in 2019, I had the chance to be a photographer for Lamoi's Reckless Art Collective. Hell, I was made a member of the collective too.
She had a spoken word competition that brought several young artists in the city. And in a close finals that came down to 1 single vote, Gabrielle, came in second to IP The Poet. But the way she conducted herself. I saw a no nonsense person and from there, i started noticing her.
I saw her perform at Sunde Social (@sundesocial on IG). I saw that she performed on Dwayne Morgan's When Sisters Speak. And she also has her own platform called Climax.
A boss in the making...
So imagine my surprise when I found out that she suffered from social anxiety...
Gabrielle is an amazing talent and bound for great things. And in this interview, she describes her struggles on her way to the top.
Can you describe your upbringing? You growing up.
Well, I was born in Jamaica. And it was very different migrating here. It was very hard for me making friends versus me being friends with everyone at the school in Jamaica. And you know having the large birthday parties where everyone came and you compare it to now, having your 3 friends (laughter). I had a heavy accent and just because I wanted to fit in, I had to adapt, even if that meant slipping on my grades. I was an honor student in Jamaica and started getting Cs when I came here. So I started getting beatings! (laughter)
My tried to have me studying heavily at home because she saw that. I started practicing losing the accent. I fell in with the wrong crowd cause I wanted to be with the cool kids. I moved about 16 times in total since coming here. And I went to 5 elementary schools. I think it was a living thing. There was a point where we were just kind of moving around from my mom’s sister’s place to my mom’s friend’s place to our uncle’s apartment. And then we got our own place. And then I looked back and said, “Damn! I was homeless!” (laughter)
And you know, I remember sleeping in the Tim Horton’s while my mom cleaned it. And I remember helping to clean those industrial buildings with the offices. Helping my mom clean those spaces and taking the bus with her. And I also know that she always tried her hardest to provide and settle in. She also went back to school to be a nurse, but then she got pregnant, so I have a little brother. So I became a guardian at 11. I’m 11 years older than him. And I have to admit, there was a bit of resentment because I had to stay home and babysit this baby. (laughter)
But yeah, so tried to fit in. I became very introverted.
I would never have guessed that.
I have extroverted tendencies.
So I can make very easily, but I don’t maintain them very well. Because I’ve been so used to moving and then starting, I never learned how to keep in touch and asking for numbers.
I experienced the same thing as well. I had a great group of friends in Montreal, and it’s barely as if we would talk right now.
Right! Even those friends kind of try reach out to you and you don’t know how to rebuild what was there. It’s almost as if you have the capacity for those who are present in your life. And especially being introverted, I only have to so much energy to give to the people in my life currently. Maintaining friendships takes a lot of energy.
See, I want to know, with you saying that, when you taking time off from those friends, is it because other people take up your time or is there some sort of solace that you find in your solitude?
It’s weird because it’s almost contradicting because there was almost a point where I didn’t want to be myself. There was a point where I would get lonely, but still choose to be alone. And then it was just a cycle. And I guess that’s part of the depression that I went through at a certain point in my life. I felt like I was responsible for entertaining myself. And what I did in that time was writing poetry. I used to sing in high school.
(whispering) I used to sing.
(Normal voice) But if you don’t use the talent, you lose it. So…
Do you lose it though?
I mean, if you don’t maintain it, like a plant, it’s start to wither a little bit. It’s not as strong as it used to be. It could take some tending to but it won’t flourish as it used to. I don’t know. I have not tried to picking up on it and concentrating on it to make it what it was. I mean, I used to do talent shows and I stopped one traumatizing day.
A traumatizing day? What happened?
I did a talent show and… I have stage freight.
(chuckle) I have stage freight. I get very shy. I get anxiety.
Yeah, I have like a social anxiety.
I did recognize while taking pictures that you get shy here and there, but even before pandemic hit, I saw you hosting Climax on stage, and the way you controlled and managed and you were with Lamoi on stage as well, and she has a polarizing presence with her confidence, you matched her.
Wow. I still shake. I still tremble. My throat still gets dry. My escape mechanism is comedy. I bust a joke so that I’m on the same level as everyone. I majored psychology so when you make a joke or do something on purpose, the audience is laughing with you and not at you. So I kept doing it. I kept going on stage. I still do the lives every month and I keep shaking before those lives.
Really? The way you handle those lives though… I would not have expected that.
No one knows that except for my girl Mel Flower. She hosted one of my climax. She sings, she has her own business. And her first time bringing the business public was at Climax so we kind of been growing together as well. But she supports me when I get nervous, and I have her beside me, she calms me down. She’s my twin flame.
