Candice Nembhard: “If you are fortunate enough to get a steady gig, then next comes the issue of being paid adequately for your contributions”
I met Candice Nembhard in 2019. She was recommended to me while I was preparing a spoken word event at Roter Salon, the performance space at the Volksbühne in Berlin. After inviting her to participate, I was impressed by her personality and presentation, which were both graceful and powerful.
Poetry was for a long time an almost forgotten art form. Boring, dry and pretentious were but a few of the attributes hurtled at the submerged skill in the last decades and only lately has Spoken Word cascaded back into Berlins cultural scene. London, NYC and Paris are welcoming this aged and yet modern art form back as well with Poetry Salons popping out of their cultural ballparks like mushrooms in a forest.
This is a wonderful counter reaction to the fact that language is currently being raped, twisted and distorted into lies and derogatory terms by the corrupted and power hungry moguls of our age, creating a “Sehnsucht” for truth and intelligence that is spreading world wide.
I am always especially happy when I meet a poet that is not of my generation but younger. The fact that they understand the importance of up-keeping ethical standards in language, correcting and re-inventing terms that are out dated or discriminatory, trying to achieve truth and beauty is deeply comforting.
Candice is an important member of this new movement. Born in Birmingham, England, she is a writer, editor, poet, interdisciplinary artist, curator, and archivist who moved to Berlin in 2017. Besides performing her own work, speaking on panels and writing for magazines, Candice is also the founder & curator of the “ALL FRUITS RIPE” event series, founder of The Black Borough archive, co-founder of the creative consulting agency Poet & Prophetess, co-curator of The R.A.P Party Berlin, and the managing editor of YEOJA Mag.
I very much look forwards to experiencing more of her work and am very happy to speak to her here today.
Danielle De Picciotto: Candice, you are a writer, poet, and journalist. Do you work differently with language in these various areas?
Candice Nembhard: Different forms require different styles of expression. What I wish to express in a poem, structurally, might not make sense in an essay or short story. For me, language has to adapt with form and vice-versa.
What do you look for in these areas when you are reading other peoples work?
Distinction. How well does your voice reflect what it is you want to convey? Every writer has their own unique observations about the world around them. How well do they invite me into their world so that I can see what they see? That’s what I’m looking for. Total trust in their vision.
What is “language” for you?
I’m not sure how to answer this exactly, but like anything, it’s a tool. It isn’t always verbal and it isn’t always understood. It’s a means to an end; better yet, a bridge between communities, ideas, movements, and worlds.
When performing as a poet you also mix music with your words. How do you see the connection between music and language? How do they enhance or disturb each other?
I’ve always been interested in the correlation between movement and sound. I grew up in a Pentecostal church where music, words, and sounds were primitive forms of worship. I would see people be physically and emotionally triggered by sermons, songs, and physical affirmations, all of which I think has played a role in how I write, and what I write about.
I think the church forced me to analyze my own triggers. Dig deep and ask myself what I instinctively respond to and work on producing ideas that make me feel something more than myself. In my opinion, some of the best orators of our time were people who studied their own voice – its tone, the vibrato, the cadence-analyzed its effect on audiences and as such have developed it to its highest potential.
You have been very prolific in supporting other poets and artists by establishing the literary and arts magazine Underpass and co-founding the creative collective, Poet & Prophetess. Why do you spend your time supporting others as an artist? Do you think there is a responsibility there?
I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the select few that believed in my abilities and gave me space to share my work. I really want to eradicate the lonely, struggling, artist trope. It’s dismissive. No writer gets to where they are on merit alone, there is always a helping hand, and often that hand doesn’t receive credit, barely a footnote.
We absolutely have a duty to support one another; without expectation or desire to be publicly praised. We also have a duty to hold each other accountable and be constructive in the critique of our peers. I don’t support people to be acknowledged, I do it because I believe in you and I believe in me. Pay it forward, always. Or as the woman on Solange’s album says, “do nothing without intention.”
Your work often deals with themes of race relations, decolonization, gender and sexuality and womanism. What are your thoughts on these topics? Do you think that prejudice and discrimination are issues that are changing for the better or worse?
Haha, I remember putting this in my first writer’s bio and feeling I’d really touched on something. Gender, sexuality, and womanism are still very dear to me, but I don’t feel the urge to call them out so explicitly anymore. I used these trigger words early on in my career because I was new, inexperienced and believed they would elevate me; put me in a cultural elite bracket. The truth is, I had very little to say at that time.
If 2019 is anything to go by, outward displays of discrimination or prejudiced behavior can be a fine line between getting fired and getting paid leave. We’re in constant surveillance of what is and isn’t being said. I’m more mindful of how I address ideas and to whom I address them. If we continue to treat people and ideas as capital, I don’t see how we can erase the fundamental principles of discrimination.
How do you experience Berlin as a writer?
‘Trying’ is the word that comes to mind. It’s not been easy. There’s an incredibly large pool of gifted writers living here, many of them multilingual with fascinating ideas. That said, there aren’t nearly enough reputable outlets, publications, and publishers for these writers to be seen and heard, and the ones that do exist, are often an exclusive boys club pumping the same kind of click-bait content to please advertisers.
If you are fortunate enough to get a steady gig, then next comes the issue of being paid adequately for your contributions. That’s not accounting for freelance writers that often have to double up as graphic designers and marketing specialists.
Berlin has given me so much space to dream, think, and restructure. I co-founded a creative agency here, performed on many stages, and was able to have a few bylines that I’m proud of. Couple this with late invoices, creative droughts and too much time to dwell; you soon realize that Berlin is a balancing act, regardless of your profession.
Why and when did you move to Berlin?
I moved to Berlin in January 2017. I’d graduated from university the quarter before and wanted to avoid the trappings of corporate London jobs. I didn’t have a concrete plan, per se, just the desire to leave the UK and do something that made me uncomfortable. I landed an internship at a magazine and in my head that was my ticket to begin the arduous journey of finding my own voice walking my own lane.
As a journalist what is your perspective on fake news?
We’ve been programmed to believe the summary and not the whole story. These days, you can send Twitter into a meltdown over a strategically worded headline, let alone a poorly written article. I’m glad that writers and journalists are holding people accountable; trying to maintain a particular standard for the profession. Anyone can write an article. However, in my opinion, the rise of first person, op-eds has somewhat overshadowed the responsibility of neutrality in journalism. Papers have political leanings, columnists have public and private duties, and donors have the spending power to influence both politics and papers.
My suggestion is to take daily news with a grain of salt and conduct your own findings. Talk to people one-on-one and take back your agency. Find your own truths.
What are you working on momentarily?
I’m really frightened of the evil eye, so I try not to talk about things before they’ve come to fruition. Let’s just say me and my craft. Watch this space.
What are your plans for the future?
To be kinder to my chosen family and myself. Trust my gut, and build, strong, reliable relationships without dependency or need.
What is your favorite poetic sentence?
Candice: At the moment, Sonia Sanchez’s poem “Present” springs to mind: “there is no space for a soft/black/woman…and in my head, I see my history, standing like a shy child.”
Do you have a favorite word?
Who are your favorite spoken word artists momentarily?
Esther Kondo, Trovania DeLille, Sanam Sheriff, Hamza Beg, Seth Elpenor, and Babiche Papaya.