“We try to silence ourselves when it comes to our emotions because we don’t want to be labeled as emotional. We don’t want to be that girl, but there’s a fine line between being that girl and suppressing your emotions,” Kendra Robinson explains. The Hampton, Virginia native is a poet whose poetic gifts were cultivated in her language arts class when she was given a prompt to write a poem about herself. Although she enjoyed expressing herself through writing, she didn’t begin to take her gift seriously until college.
With sights set on becoming an author, Kendra did just that. She wrote and released her first book titled, Headspace , a representation of who she was at the time of writing the collection of poems. When speaking about what this book means to her she states, “I wanted to represent who I was at that time. Specifically, at that time because I feel like a lot of people in that early twenty-somethings stage—they have a lot of internal battles and I wanted to get that out for people to be able to relate to.”
Kendra’s work is centered around self-expression, reflection, and discovery. Through poetry, she invites readers to experience an array of emotions without doubt and void of limitations.
Tell us more about your background!
I grew up in Hampton, Virginia. I’m not going to call it a small town, but it’s not a big city. It’s a regular suburban type town. I grew up with my mom and my dad. They split when I was seven. I have a brother and sister—regular family, regular life really. I was a quiet kid—shy. Had a good time with my family, my cousins, and friends. Got older and wyled out a little bit. Just typical teenage stuff. [laughing] And then, went to college, had a good time there, and then graduated. I moved a little bit away—about an hour and a half away from home and started grad school. It’s been a ride, but it’s been fun.
One thing that stood out to me—I went to your Instagram and your bio says, “I inspire greatness.” That is so powerful. I was like, let me ask her about that! What does that represent for you?
Honestly, I wrote that when I was in undergrad and just never took it out. I feel like that day maybe I was just feeling a little cocky, a little arrogant maybe. But as I’ve gotten older I feel like it’s something that describes me and the people I surround myself with. I feel like we’re all the type of people who inspire each other, who motivate each other, who look at each other like, I got to step my game up. Or, pick-you-up-when-you’re-down type people. I just feel like we all inspire greatness, that’s just who we are and I feel like that’s just what I’ve been bred to do. So, I hope that I get to continue doing that.
When did you begin creatively expressing yourself through words and writing?
I was pretty young—probably eight or nine. You know when you get a project in language arts—English class—and they have the poetry section and the teacher was like write a poem describing yourself. She gave me a prompt and I started writing, and after that it was just fun. I started journaling and when I got upset with my parents or something, I would write a letter to them, telling them why I was upset, what hurt my feelings. [laughing] That was me! I was that kid. And my dad still has some of the letters, it’s kind of embarrassing now.
I didn’t start taking it seriously until sophomore year of college, maybe—sophomore, junior year of college. I was like I’m kind of good at this, let me actually write and I just used that as an outlet because you know, college is stressful. You have to do something to get your mind out of that space of just going crazy, so that’s what I did. I wrote.
You said you started when you were young, but at what point from then until college did you realize like, okay I’m next level with this?
Really… I did not realize it until—it might have been after I graduated college, for real—that I realized that okay, this is something that I’m actually really good at that I could take seriously. I never thought like oh my gosh, I’m a great writer. If I would have thought that then I probably would have went to school for something else. That was never my mindset at all.
What have you found to be the most compelling part of your writing?
For me, it’s going back and reading poems. So, I’ll write it, get it out, and then going back and reading it and the self-reflection and just realizing where I was at that point is the best part.
Where do you draw from? You said when you were younger you wrote letters to your parents if they made you mad or you felt sad. Is everything rooted in emotion and feeling for you?
I’m emotional and sensitive, some would say. So, yeah that’s my go-to. When I’m deep in emotion—any type of emotion—but mostly sadness or like love or something like that, I go into writing.
You recently released your first book of poetry titled Headspace, which I’m excited to learn more about. Tell us about this project and what it means to you.
Headspace is my creative child. The book began at the beginning of 2018—I wrote all those poems. They’re like so old to me now, but I was like oh my gosh let me write a book. In the beginning of 2020, I said I want to release a book and I want to be an author by my birthday. So, that was my goal. I hired a consultant. I hired an editor. I let my friends read the poems. I picked out ones I didn’t like, I picked out ones I did like. I let my friends pick out the ones they liked and didn’t like and I was like I’m going to do this—I’m going to write a book. That was just my goal. I wanted to do it, I wanted it to be good, and I wanted to represent who I was at that time. Specifically at that time because I feel like a lot of people in that early twenty-somethings stage—they have a lot of internal battles and I wanted to get that out for people to be able to relate to.
