Poet Series Part 2: Breanna McGowan
Breanna McGowan is a poetry/spoken word artist residing in Dayton, Ohio. She has been writing for a couple of years now and is looking forward to what poetry will expand into in growing years to come. She is a caregiver at heart. Her job fuels her passion for poetry in spaces such as open mics, features, workshops, and traveling events. She is here to share her words with the world. Poetry is the vehicle, she’s just along for the ride.
The Poet Series is my examination of the process and procedures of being a poet in today’s world. With a growing number of poets finding mainstream success online, it’s important to highlight how the current generation is telling stories.
For this part of the series, I interviewed Dayton, Ohio native and performance poet Breanna McGowan, also known as Quiet Storm. Breanna’s new book Tornado Warnings & Still Winds published in July of 2018.
Shon Houston: In what ways has going by a stage name aided your poetry? Often we see a name become a symbol or some form of alter ego, so I’m curious what it does for you, specifically.
Breanna McGowan: Fun fact! I didn’t even come up with my [own] stage name. It was another poet, Matthew Vaughn of Underdog Academy [who originally came up with it]. He indirectly called me that after one of my first featured showcases, and it just stuck!
My stage name gives me this on-stage persona, a safe space that allows me to tap into my truth and open up. I have [had] a lot of people come up to me after slams and say, “I can see why they call you Quiet Storm.” So I definitely use that to my advantage and let the crowd [interpret] what they hear from me.
SH: Reading through Tornado Warnings & Still Winds, I noticed that there was a sense of inner family identity dynamics in certain places. Did someone in your family have a direct influence on this book?
BM: Well, my entire immediate family was the baseline for those specific poems—my mother, father, and brother, mainly. The poem that comes to mind is the piece “Reppin My City.” I always get asked, “Where are you from?” “Did you grow up here?” In part, I did, but I wanted to break down how we, as a family, communicated or [sometimes didn’t]. It’s not just about what street you grew up on; it’s what kind of household you were affected by and exposed to in your early years. I think that’s more of a conversation.
SH: How important is it to accurately portray authentic characters in your poetry, and what process do you use in order to do that?
BM: For me, it is very important to be as authentic and transparent as I can. My words are meant to get through to people. Whether it be on stage or [through] someone reading my book. Metaphors can only go so far without there being some kind of honest truth behind them all. You can sugar-coat a lot of things, but if I am able to help someone understand my perspective and help them create their own, then that is something I always aim to do.
SH: What can readers expect from Tornado Warnings & Still Winds?
BM: I think readers can expect to be enlightened and find something or someone that is relatable. I try to be as transparent as possible.
SH: What was your process for taking on your first published body of work? How did you decide what made the cut? Is it a collection of work or does it tell a more linear story?
BM: It is a collection of my poetry over the last 6 years. It took about 3 years to add and cut what I thought was book-worthy. For me, a book-worthy poem is one I’m willing to share on stage or share with [a reader]. . . I definitely tried to tie each chapter [together] with similar poems [and themes]. The [reader’s] take-away is the most important part for me. If you enjoy my work, wonderful. If it isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine too. At least you digested something from it.
SH: Did you intentionally write a book, or was the book a result of a build-up of poems?
BM: I wasn’t hell-bent on putting out a book at first, but as I continued to write, I felt the need to share my words with people [offf the] stage. There are a few poems in the book I didn’t feel comfortable reading or performing on stage, but I was comfortable enough to write them and share them in a book.
SH: Which titles didn’t you feel comfortable performing? Why?
BM: “The Poem I’ve Never Been Able To Talk About Until Now.” This piece was a difficult one for me to put it into the book to begin with. It is about a [deeply] personal subject. Being molested at a young age doesn’t sit well with me even now.
Even though I have moved past it and can openly talk about it now, it is still something I’d rather just leave to a willing reader. Then, if they have questions or comments on it, I can answer those from there. I don’t want to highlight that part of my childhood. In no way does the piece glorify anything, but it isn’t a piece I would ever perform to just perform.
Another poem is “Taboo.” I actually have no problem with this piece—it’s just never made it into a performance line-up! I am a 27-year-old virgin. It has nothing to do with religion. I’ve also never been in a relationship before either, so I’ve never found it super important to just sleep with whomever for whatever reason. When and if it happens, then I guess I’ll haven’t new to add into my writing material.
The last poem is “The Man That Didn’t Raise Me.” This one also just never made it into a performance line-up. I try to switch up which pieces I read and perform in different sets, but I just gotta circulate them better. This was a personal piece but also a fairly relatable one. Who knows? I may end up reading it at my next show.
SH: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
BM: Anything can spark an idea—mental health, world issues, sadness, love—anything that evokes emotion out of me.
SH: I recently saw that you have a quote by Hanif tattooed on your arm. What does that mean to you?
BM: “I understand that I should always come bearing flowers. It is good to hold a slow funeral in your palms. It is good to know when something will leave.”
It reminds me to hold on to the moments I have with people—that we should celebrate life as we live it because we all die one day, and no one can take care of flowers after they are gone.
SH: What are you expecting to gain from doing your first book tour?
BM: I’m excited to hit new stages and be exposed to new communities in the poetry world. I have only performed in Ohio and Kentucky so being able to travel and share my words with new people is always exciting. I’m experiencing an experience. Anything else is the icing on the cake.
SH: What are your best tips for setting up your first tour?
BM: Definitely get a manager! The booking process is overwhelming, but honestly, just make connections with as many poets as you can. You can connect to other [venues] that way. I was connected to the people in Texas from knowing B. Shatter from Kentucky. He moved down to Texas, and I was able to reach out to him and book a few shows.