The first time I was introduced to Ryan, the person and the poet, it was Valentine’s Day, 2013. He showed up to the open mic night I was running, which just happened to fall on Valentine’s Day that year, and read a love poem to the date he bought to the night. From the mic, I found out he was in high school, gave him a good-natured hard time, the way any host would, while also not hiding my legitimate shock revolving around the fact that THIS kid, who just read a stunningly effective love poem, was still in high school. Not even a senior. I really wanted to use this project to cover as many bases as possible. Find poets who could speak to as many experiences as possible. So, I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to include Ryan. In Columbus, we may get a youth poet on the scene every now and then, and not all of them stick around, or keep their passion/interest level high. So when I kept seeing Ryan popping up at open mics, taking big league swings on mics all around the city, I made a note to keep an eye on him. Not just because Ryan is an incredibly gifted writer, but also, perhaps more importantly, because his poems so often spark and contribute to necessary conversations that aren’t being had in some of the spaces that people his age (and let’s be honest…people YOUR age) occupy. I think there’s a difference in a writer who is ahead of their time, and a thinker who is ahead of their time. Ryan is the latter, and he just also happens to write. I’m terrible at predictions, which explains my dismal NCAA tournament bracket for the past decade. But I am entirely comfortable saying that Ryan Javery will have an incredible impact on the poetry community, in Columbus and beyond. And I can’t wait to watch it happen.
I think what most interests me about you is how socially aware you are. It flows into your work really well, I think. In the ways you dismantle the myth of the “friend zone”, and maneuver tough topics such as suicide. Let me say, for real, that your level of awareness around some really difficult topics is much higher than mine could ever dream of being when I was your age, and for many years after. Where does that come from?
A lot of it comes from a relatively early discovery of the issues. When it come to my discovery of feminism and my current relationship with it I can really tie that down to a poem by Isabel Elliot and Massie Cramer about the word bitch. The poem just made me realize that I had been operating the world in a way that caused harm, which sparked a real attempt to self educate and change my behavior.
It also helped a lot that I had a great friends and mentors who were calling me out on the problematic shit that was coming out of my mouth. Especially after I told the about articles I was reading and the attempts to change my behavior I was making.
I really appreciate how you’ve come up in the scene. In what ways have you seen your work develop in your time on the scene?
I think I’ve started to find my voice a bit more in terms style and performance. When I was first starting I made a real attempt to try and write poems in other poets styles and voices to which ones I liked. I’ve started making a conscious effort to get ride of my generic poetry voice and perform more like myself which I think is an important part of my growth as a poet.
I’ve also just become way more critical with my work. For instance I used a piece of about suicide for the Columbus District Slam Prelims, that I had been working on for almost a year. If you had told me when I first started out I’d be working on one poem for that long I would’ve laughed. The editing process is so much more important to me now, and I’ve finally realized that there’s no such thing as a finished piece when it comes to poetry.
You’re another poet in the long line of young poets to come out of the Mosaic program here in the city. I really think we owe the growth of the scene, in part, to the work that gets done in that program. I have seen so many Mo’ Kids come into our scene and stick around long enough to really enhance it. How did you fall into Mosaic?
My high school journalism teacher had taught as at Mosaic almost a decade ago and she recommended me for the program. So I went to meeting and met some of the student in the program at the time and absolutely fell in love with what I heard. They talked about the value of the program in introducing you to new ideas and perspectives. A lot of the conversations in the first project revolve around issues of privilege which was really interesting to me.
I hear a lot, and talk a lot about the voices of youth not always being the most heard, or most respected, especially in art. I think that in poetry, there are some efforts being made to bend those expectations. What do you think about the respect given to the voice of people, especially artists, 18 and under?
Yeah I think I’m a weird place to answer that question because I tend to read as a lot older than I am, so I personally haven’t felt that issue too much. That said there is definitely a certain amount proving yourself you need to do a teenager in order for your voice to be taken seriously.
I think the expectation is more often than not that people in my age group having nothing of value to say, and I think that expectation is still very prevalent when it comes to artist communities. And we all feed into it, even youth artists.
When I hear a high schooler is about to go up on the open mic my first reaction is “this is probably gonna be bad.” Which a stupid reaction especially since I’ve been exposed to some of the best poetry I’ve ever heard coming from high school poets.
I’ve heard you talk about operating in spaces where your peers, or the people you spend a lot of the day around, don’t get a lot of the things you strive for/feel strongly about, and how exhausting that can potentially be for you. With that in mind, what responsibility do you feel like your work has to express some of those things?
I think that I have a responsibility to write the poems that can help educate people who don’t know about issues of social justice and in addition can be entertaining for the many people who do understand the issues that will be over hearing these poems. I try to make sure that when I write about that stuff that I let hit every member of the audience rather than say things most of the audience already knows.
