Interview with Ronald Davis, a poet and a Kentucky Al Smith Award winning visual artist known as "upfromsumdirt".
Ron Davis is a poet and a Kentucky Al Smith Award winning visual artist from Lexington. He has had his artwork featured in several magazines including New Southerner, African American Preview, Nat Creole Magazine, as well as on various CD and book covers under the screen name “upfromsumdirt”. Although he mostly blogs at upfromsumdirt.blogspot.com, he spends part of his time posting many of his poems at various online sites and workshops. Along with Crystal Wilkinson, he is a co-founder of Wild Fig Books & Coffee, a local/global, writer-owned, black-owned, counter-gentrification bookstore, in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky’s. Today on Your Voices, we talk to Ron about the wonderful work they’re doing through art and poetry to promote the sense of pride in our culture among the Black populace.
Hi, Ron! I’ve followed your art & poetry for a while now and I keep coming across the name “Upfromsumdirt.” What does it mean and how did the name come about?
Hi! “Upfromsumdirt” is my artist and writer name; it comes from a line in an old self-identifying poem of mine (circa 1999) where I describe myself as being “up from some dirt, like a pyramid / a peer, amid”. It became my screen name when I’d joined one of the many online poetry message board communities that used to exist in the early 2000’s. It sums up my personal aesthetic pretty succinctly.
Are there any hidden ideas when you write your poetry or should people understand them as they are?
I’m heavily influenced by blackness, politics, religion, and mythology – nearly all of my art contain one or more of those elements and many are “hidden in the open”… I’m a cultural critic by nature but as a cultural creative, I’m tasked with 1. Representing the marginalized, 2. Defining my own creative voice, and 3. Crafting that ‘marginalized, creative voice’ in such a way that those who systemically ignore us will actually admire and glorify my criticism of the systemic racism that benefits them.
— upfromsumdirt (@upfromsumdirt) November 26, 2016
What is the main idea behind your art? What influences the work that you create?
Romanticism of mythology is the cornerstone of a systemic privilege within every culture and from that privilege comes social and political empowerment. A people without an aesthetic that is rooted in the mythology of its cultural past are in danger of being stereotyped or fetishized by those that do. So FOR ME it is important that my art romanticizes blackness and Africa so that we are able to grow the aesthetics of what empowerment means for us so we can systemically apply those concepts in how others are made to see us.
How do the struggles, and issues affecting the black community across the country get represented in your art? Do you highlight these issues at all?
I’m not always influenced with contemporary issues; my art tries to confront the historical elements from which our contemporary issues arise. But, if I’m effective as a creative, then when I write about historical 16th century whiteness then it should reflect how it affects 21st century blackness. We are victims of ’cause and effect’. We need immediate responses, but sometimes a better understanding and connection to the past helps us to strategize what we do today.
What are the most recent events / moments connected with your creativity? Here I’m talking about events you took part in or artworks that you’ve released.
The last gallery exhibit for my artwork was in 2010 but since then I’ve mostly worked on my writing; luckily I was able to highlight both with the 2015 release of my first poetry collection called Caul & Response – roughly 40 pages of poetry and 10 pages of various art projects. I’ve also done book covers for my wife and bookstore partner, Crystal Wilkinson (The Birds Of Opulence – winner of the 2016 Ernest J. Gaines Award For Literary Excellence) and Keith Gilyard’s, The Next Great Old-School Conspiracy. And I just released my chapbook called Tangerine Tubman, a single, 20 page-length love poem about Harriet Tubman.
What are your plans for the upcoming year? Do you have any special targets?
Artistically, I’m hoping to get my second full poetry collection published, The Second Stop Is Jupiter. But our bookstore/cafe, The Wild Fig, is entering its second year in operation, so we’re really hoping to generate more word of mouth for that. Any success we’re able to generate as writers and artists for 2017 will mostly come from how well the bookstore succeeds.
What kind of people come to “Wild Fig Books & Coffee” and whom are you waiting for?
Our customers come from all walks of life. We’ve had members of the local Black Lives Matter chapter meet here, we’ve had local LGBTQ associations meet here, we’ve had a gay marriage held here, we’ve had the local Nation of Islam come support us for a cash mob, we’ve had college professors hold their classes here…. Our goal was to always be a home for community activism, for diverse backgrounds to gather and share fellowship (or to maybe even come to blows if necessary!)
— upfromsumdirt (@upfromsumdirt) August 16, 2016
Let’s all visit “Wild Fig Books & Coffee” soon. Is there anything special you would like to say to our readers? Any parting words or seasons greetings?
Yes, continue to support black businesses – not just our online ventures, but also seek and find the traditional brick-n-mortar stores that don’t always use the internet as their main way to advertise and promote. And support your local creatives – the painters and the writers – creatives are our journalists and when we support them they become our “elected officials” or our voices. It’s important that we, as black people, support them instead of allowing outsiders to decide who they like within the black community and then letting them promote their choices back to us. This is how they maintain trying to control our narratives. We can’t allow that.