Cypress Dome society and the Cypress Dome magazine were massively important to my writing career; they’re the reason I applied to UCF in the first place. Their Writers in the Sun reading series is also dope. Huge shoutout to UCF Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as well; they’re a very necessary, underutilized resource I wish more students took advantage of.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
The list is truly endless, but here are a few:
Camonghne Feliz, Danez Smith, Audre Lorde, Roger Reeves, jessica Care moore, Vievee Francis, Jose Olivarez, Morgan Parker, Rita Dove, Britteney Black Rose Kapri, Fatimah Asghar, Patricia Smith, and wow that is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve probably forgotten so many important poets that this question may keep me up at night.
What else?! What are you currently working on right now?
My primary focus is my nonprofit WE HAVE VOICES. It’s a reading series dedicated to featuring local Black writers that a close friend and I started last summer. The nonprofit was recently confirmed as a charity, and we have big plans on expanding the platform to better benefit Central Florida’s Black writing community.
I’m also currently working on a collection of poems inspired by Black women. The inspiration engine is a quote by Roxane Gay from when she was in conversation with Alexis De Veaux about The Collected Works of Audre Lorde; “We tend to take Black women and treat them as if they’re superhuman.”
Where can we find your work?
You can find my work in The Offing magazine, and the FusionFest Orlando website.
Attend an event with Audi:
Audi Barnes will be reading her work at the Faculty/Alumni Reading at UCF Celebrates the Arts, Friday, April 9 at 5:00 p.m. on Zoom. Learn more and register on the UCF Celebrates the Arts website.
UCF Alumni Book Club
Once a semester, the book club selects a book written by an alumni author to read and discuss. Learn more about the book club and how to join!