5 Questions with Alexandra Elle
On the healing power of poetry
Poet and self-care advocate Alexandra Elle uses language to encourage others— especially women of color—to make wellness and well being a priority. The D.C.–based author found her voice through poetry in her teens, and today, relies on social media to share her messages of healing and peace with thousands. And, clearly the message is resonating: Her IG feed has more than 330,000 followers. Sixty thousand-plus tune in on Twitter.
We caught up with Elle to discuss the power of poetry just as her third book of poetry, “Neon Soul,” came out.
I like to be able to be the voice for people who feel they don’t have one. I’ll write a poem and share it or my readers will flip through my book and say, “I was thinking that, but I couldn’t put it down like that. You said what I was thinking.” I think that’s what’s so magical about poetry and language and words; you’re able to use your experience to take a peek into someone else’s life. I just feel like it’s captivating. Even if it’s short one-liners or haikus, there’s a way that words can settle into peoples’ hearts and stay there. I want to be the voice for the woman who feels like the cat’s got her tongue, or she’s not ready to speak her peace.
How does technology play into your work?
I use social media to build community and start conversation. The reach is so far, and it makes the world so much smaller. I have readers internationally whom I’ve never met and might never meet, who are touched by the work and who are touched by me and by people who leave comments. You have this platform that can give other people a safe space. Sometimes the Internet can be used in such a crummy way, so the fact that there are people like me out there trying to bridge community and bridge the gap is really powerful. You have these movements about intersectional feminism and gender equality and all that’s going on in the world right now, and you can consolidate it and give people and place to go to read about it, write about it, and connect.
How do you balance your online and offline life?
What I like to do in my work is encourage community off the Internet, and I find that’s really where I get the best response. People are allowed to hug me and talk to me and have eye contact, which I love doing. With social media, people feel that if you have a large following you’re a celebrity and untouchable. I like to feel like I’m the opposite: I’m a woman using a platform to create sisterhood, and I just happen to have a message that resonates with a lot of people. I started self-care sessions that give women an opportunity to connect with me offline, not about my writing but really delving into self-care—taking a step back [from technology], not answering emails right away, not responding to texts, not posting your food. Go to your journal, go to yoga, be introspective in a way that doesn’t have to be shared.
Your posts often feel intimate. Are there any drawbacks to that type of online authenticity?
When I post photos of myself and my family and share stories of our Black family life, it’s like, “This is really hard work”. It’s a beautiful picture, but we’ve worked hard to get here. I don’t glamorize having a flawless life—because I don’t. I think that’s why people gravitate towards my work, because it’s authentic. I don’t ever want people to feel like I have something they can’t have, and I feel like social media can be kind of “braggy” in that sense. If you’re not mindful about your journey, your blessings, your self-care, if you’re not intentional about whom you’re following, it can be overwhelming. Boundaries are important.
What do want people to take away from your work?
I hope that my work leaves people with a feeling of refreshment and hope, and proof that blackness, Black love, Black everything is beautiful and attainable. We’re often seen in such a negative light. Being able to show that you can have what you want when you work for it … I had to do a lot of self-work to get where I am. I had to ask myself a lot of hard questions. This isn’t an easy journey, but Black people have the power to be great—even if our circumstances aren’t. It’s a challenge, but it’s possible. And that’s what I hope my work shows to other people of color.
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*Responses edited for clarity and length.