Also in a lot of way writing social justice poems is refreshing for me, it’s a way for me to try and find a more powerful and interesting than I do in my day today life. Which is really fun for me, and helps further my understanding of the issues that I write about.
On the back of that, your relationship with activism is fascinating, to me. As I mentioned earlier, when I was your age, I had a hard time grasping any thoughts around social justice, let alone articulating them. And I literally just watched you perform/talk brilliantly at Take Back The Night. So, I have always wondered where you found your voice, when it comes to activism, and how it has evolved in a high school setting?
I think a part of my voice when it comes to speaking out in activist circles comes from a number a things. One is just a general willingness to look stupid in front of people with whom I’m comfortable, and Mosaic gave me an opportunity to do that until I eventually got comfortable doing it that in front of people I didn’t know.
I also got involved with the Ohio Student Association a community organizing group, that really helped me grow as activist and made me more open to the idea of being political in conversation.
You get to view the Columbus poetry scene through an interesting lens. I would say that your work has been extremely well received on the scene, and, along with all of the Mosaic crew, you’re seen as a breath of fresh air. That said, I’m curious to find out what it looks like from your end. What are some of the benefits of the Columbus poetry scene, and what things about it have helped you grow as a writer?
I think I can really attribute most my strength as a poet to the scene in Columbus for so many reasons. Firstly, the exposure to incredible work that I’ve had coming out to shows in Columbus has been jaw-dropping. People like you, Will Evans, Rachel Willey, Mshaw, Ethan Rivera, and so many more I can’t name check have really given something to strive towards in terms of sheer quality.
In addition everyone is incredibly supportive and encouraging of new poets, which makes it really easy to start getting comfortable on the open mic. As far as I’m aware there isn’t a host in Columbus that doesn’t actively encourage new artists to hit the mic which makes a massive impact on a people’s experience in the scene.
Lastly and this is a little more personal to me, the scene has provided me with some great mentors. Ethan Rivera especially has been a transformative factor in my work, as he has coached me on two of the Mosaic slam teams as of now.
I think there are more resources for young poets now than there have ever been. Which is fantastic. You’re an artist who seems very interested in the art you’re creating. Who are some poets (locally or beyond) who have had the biggest impact on you finding your voice?
Two local poets who have made a huge impact in me finding my voice have been Mshaw and Rachel Wiley. Mshaw has basically thought me that absolutely everything can be a powerful piece of poetry with the right focus. It seems like there is nothing off limits for him as a poet and that’s something I seek to emulate I push further in what I’m willing to do in a poem.
Rachel is a different story for me. She has this incredible way of making political pieces confessional which is so admirable to me and something that I’m trying weave into my work. She also is an incredible performer, and I hope to get to place too. She talks on occasion about her background in theater something I share with her and am trying to work into my performance the way that she does.
Nationally speaking there is way to many to go into. Jon Sands is a huge inspiration, same with Jared Singer, and most of the poets out of New York to be honest.
So often, I think this idea of “high school poetry”, even now, gets dismissed or laughed off by people who are extremely unaware of the amount of brilliant work happening in those spaces. Do you have any thoughts on the advancement of youth poetry, and changing some of the perceptions around it?
Yeah I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can grow youth poetry, especially in Columbus. And I think we need a two part solution, the first part is just getting more teenagers out to shows. The fact is more often than not the only high school kids in the audience are me and people from Mosaic. I think if we want youth poetry to be taken seriously in Columbus that trend needs to change.
The other part of that is that we need to give the high school poets who are really passionate about their craft more avenues to showcase their work. Features that showcase the high schoolers in the city either as solo performers or as groups would be great. And tying into that creating more avenues for high school poets to tap into the parts of the national scene set a side for them would be really help encourage the youth really get even more aggressive about pursuing excellence in their craft.
Especially I’d love to see an easier way for the high schoolers in Columbus to go out to IWPS and compete in the youth division, and for us to get some Brave New Voices representation.
Finally, my dude. My dude. It kills me that you’re not staying in Columbus. Sure, I am ALSO not staying in Columbus, but I have always thought your voice is one that the scene could desperately use in the future. That said, what’s next? Is poetry still something you’re keeping on the table going forward? College and beyond?
Well then you be happy to know that I actually will be staying in Columbus for at least a few more years as I attend Columbus State and hope to transfer over to OSU.
As far as poetry goes and I plan on staying a part of the scene for as long as I can see moving forward. I plan on going out for a slot on a Columbus NPS team next and continue working on crafting new and more challenging material.
Ryan, thanks so much for doing this. Your voice is so valuable, and you’ve had an incredible impact on this scene already. Can’t wait to see what’s next.
RYAN JAVERY is a Columbus native and soon to be graduate of the Mosaic program. He has competed on two Columbus District High School poetry slam teams, making the individual finals in 2014.