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Talking with Dessie Bey "Snappin Out! . . . in more ways than One"             Interviewed by Bonita Lee Penn, Soul Pitt

To Quote the late great Oba Rob Penny, "To read Dessie Bey's poetry is a journey into eloquence of her images and words. Similar to the music of Billie Holiday and Duke Elligton: to hear Dessie read her poetry is to hear the wonderful voice of a Phyllis Hyman and and a Marvin Gaye. To read and to hear Dessie Bey--I have experienced poetry that has the substance of greatness and the poetics of great black music. The human heart pumps more fully and happier with Dessie Bey in our world of art."

SP Bonita: Dessie, please share with our readers a little about yourself.

Dessie: I’m the youngest of 4.  Two sisters, my eldest lives in Chicago and the middle sister holds down our family home in Homeville, our chocolate suburb of West Mifflin.    My brother was a “casualty” of Viet Nam.  He was in the Navy and was thrown over board in a race riot.  I have a 23 year old son, Canaan, who is a hip-hop artist.  After raising a man-child in this society, I have a whole new respect of Black men in America. 

Growing up, we always had a lot of books in our house.  I read a lot of nursery rhymes and fairy tales.  And the lyrics in music was always poetry to my ears. I’ve experiences a lot; I’ve learned a lot… good, bad and ugly which eventually becomes reality based poetry by Dessie Bey.  I’m thankful that I made it out of that world to write about it, sane and somewhat unscarred.  To quote Langston Hughes: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair…, but I keep climbin’, I keep a-climbin’…”.

SP Bonita: When did you take your writing seriously and said you need to start publishing?

Dessie: A poetry book had always been in the back of my mind since I was in 6th grade, elementary school.  The most evil and racist teacher in our school gave my class a project to write a story…  She gave me an “A” and complimented my writing, and I held on to that… I began writing since that day.

I’ve always been serious about my poetry, but I only dedicated myself to it in the last 10 years.  I would write pieces over the years, file them and know eventually they would become part of my book.  When the time came I dusted them off, touched them up… became a member of Kuntu Writers Workshop… and it was on.  When you presented your work to KWW with Oba, Rob Penny at the helm, your only desire was to present your best.  He was the greatest support system one could have.  You had to come right or you wouldn’t come at all.  he encouraged all members to pursue their gift. 

SP Bonita: What do find in your world that inspires you most to write?

Dessie: I’m inspired by poets such as, Sonya Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka and Gil Scott Heron.  Sometimes I’ll read Sonya, have Jayne and her band the Fire Spitters on the box and go into written conversation.  I talk to them like, “and did ya’ll know this” and I’ll write… “Yea, and check this out…” and I’ll write some more… and I hear Amiri “rat-a-tat- tatting” in the background… “And ya’ll know this…” and we go on and on…  and when it’s a rap, I’m exhilarated and I have a new piece to work with. 

As the above mentioned writers, I write as a response to internal and external conflict.  I write about current events and hisStory , ourStory and womanhood.  I write about the alternate perspectives.  Jesse Jackson said someone has to tell our story… I choose to tell our story poetically.

SP Bonita: What type of feeling do you receive from a completed poem. When you are truly satisfied with a piece. What is the aftermath feeling running through you?

Dessie: Ah… that’s good… And very good…  If I can’t lean back in my chair after reading a piece and say “Ah… that’s good…” then I know I will have to re-visit or continue on with that particular poem.  Some of my poems didn’t make the book and some I pulled from the book… and some I worked on up until the final moment of editing.  You know how the Creator must have felt after he created Earth and all therein…  When I complete a poem, I feel like the 7th day.

SP Bonita:  Even though your book is not physically divided into sections, I found similar themes in groups of poems, starting with the first poem “For You” (page 11) and following in my opinion deals with love, relationships good/bad;

Dessie: Yea, it was written at the onset of a relationship, and stating metaphorically, after it’s all said and done… if it don’t work out…  Thanks anyway. “Listen” (page 56) themes dealing with personal strengths and character;  This piece is actually more political…  Even in the verse “my lifeless body lies in bed with estranged allies” I’m actually speaking of the time we spend doing necessary things, like working every day, putting on another nature just to keep working everyday… the poem goes on “having their way with me, I fake, pretend in a robotic state… ‘we can make it if we try’… knowing that when I meet the measure the bar will be raised to the sky”. 

