Two worlds coexist in GRIT, a poetry chapbook about the life of my sister, Janis Luke Roberts, and her alter ego, Clancey the Clown. This collection of 23 poems began serendipitously in Ken Chamlee's UNCA's Great Smokies class six months after Janis died. The assignment was to write three or four poems about any like objects—kitchen utensils, sports equipment, cars. I picked shoes. Booties, orthopedic high tops, majorette boots, and the floppy toe boxes clowns wore. Classmates asked if I had others—poems about clowns, not shoes.
Pretty soon Janis was waking me at night, telling me what to write next. Some poems shed light on her struggle with dyslexia and depression; others recalled how she entertained in classrooms and hospitals from Ocilla, Georgia, to the White House lawn. Writing was my way of grieving. Little did I dream I'd be sharing these poems with folks who knew and loved her and with people who will meet her for the first time in the pages of this book.
There's a form of praise poetry which comes from Africa that another incredibly gifted teacher, Glenis Redmond, introduced me to. Although no single poem in this collection can be classified as such, the book as a whole pays tribute to my sister and the lineage from which she gathered her crazy wisdom.
Questions for Reflection
Has writing or some other form of art ever helped you to grieve? If so, were you able to share what you created with family, friends, or strangers?
Who or what in your life is a vessel for crazy wisdom?
How might you praise and pray tribute to ancestors, elders, or a loved one?