When did you feel like you needed to do poetry?
I wrote songs with my cousins and my sisters. And those were just fun things to do. But the first time I intentionally wrote was for a friend of mine who was going through a really hard time. It was for her birthday, I think. It’s still on my page. It’s the first poem I posted. When I posted, my friend Terrel told me that I should keep going. It gave me confidence to write more and people kept liking and I liked how that made me feel. But the thing with me, my brain goes so fast that my mouth can’t really keep up. By the time I start a sentence, I’m already thinking something else so sometimes I have to pause and rewind and grab it. I like to say that I have 2 left feet and one is always in my mouth.
(laughter) And I’m very awkward and that’s why I have a social anxiety cause I’m not sure of what’s about to come out. It’s like the fear of leaving a voicemail cause once you say it, it’s recorded.
That’s why I never leave a voicemail.
Even if I didn’t find the words to adequately represent what I was thinking, it’s too late. I already said it. So either, I stay quiet. I take long pauses in between to try to think of what I wanted to say, but then there’s metaphors. Metaphors are ambiguous. Metaphors can mean many things. And sometimes when I am thinking of many things, when I can find that metaphor to capture all those thoughts, it helps to organize my brain like a brainstorming chart. And so that’s why I like poetry because I could write something, but you can perceive it as something else, because it applies to you. It’s subjective. It’s art. That’s why I loved about poetry. It was a coping mechanism for me. I wrote a lot about depression and heartbreak and those experiences that I want to get out. I still to this today as… The most layman’s way I could say it is vomiting.
So word dumping basically?
Yeah, I want to let it out. Cause you feel deep in your stomach. And that’s why sometimes I have half written poems because in one moment I vomited and that’s all I had. And then I try to revisit it, but I’m not feeling how I felt back then. Jasmine Mans is a poet and she explained the difference between an artist and a craftsman. And I realized, I’m still an artist. I’m working my way to a craftsman. The difference is that an artist waits for inspiration and a craftsman can put himself in a situation in order to craft something. And the reason why I say I perceive myself as artist and working my way to a craftsman is because if I’m not inspired, I won’t write it because I can feel it when I force it. I hate forced pieces. It’s not genuine. It’s just words. It’s empty. (laughter)
It’s more word dumping.
Yeah, it’s just googling thesaurus… Oh I love thesaurus! Looking up some words to try to put things together. If it does not have the emotion behind it, I won’t even bother.
Have you ever been inspired by a word you saw in thesaurus?
Yeah cause sometimes… Have you ever had those moments where you think of a word and wonder what it means?
It helps to draw out… It helps to expand your vocabulary. And going back to eliminating small talk, relevant and to your social life, you expand your mind and draw on that vocabulary.
That would help a lot on dates.
If you’re constantly stuck on a cycle, it gets boring. There’s no fruitful connection with anyone. Much less yourself. You can’t even put your thoughts into words because you no longer have the vocabulary to express yourself. So you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself by shutting down those areas of your brain.
I want to ask about the writing. I was amazed at the writing you shared at the Reckless Arts Collective, at Climax and even the recent post you had on IG. You started writing and people started gravitating towards it. Have you evolved to the level you are at now or have you always thought on a different fashion with the way you craft your pieces together?
I definitely evolved because I had to immerse myself in the poetry community to learn. When I did start writing, I went to a poetry performance. I don’t remember what it was called. I do believe the first one was When Brothers Speak. And I thought that I could be on a stage. And I remember telling myself one day too. I was performing with Jemeni and Queen Sheiba and all these amazing poets and I was one of them. Working up to that, I started off with Toronto Poetry Slam. I went to one of the open mics because I liked doing those things. My friend pushed me to do it and I said ok. I got to the friend of the line. The person who was the host, Cassandra, who ended up being on the team with me, asked me if I wanted to be signing up for the Open Mic or the Slam. They explained to me that I could win money with the slam so I said that I’d do it. So I did it and I got third place! I went back and got second place! I thought I had to go back to get first! I went back and got third place again. They said that if I performed again, I could get to semi finals. I got to semi finals, got to finals, made the top 5 for the team. We then went to Nationals in Chicago where we performed against American teams. We were the second Canadian team ever to have made it to semi finals in the States. When we watched the Finals, we weren’t ready for finals (laughter).
