Erika Joyner is an active community building presence in the Roanoke Valley. A native of New York, Joyner has worked in a variety of efforts to create a just and equitable society through anti-war, anti-racism, and cooperative efforts in Detroit and Virginia. A transgender woman, she’s been in Roanoke for seven years. During that time, she helped in founding efforts of the Roanoke Diversity Center and Ladies and Gents of the Blue Ridge. In 2016, Erika received a recognition and appreciation award from the Roanoke Diversity Center.
This spring Erika started a women’s poetry workshop through The Power of Women Poetry Presence. The group meets the second and fourth Thursdays of each month at Theater 3 (15 Franklin Avenue, SW in Roanoke). She gave us a some background.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: How did you first come to poetry?
Erika Joyner: About a year and a half ago, a friend mentioned a poetry writer’s blog she was starting and suggested that I submit something. “Me – a poem?”, was my response since the only writing I had ever done was personal correspondence and legal documents. I am a musician, so I gave it a shot and that original experience of seeing those words form on the page hooked me.
BCR: What does poetry do for you that other forms don’t?
EJ: Poetry gives me a chance to play with meter, rhyme and pacing at the same time as I try to put my mind and heart onto the page. I like how it challenges me to put all of these variables into a complete and precious gift that can be opened and appreciated in one sitting.
BCR: How did you come to start the Power of Women Poetry Workshop?
EJ: As a transgender woman, I am discovering what I have known all along but have repressed due to societal pressures which is the true power of female energy. There are so many ways in which that true power is repressed in women in general and I am creating an instrument to gather, share and tune that energy by bringing women poets together to empower us through the honing of our craft.
BCR: Who’s welcome at the workshop?
EJ: Any woman – biological, transgender or gender queer – who thinks they and their poetry might thrive in a non-judgmental, inclusive and informal setting. We had five participant in the first session.
BCR: What should a participant expect?
EJ: The unexpected! Meaning that there will be room for creativity to manifest in unexpected ways. That said, the format is each person, in turn, presenting a poem that will be discussed and, if the poet requests, critiqued. We will work with content and presentation. The level of expertise will simply depend on who is at each session
BCR: What did you learn in the first session?
EJ: We learned that everyone has a unique story to tell and a unique way of telling it.
BCR: How did you come to live in Roanoke?
EJ: I’ve been here for seven years. I moved to Roanoke to realize my personal mission to begin living my life as my authentic self, that is coming out of the closet and presenting as a woman in all aspects of my daily life. I picked Roanoke because I was already involved in the Roanoke Diversity Center and our Ladies and Gents transgender support group. Also, I figured that Roanoke would give me the anonymity in general to come out. I was moving from a very conservative area in a neighboring county. When I arrived in Roanoke, I hit the ground running and have never looked back.
BCR: Do you find that Roanoke a good place for self-expression and the exploration of creativity?
EJ: Absolutely! There are multiple open mics around town and a vibrant live music scene. There is always something going on at one of the libraries having to do with the written or spoken word. There is also an active subculture that is finding creative ways to bring eco-consciousness to all areas of living.
BCR: If you had one wish for our community in the coming years, what would it be?
EJ: That Roanoke, in its government, its churches, its schools, be truly inclusive of all races, all gender identities and orientations, and all income levels.
BCR: What connection do you between this vision and the written word, the open mics, and our creative community?
EJ: I have a deep concern about the forces that stand in the way of this vision and try to address that in my poetry. Poetry can be a powerful tool to tell our stories and to connect with people in a direct and visceral way to effect change by planting seeds. The combination of our community’s creative energy and an inclusive social consciousness has great potential to help Roanoke maintain positive priorities.
BCR: Well said! Thanks for your efforts to make it happen.
Learn more about Erika and a lifetime of work in creating the world we want in her oral history at the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ History Collection of the Roanoke Public Library. To learn more about The Power of Women Poetry Workshop contact Erika using the form below.