I’m less afraid to just say what I have to say. It’s one thing to write it down, but it’s one thing to share it. I think that the sharing part was something that I had to get over.
I love how expressive poetry is and from reading your work and then talking to you it all makes sense. I noticed a common theme in your work—self-discovery being one that’s really prominent. It’s something that is forever evolving and I feel that people can relate to because like you said, this book was a representation of you at that time. You’ve evolved since then. What have you learned about yourself as an individual and as a writer?
As an individual, so much. I think that the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to express yourself. I think that a lot of people—a lot of women in particular—we try to silence ourselves when it comes to our emotions because we don’t want to be labeled as emotional. We don’t want to be that girl, but there’s a fine line between being that girl and suppressing your emotions. So, I just want to get it off my chest. All my friends know I’m the girl that’s just going to say it. If I have an issue, especially in relationships, I just have to say it. I can’t just let it sit. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve noticed.
In my writing I think that I’ve become a lot more vulnerable. I think that I’m less afraid to just say what I have to say. It’s one thing to write it down, but it’s one thing to share it. I think that the sharing part was something that I had to get over. Sharing it with my friends, cool. But strangers? I was like, I don’t know.
That’s so liberating, though. It’s a different type of thing. You can sit on all these writings, all these poems, but actually putting them out there—that’s a piece of you that you’re sharing. That’s really compelling. I definitely commend any art form that—well, I feel that really all art forms kind of require you to share a piece of yourself and this is one of those intimate areas. You also curate a playlist titled Headspace. Tell me more about that because I love music, so I just want to know how does the playlist that you curate tie into your work or is there even a connection there?
Yeah, definitely. I think that music is just like life most times. There’s a song for everything and I listen to music every day. I love to get in my car, just drive, and listen to music. Literally, I would listen to music to get inspired to write a poem. That’s where it comes from, like what headspace was I in? I do it monthly or bi-monthly. What headspace was I in this month to write to? So, I would think about some songs, go through my playlist—what songs did I play the most this month? And then there we go.
I love how that correlates to your theme and brand. That’s really cool! I look forward to tapping into those playlists as you release them. I like the concept of like okay, where was I in this moment and you can go back and listen to it though song—what! That’s really clever. Do you feel that Black writers get enough recognition and have you felt supported throughout your journey as a writer?
I think in our community, yes. In a broader aspect, no. Black creatives are a niche, but I think that it shouldn’t be so specific to Black people. I think that everybody could partake, not appropriate, but partake—clear. But, personally yes, I feel supported. I have a great support system when it comes to my friends and I think being in college and just knowing a lot of people, it kind of just helps you proceed in that area. All my friends are creatives, too and it’s nice to have that space where you can say, “hey, I’m about to drop a book” or “I’m about to drop a song” or “I’m about to do this”—and we’re all just there for each other, so I think yeah.
That’s great that you do feel a sense of support where you have people that you know if I’m getting ready to release something then they’re going to black you in it. I mean to ask you earlier, though. Who are some of your poetic influences?
Honestly, I read poetry, I do. But, I’m not an avid reader of poetry. Music inspires me more than other poets do. My inspirations are musicians. I love Drake—I’m a Scorpio, he’s a Scorpio. We relate in that way. I love H.E.R., I love Erykah Badu, I love Ari Lennox—I love music. So, that’ more inspiring to me than actual poets, really.
But, in a sense they’re still poets. Technically, they’re still poets just not like oh, with this stanza, we’re going to move this here—but they still do the same work!
If could rap, I would probably be a rapper! [laughing]
No, but the thing is though, like poets usually cross over into music.
I would love to!
You can’t rap? Have you ever thought about writing music, though?
Yes, but my thing is I don’t like to write to a beat. I feel like it’s so difficult. So, I would probably have to write the song and then find a beat to go with that.
Dang. Okay, I see where the disconnect would be. You could be like look, here’s my poem y’all do what y’all have to do to make it into a song. My final question—how can we stay connected with you?