Cause the States go down when it comes to spoken word. And I realized too, spoken word is very different from poetry. You can be very literate when it comes to poems, but you have to have the performance aspect. And that’s where I believe I evolved because I very stiff and I was very monotone at times. I would put in that emotion, but it was the same level throughout the entire poem. I definitely learned by watching other people that were on the team with me. And after immersing myself in that community, I realized how many more open mics there were. I found Lamoi and her Reckless Arts Collective. And I said I could do this. The Slams, not so much. That was way too much anxiety. I didn’t like the fact that people… I still don’t like the fact that people can rate on my anxiety, but because it’s for some money…
I’ll think about it. I’m still on a break, my third year. (laughter)
Did you say it’s yours third year?
My third year of writing. I got into performing poetry half a year into writing. And then I won the championship. We won the Canadian National Championship for spoken word a year later. So I won the championship with my team a year and half into doing poetry.
This is actually cool.
(laughter) Yeah this is pretty cool.
The thing is though, when I first saw you perform, I kept asking myself, “Where did she come from?”
Nowhere! (laughter) Came out of thin air!
And then I looked you up on Instagram and I think I saw the When Sister Speak performance there.
Yeah, that was a year into performing altogether I believe. I think that was 2 years into writing.
I mean, when I saw you do When Sisters Speak, I thought you were a seasoned vet. She been out here. And you’re telling me that you just started…
It was so intimidating because the people I was a part of the team with… Rée has been performing since high school. Cassandra, they been writing. Gavin has been writing. Jennifer Alicia. I wanted to make sure I said all their names. And even Lamoi, she been writing for how many years… Like what a decade? It’s very intimidating to be around such talented people that have been writing. They’ve evolved themselves so much though and that’s why I have to continue to remind myself that I’m still fresh.
You’re fresh, but you were good enough to be on a team with seasoned poets.
That’s true. I did like that. That did stroke my ego a little bit. (laughter)
It did take a lot of validation. I definitely had some imposter syndrome being with the group because of that intimidation. That’s why I had to remind myself that I was still fresh because I wanted to take that as an opportunity to grow. There are some pieces that I did write in the beginning… I’m still in love with some of the pieces I wrote in the beginning, like Paper Politics and I Am that I wrote for nationals. And there are some pieces that I do look back and I cringe.
You mentioned the imposter syndrome. You mentioned having to performed with seasoned vets and you’re fresh. What were the rhetorics that kept coming back to your mind?
I still feel it because you have other fresh people. You know like high school kids are super talented. I don’t have the excuse of being fresh anymore, after seeing them. But to answer your question, the things I kept hearing were They know what to look for when they’re editing… They’re cutting a lot of lines out… One of the girls who was supposed to be in the competition, she got pregnant and couldn’t performed, so maybe that’s why you’re here.
Yeah, cause you’re your worst critic. And that was also part of a lot of insecurities. And the spiral of depression that… Side note… Birth control sucks. Getting off of that was the best thing for my mental health. Now, it’s more so, you got to continue to work on it, don’t run from it. Can’t just wait for inspiration. You got to look for it now. Be a craftsman. I still do write. Can’t run away from the stage. So maybe I should do some competitions. I have a friend group of US poets and they send me all the other open mics online now cause everything is on IG live. And we help each other out. We listen to each other’s poems and it makes me realize how much I’ve learned when people come to me and ask my opinion. And I am able to give them that feedback on their poem based on what I’ve learned and based on their performance when they do feel that anxiety and they do feel that imposter syndrome. I had someone come on Climax. Diamond was her name. She said she was going to quit because she had some guy tell her some stuff about her poetry. I told her while she got some people that are hating, there are also people who love your work. So write your things, and you’re going to be able to help someone someday. It’s not just about the opinion of other people, but it’s also for yourself. It’s your coping mechanism. Your outlet. Yeah it’s nice to perform in and for other people to like it, but keep writing. Hopefully she keeps writing.
Now I’m going to have to change my next set of questions, because I didn’t know you suffered from social anxiety like that. Almost like a Summer Walker type of thing because no one believed she had social anxiety.
You can see it. You can tell through how she does perform. I seen her perform live. She sits on the chair and she sings. Just because she has a talent and she’s able push herself to do it in doing what she’s skilled in doing does not mean she’s not hella nervous when doing it. Cause anybody can mess up. When I’m on stage, I still push myself to do my poems. Sometimes I memorize my poem, sometimes I have my notebook. What you see can be very deceiving.
And that’s what I’m saying. I saw your Sunde Social performance and you had your notebook. You made it look like it was part of the performance.
