Gabrielle Patterson, Indianapolis poet, is standing before a small open-mic audience at Irvington’s Lazy Daze Café, announcing her upcoming performance at an event called “Meet the Artist“, an event showcasing artists of all types in the Indianapolis area. Gabrielle is just one of the many talented and profound poets who frequent the café at the Thursday “In the Company of Shakespeare” poetry nights. “Before I step off stage,” she says, “I should probably do a poem.” The audience falls silent as this poet recites her art with conviction and confidence. Her natural cadence is music to their ears, and the applause billows out as soon as she says her last word.
She humbly smiles and walks off stage, as fans and friends follow her to the coffee bar. “You can’t write just for applause and finger-snaps,” she maintains. “You can only write for yourself.”
Addressing matters ranging from gender roles, addiction, recovery, and even adultery, Patterson is no stranger to raw subjects, pulling inspiration from anywhere she can. “That is the gift and the curse of poetry,” she laughs. “You find a poem in every sentence, in every ad, even people walking down the street. There is a poem everywhere.”
Speaking with Patterson for the first time is akin to talking to an old friend – you feel like you have known her your entire life. Many people, poets, friends and peers alike, look up to Patterson and seek her advice. One poet in particular, Gregg DeBoor, accredits her as being one of his biggest inspirations, as well as a good friend.
DeBoor appears on the stage of Lazy Daze Café often, exhibiting an open and captivating presence. He uses poetry as his way of coping with the world, confronting issues in his life like watching his grandmother day-by-day slip farther into the clutches of dementia and his recent discovery of fathering a now 14 year-old son.
One poem of DeBoor’s in particular, about abortion, has been met with both criticism and appreciation. “Some people have told me ‘I never had the courage to stand up and say something like that,’ and others have said, ‘You’re going to hell, why would you write about something like that?'” DeBoor’s book Street Girls Have Guns covers these topics, and many more that he has been faced with over the course of his 32 years. “When you’re writing, you have to be truth. You just can’t fake it.”
Patterson also maintains that poetry is about being 100% truthful to yourself, and aboutyourself. “When I get up on that stage, I’m not nervous,” she says proudly, “because nobody can tell me my poem isn’t right. You can say you don’t like it – you can even say you don’t agree with it. But you can’t tell me it isn’t right.”
Regarding poetry, Patterson is influenced by everyday life such as the way people act and react in certain circumstances. Recently, she has started to write a poem about the popular Mattel doll, Barbie. “I decided to write about Barbie in relation to how little girls learn to be women.” Patterson says. “She’s got fabulous clothes and a mansion . . . But she has a boyfriend with no accessories, no job – we don’t even know where Ken came from. He’s a loser, and this isn’t a good message for little girls.”
While Patterson’s inspiration for writing poetry is derived from nobody in particular, she has one major inspiration to model her achievements after. “I am a huge Tyler Perry fan!” she smiles. “His life, his back story, it’s just very inspirational. He did come from homelessness, he did come from abuse. Now he’s very close to being a billionaire, and everything he puts his fingers on, he owns the right to.”
Patterson hopes to mirror actor and director Perry’s level of success with her poetry, in that she hopes to own the full proceeds of her art. “It’s extremely important to own your work, because there are too many people in this business who want to capitalize on your talent, and steal your money at the same time.” Patterson believes that if you don’t own the right to your work, you’ll never be financially stable. “You don’t want to end up like the guy who wrote the ‘Happy Birthday’ song.”
Patterson writes and performs poetry for herself, but she acknowledges that her art is still a form of entertainment. When performing, she has found herself tailoring her set-list for the demographic of the audience. “I was performing in a stadium, and noticed the audience was predominately women,” she says, “And I knew I had to do this certain poem. After I did it, I got the exact reaction I was looking for.”
Patterson, DeBoor, and millions of others poets can agree that writing poetry is not very different from going to therapy.
“Poets are poets to quiet the voices in our heads,” Patterson says. “Writing is something that becomes necessary for the writer.”