The poem is stating that in corporate america there is a ceiling for most minorities, no matter how hard we work “Never Thought I’d See the Day” (page 74) themes dealing with being black in america; Uhm, after reading books like 1984 by George Orwell, mind you… you read the book 1974 and it was written in 1948 and an in depth metaphoric study of Revelations from King James version of the Bible and you take a look around…  it’s like… damn I really never wanted to see the day of so much destruction… Not only in our community, even though it’s the focus of the poem but globally… I just shake my head and say… damn… but I do what I can to make a positive difference… for what it’s worth…

SP Bonita: “Snappin Out” (page 120) themes dealing with soul searching; 

Dessie: That’s my “it’s ok” poem… It’s ok to feel lonely, it’s ok to be feel like no one cares about you, it’s ok to feel like nobody understands and “nobody knows the trouble I seen”… the poem simply says… Let it out and let it go…  and keep on trucking….  “nobody said the road would be easy…” Do what you got to do… but just keep on doing, you’ll be alright, you gonna be alright girl.

SP Bonita: “P.S.” (page 141) paying homage to your parents.

Dessie: Yes, I wrestled with those two poems.  Very personal.  Whether I should include them in this book or not… but the thought of “there may not be another book” came to mind…   You know in one of Nikki Giovanni’s poem she says something to the effect that… “she didn’t know she came from the ghetto until she heard it on the news”.  With me (and most from my generation) it’s like… “I didn’t know I came from a dysfunctional family until I heard it on a talk show”…   Graduate from high school was the only requirement to be successful… keep your dress down and your panties up was sex education… and marijuana was dope, you was “on drugs” with a puff (ha, ha, ha)… All I knew is that I always had a home, I always had a place to come back to… after the “riff-raff”… and I have to give them there propers for just that… Everybody didn’t have that… because a lot of them came home with me to my parent’s house…  I’m very grateful for the love they extended not only to our immediate family but also to our friends.

SP Bonita: From the point of view of a reader, you shared a variety of themes, the flow of the book was never interrupted with a “hard return”. To me, the further I ventured into your garden of words, the more it seemed as though book was blooming into something beautiful. By time I had reached the end your book, it had bloomed into a garden of colorful yet different flowers blending as one fragrance. Was this your intention, in the poems you choose?

Dessie: Thank you.  Absolutely… I tried to keep a flow.  I thought about creating sections but I thought the readers might miss something… If they went to a section called “politics” they may never read my poems “Black Man-Child Mother’s Lament 1 or 2”, which would be in the “motherhood” section but are just as political as “September 11, 2001”…

SP Bonita: Dessie, tell our readers where they will be able to purchase your book.

Dessie: My book is currently available on line at and; Barnes & Noble on the Waterfront, Homestead; or you can email me at and I’ll get one to you.

SP Bonita: What are your future plans, any other books in the workings?

Dessie: I’m actually working on  2 future publications… 1 is titled: “Mental Masturbation: quit playing with yourself” about the illusions in this life and self deception.  The other is yet to be titled.

SP Bonita: Your forward was written by the late, great Rob Penney. Tell us how it was to work with such a great writer and what was one of the many important things he taught you about writing?

Dessie: What a blessing to know such a man… and to work with “Oba” Rob Penny.  The wisdom, the knowledge, the dedication and concern to the struggle of Black people in America and in the Diaspora.  He would not allow you to waste your gift on entertainment.  He wanted your gift to make a statement… to make a difference… You could not come up in Kuntu Writers Workshop with BS… In the most respectful way, you would be called on anything “non-righteous” so to speak by Rob… Only he could critique and send you back to task in such a positive way… you only wanted to present your best when with him…  He was King… and you didn’t mind a courteous heart felt bow…  He told us to “write everyday” and “don’t let them change your words”.

SP Bonita:  Are there any future events, that you be involved with?

Dessie: I’m kicking off National Poetry Month on April 3rd by doing a Realized Reason in Rhyme Poetic Insight workshop for students at Shuman Detention Center.

On April 28th, of course, we’re doing your “Author’s Night” at Dowes on Ninth; On April 22nd at 1:00pm, I will be featured at Barnes & Noble on the Waterfront, Homestead.  I have a few pending engagements that I’ll shoot to you when confirmed.

SP Bonita: One more question, Dessie, what inspires you to "Keep" writing?

Dessie: The desire to make a difference. Marches had their place in the past, I believe to reach the  new generation, we have to connect with them through the arts, through the open mic venues. Plus I write to keep my sanity, at least I can put the truth on paper.

To read more click onto Dessie’s website below. You may purchase her book in the “Bio” section and check out some of her favorite links:

                            Dessie Bey