I really hope so. Cause sometimes I know the poem and I’m still going to read, because I won’t even chance it, messing up. I’m way too scared. Sometimes you get so nervous that you blink. Even though you know the poem, but once you get in front of everybody and it gets quiet… (Takes a deep breath and release). I try to cope with it, with my jokes, and I welcome that feeling.
We’ve talked about Sunde Social and Climax. I want to speak on your sexual energy. It’s palpable, it’s felt. But with that social anxiety, I don’t think comedy can help with that.
For the erotic pieces?
Yeah. How do you cope for that?
So the first time I wrote a mildly erotic piece. Ice Cream was my first piece, I believe.
I remember Ice Cream.
My first full piece at least. Ice Cream was the first piece where I was blatantly talking about sex and that was more so metaphors. So I would say keep some tissues in the car so we don’t mess up my clothes. I didn’t say anything, but you know what it means. So that’s what Ice Cream was. If you know, you know. Missy Elliott been saying it. Missy Elliott been nasty. But she’s been entertaining. It’s the audacity. We all know what happens in the bedroom. We’re grown adults. We have sex. We watch porn. We’ve seen it in the movies. We fantasize about things. I just have the audacity to say it. And that’s all it is. Those R&B tracks like D’Angelo and Janet Jackson’s Would You Mind… Janet Jackson full out moaned for minutes! Certain parts of the song, I have to turn down. She puts you in the moment and we continue to listen to these things because we love to be in those moments. We like to remember what happened last night. Or we like to fantasize about the artist or someone we like. Or we like to plan a playlist for next time. Even if it was a casual experience, you like to have your casual experience because it’s fun. We all have very similar experiences. So that’s all it is. The audacity. I like to give you that visual, almost like story telling.
And that’s the dope part. So far in Hip Hop, J Cole and Nas are recognized for doing that.
Frank Ocean too. He’s able to play a whole movie in his songs and make it rhyme. And make you dance to it.
Climax has brought a lot of different artist in Canada and also a lot of artist from the US. You’ve also other artists from other parts of the world there.
I believe I had someone from Europe… I believe from Britain. I think the second one.
I would like for you to describe the beginnings of the platform.
So, you know I had Ice Cream. I wrote it on the bus by the way. (laughter)
I listened to an artist, I don’t remember his name. I believe Diddy signed him. Some white boy rapper. And he had said something and made a reference to Ice Cream. And I was inspired so I pulled out my notes on my phone and started writing. I debuted it at the Toronto Poetry Slam. And people liked it, but I was not sure about bringing it to an audience who’s ears were not supposed to be hear what I had to say. (laughter)
Right! Like it could be a PG audience.
Yeah, even Sunde Social, some people brought their kids.
Yeah, I think it was the Sweat Pants theme one. I want to make sure that people feel comfortable and safe. And I read it in your interview with Zakiya. And she said it perfectly. When you showcase your liberation, a lot of people start to see it as, you want to have sex. I love sex, but I love sex with people that I care about.
People you want to have sex with.
Exactly! That I created a bond with.
Not everyone can get it.
Exactly! There are people who want you to say it first. Which is why at the very first Climax, I went first. I’m the sacrificial poet. I’m letting you know from jump that this is what Climax is about. So you either beat me, or you can match me or whatever. So I wanted to give people a platform where they’re about to talk about love and sex. Any form of intimacy whether they are related or separate. And I wanted those people to be black people. And that’s why I reached out to Lamoi. Because she puts on what I want, but it’s a different theme. Asked her to show me the ropes a bit and then I’d try to fly on my own. But yeah, that’s what I want. A platform for black artists on black love and sexuality. Cause sometimes, people can’t relate and we deserve a space to ourselves. So I wanted to be the provider for that platform.
You spoke on Zakiya’s interview and how people misconstrue your sexuality as someone who’s down to have sex all the time. How do you navigate the dating world? How do you find the kind of partner that does not get fooled by that misconception? And has the poetry affected that?
It has. I’ve dated a person who was religious. And because of their beliefs and advocating for that lifestyle, it didn’t match what I was doing. And I said that I would keep doing it. They said it was hard. I must admit that I’m not seeing that person anymore. The person that I’m in a relationship with now. He’s supportive. He watches my stuff. It is a little awkward when I talk to people about their poem and sex life. Or perform pieces that I wrote about other people. But he tries his best to be supportive. He even donated to Climax to help pay for my feature artist in my last show. But in terms of the people that I was seeing in the past, they would try to avoid it almost as if it was not there. They would not ask me about the show as if ignorance is bliss and that is not good enough for me. Because it is a significant part of my life that I will continue to build and it will be so big that you won’t help but see it.
