Popular slam poetry group Button Poetry recently featured the work of Rey Spikener ’21, but her love of the art form dates back to middle school. Spikener recalled watching a TED Talk by Sarah Kay, a spoken word poet, in 7th grade, which sparked her interest in poetry. Although she entered Wellesley intending to follow the pre-med track, Spikener switched her path to double major in Psychology and English with a focus on Creative Writing. She attended a slam reading by the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) team on campus in her first year, reinvigorating her own interest in creating poetry. “I kind of got back into it, [thinking] this is something I used to really enjoy, why don’t I do it anymore?” she said.
The untitled poem that caught the attention of Button Poetry was a short couplet that Spikener submitted as part of the group’s Short Form Contest. “I realized I hadn’t written anything since I had been on the CUPSI team last year. I wrote something and submitted it the day before the deadline — and they sent me an email a month later and told me it was selected,” said Spikener.
Spikener’s short-form poem was initially inspired by Mother’s Day and the emotions the holiday evokes for her. “I’m the oldest child in the family, and I really did raise my siblings — and I was writing about how Mother’s Day is a hard day for me. Everybody’s like oh, yeah, [my mom] did all the work, but I helped too. And I don’t really get acknowledged for that … It really turned into being about my experiences, not only as an only child, but also how I exist as a black fem in the world.”
Spikener is also the creator of Chrysalis, a zine and literary journal dedicated to forging a safe space for artists and writers of color to create and showcase their work. This is the publication’s first year, and Spikener spoke about the challenges of setting up a new organization and the passion that motivated her to go through with it.
“To get recognized as an org, it’s a very long and lengthy process, which I completely understand. It didn’t feel hard, and it didn’t feel like a labor, because this is something I really care about. It’s been a beautiful thing to work on. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about and something I get to work on with other people. [I’m hoping people find community] in this zine, because I think that’ll be the most fruitful — and the hardest — thing we’ll create,” said Spikener.
Spikener was inspired to create Chrysalis after a deeply personal poem of hers, “Self-Portrait as a Birdcage,” was not accepted in a different contest. “I realized that a lot of artistic people I know who are very talented — mostly people of color — don’t have a platform other than social media to get their work published. Especially when you’re writing about the POC experience or the immigrant experience,” she said.
“It’s hard to get people to read your work when it’s not relatable, and, unfortunately, a lot of positions of power in creative fields are overseen by cis, straight, white people — usually white men. They unfortunately have a monopoly, which I think is changing — but it needs to change faster. I don’t think we have something that specifically highlights POC voices [on campus. I wanted to] create a safe space where they don’t feel like their work has to be palatable to a white audience in order for it to be deemed as good,” Spikener continued.
“For me, the most important part of being creative and emphasizing art is that it’s really just a form of expression,” said Spikener when asked about the importance of art and expression, both in her own life and in the modern world. “It’s a form of love and connection with other people. If we don’t have connection and community and love and bonding with other people, we don’t really have anything. The world can be a very lonely place … a lot of things seem hopeless. But art gives me hope. Writing gives me hope. Art is how you decorate space, how we decorate ourselves and how we see each other. It’s so important.”