Manon voice, poet and writer
Last year was “deliriously busy” for Manon Voice, a poet, writer, spoken word artist, and social justice activist. She performed at major events such as Start with Art, the Chreece hip-hop festival, and the AHF World AIDS Day in Chicago, where legendary actress and singer Opal Staples paid Manon the ultimate compliment: She threw her shoe on stage. Manon was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry, and if you look around, you’ll start to notice that she’s seemingly everywhere, from a mural in Fountain Square to a photo on the wall of the new Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. (She’s also on the Indy Maven editorial board.)
Five years ago, though, life was very different. Manon was struggling with depression and anxiety, having gone through a devastating breakup and two job losses within six months. She quit her master’s degree program at Indiana Wesleyan University to take some time to heal. This past December, she finally earned that degree (in organizational leadership) and also marked her 35th birthday on the Winter Solstice, celebrating the return of light after the darkness, and deciding that “reality is ultimately kind.” And yes, she’s ready to hit it hard in 2020.
Maven superpower: Poetry and spoken word
Back in 2015, you went through a really rough time. What’s the No. 1 thing that helped you get your mojo back?
Creativity has always been a buffer to get me through hard times. My creativity and the way I express it, is the thing that no one can take from me. Creativity is a child of imagination, and imagination, although inspired by the external, comes from within. I have written and created my way through hard times and thus created a life for myself that feels authentic to who I truly am.
There is that quote, “You can be fired from a job, but you can’t be fired from your gift, so find your gift and you will always have work.” And I’d like to add, you will always have purpose; knowing that my creative gift as a poet and writer has purpose is what keeps me in the game.
What’s the first line of the first poem you ever wrote?
I wrote my first poem in grade school. I filled whole notebooks, but it’s hard for me to remember the lines. I do remember one poem I wrote in middle school had the refrain, “but life goes on.” It was about rejection from someone I had a crush on.
In middle school you think your life is over after your first heartbreak, and so you write these innocent but very vulnerable poems no one will ever see to deal with the shock. That practice hasn’t changed for me!
“We rush toward perfection not knowing that we actually metabolize the lessons learned during our pitfalls and mistakes for our own growth and development. So I think of life not in terms of re-do’s but in terms of doing better when we know better.”
What’s your favorite line from a poem (or stanza) that you have written since?
“If anyone ever ask
Tell them last,
I lived my life as a black woman
And that’s jazz.
I made it up as I went.”
— From “Blue Jazz”
How do you deal with or react to criticism?
I’ve gotten better! I’m an artist, an empath, and highly sensitive person and before I learned how to regulate my deeply sentient personality, I wasn’t very good at handling criticism. Practicing mindfulness helps keep me balanced in that area. In some instances now, I actually welcome it and ask for it.
If you could organize a poetry night with three women poets (alive or not), who would they be?
The late, great Maya Angelou, the beloved Naomi Shahib Nye, and my brilliant poet friend, Chantel Massey.
What local place/thing you can’t live without?
I visit Thaitanium on Mass Ave. on a weekly basis. It serves delicious Thai food, the people are wonderful, and the prices are great.
For your birthday, you asked for donations to The Bail Project. Why does this mission mean so much to you?
For several years, I have served at Trusted Mentors, which helps individuals who are transitioning from homelessness and imprisonment by connecting them with mentors who walk alongside them. I have seen firsthand, via my family and my work, the difficulties one faces after incarceration and they are immense and complex.
Mass incarceration is one of the largest crises we currently face. In America, as many people have criminal records as college diplomas. Unfortunately, we have a pathology of overly criminalizing individuals, especially black and brown folks who are the most vulnerable to the claws of the criminal justice system. Worse still, poor people become victims of the system, not necessarily because they are guilty but because they can’t afford bail and so they sit in jail while the ones who can afford bail get out, and often the poor will plead guilty to lesser crimes so they can at least go back home. As a result, they end up with a criminal record that could have been avoided.
We have a lot of work to do in this country to dismantle mass incarceration and reform the criminal justice system but the Bail Project is doing the work on the front lines by at least ensuring that people don’t have to sit in jail and lose their jobs and homes while they are awaiting trial. The Bail Project does this by providing bail money, offering pre-trial support like helping clients to find jobs and housing, texting them in-court reminders and in some cities, arranging for child care and transportation to reduce barriers that can prevent them from making it to their court date.
Biggest fear in life?
Losing the people that I love with them not knowing how much I loved and valued them.
Who are some women in Indianapolis that we should be following right now?
Tamra Rose, a singer/songwriter and also the executive director of Divas Honoring Divas.
Ebony Chappel, a journalist, health worker, and host of radio shows, “Eye on the Community” at Hot 96.3 and “Open Lines” on WTLC 106.7. On Instagram @ebonythewriter.
Beatriz Vasquez, a self-taught international artist in the Mexican craft of Papel Picado, or perforated paper, and the recipient of several prestigious fellowships. On Instagram @BeatrizDesignz and Facebook.
Kimberly Milfort, the founder of White Hibiscus Gifts, a retail store that sells handmade gifts that support education opportunities in Haiti.
If you could redo anything from 2019, what would it be?
I’d spend more time with those I love. I had such a deliriously busy year and wasn’t always able to balance my social life the way I would have wished.
But I also think of life as being a sacred journey. We rush toward perfection not knowing that we actually metabolize the lessons learned during our pitfalls and mistakes for our own growth and development. So I think of life not in terms of re-do’s but in terms of doing better when we know better.
What’s the one thing you absolutely want to do in 2020?
I’d like to publish my first book of poetry!
In 2020, Amanda Kingsbury just wants to write more stories about brave, authentic, funny, talented, give-no-effs Mavens in Indianapolis.