I like that you’re saying that. That brings me to the next question. I saw you on When Sisters Speak, you’ve won competition and you’ve got your Climax platform now, so what is that goal that you’re looking to achieve?
I’ll tell you end goals, because I’m still working on the ingredients to the cake, but I don’t know what the cake will look like. Once Rona dissipates, I am envision a gallery for black art for all the black artists to come and perform on a platform surrounded by black art and black artists. And voyeurs (laughter). Those who want to consume black art. Now don’t get me wrong. The consumers don’t just have to be black. I’m all for taking all kinds of money. Money is money!
(laughter) I love it.
The goal is to support those artists. I want to be able to pay these performers. Cause when I’m able to open up, I don’t want to forget the people in the States and other countries. I want to be able to bring them in and connect our world so we can bond over that feeling of security and self-expression. So my platform will be there. My space will be there. If you’re looking to be surrounded by love, by intimacy. Sharing that space with your people or to be surrounded by culture. Opening up yourself to different types of art. My space will be there.
So this piece you shared on IG. The piece was so poignant because I didn’t know if it was about breakup or sobriety. If you wanted to describe your style of writing, how would you describe it?
How many words I got?
As many as you want.
I can say anything I want?
Ok, so I’m just going to talk. The first word that comes to mind is ambiguous to match the way that I think, but to also give it space to breath for that subjective appreciation. You want to me describe how I write or…
Honestly, like I said, I vomit. I’m going to write about what I’m feeling. My style is personal. I won’t write anything that’s forced. I’m going… I’ll take it back. I’m going to write what I’m feeling and also what inspires me. There will be people who will have vented to me and as an empath, I take on those emotions and I will put it in the poem. I have a couple of black power poems that are not about me. I might have experienced some things in the poem, but with I Am, I collected perspective on the experience of being a black woman and I added to the poem. But I still like the word personal because if it’s not personal for me, it could be personal for someone else. It’s relatable. It’s personal, ambiguous and relatable. And it’s embalming.
Embalming? I like that!
To embalm is almost to laminate. To make it live forever. So when I do die, my art will still live or if I write about you, you will live through my poetry.
Of all the pieces you’ve ever written, what is your favorite line?
(whisper) Oh, I knew you were going to ask me that question.
I have a lot of favorite lines. But the one that just pops up in my brain is To be woman is to be a man prefixed.
Wow! That’s a dope line! I like it.
Yeah! I wrote that! (laughter). That’s one of my top pieces.
Here’s the last one. One thing that you’ve shared with me through this interview is about your social anxiety. What would be your advice for someone who’s experiencing social anxiety and imposter syndrome?
Oh imposter syndrome is a whole different thing too. For someone who has social anxiety, if they are entering into that world, you’ve already made that decision. If you are entering into that world, you’re already welcome. You’re welcome in the space you put yourself into. Because you’ve made the decision to go into that space and that is where you belong. And it was Lamoi who helped me figure that out. Because I had her do a workshop at my school at Western. And one of the exercises, I don’t remember the topic, but it was, I think about imposter syndrome. And I described myself as an Ameba.
Yes! I described myself as an Ameba. I had given up on fitting in. Like I said, when I came in as an immigrant, I gave up on fitting in. I don’t want to fit into any space anymore. I don’t want to be a fixed shape. I want to be fluid. I want to take as much space as I want to. If I shrink, I shrink, if I’m wavy, I’m wavy. If I find another Ameba, we’ll be Amebi. But that’s how I would address the imposter syndrome. And the people who helped me address it as well. Lamoi and Amoya Rée. Rée is another poet. She was on the team with me. She’s a black woman.
Great performer too.
I make sure to keep in contact with her. She is one person that I will make sure to keep in contact with. She is so real and inspiring to me because she herself feels imposter syndrome, but her presence is powerful! Powerful! Lamoi… Big Daddy Poet! Powerful!
Yo! Yo! The energy!
When she put that in her name, I said, appropriate! I want to say fearless and charismatic. She’s a leader. But I’ve also spoken to her and she’s been real with me about things that she’s been shy about before. Things she’s been insecure about. And I like that she’s real about that. And with people who have such a powerful presence feeling the same way that I do… It encourages me to welcome that feeling. Because it reminds me that I’m welcome in a space that is also so powerful that my energy has to match it. I either match it, or I have to beat it! I have to be right at that line or above and beyond that line. Those are 2 women that are above and beyond that line at all time. And when you think about it, that’s what black women have to do. In any space.