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Know Your Entertainers: Chantel Massey reflects on Indy poetry scene

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Indianapolis-based poet and author Chantel Massey is helping the local poetry scene grow and thrive.

Massey, who wrote and published “Bursting At The Seams” in 2018, has been writing from the early age of 8 years old — inspired by the works of Maya Angelou as she scribbled poems into notebooks as an outlet for her feelings. 

“What I love most about being a poet, I would say, is the opportunity to facilitate conversations that are difficult to have — with poetry being such a creative way of using language,” Massey said. “I think it gives people like, I don’t want to say a shield but maybe like a superpower, something where people feel more empowered to really explore what it is that they themselves need to say.”

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When she first started writing poems, Massey said she drew inspiration from her friends and family — often the stories her aunts and uncles told her growing up — with a style called “confessional poetry.”

But it wasn’t until she went off to college in Wooster, Ohio that Massey really immersed herself into a poetry community. Her campus at Wooster did not have a poetry club, so Massey said she decided to start one — which hosted open mic nights each Friday in the apartment she shared with 10 other girls. 

After college, Massey returned to Indianapolis to get involved with the local poetry scene. Although poetry was not regarded the way it is today, Massey said she went to open mic nights and events hosted by Januarie York and Tony Styxx to listen to other poets and build the confidence to read her work.

“I was sharing poems in college, but I wasn’t, like, doing slam, or I wasn’t thinking about doing it professionally,” she said. “I wanted to share them, and I wanted to be in space with people who wrote them … From there, I decided to keep writing. I would show up with all of my notebooks and read all of whatever poems filled out the page.”

Since 2018, her essays and poetry have been published by publications such as the Indianapolis Review, Solstice Magazine, Indiana Humanities and VKR Press. Massey is also back in school and is passionate about educating the youth about creative writing and finding healthy outlets to express themselves.

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Now, Massey said her work is inspired by sources such as history, Afro-futuristic ideals, time travel and things she has survived and reflect what she feels needs to be said. She is always reading and studying poetry and said she often goes back to her older poems to find ways to make them clearer or better.

As the arts scene in Indianapolis continues to thrive, Massey said it is important that opportunities for poets, especially those of color, be included in arts, writing and humanities. As an art form, Massey said poetry can sustain communities and inspire those who are navigating difficult things.

“The art form itself — of writing — is being more inclusive about poetry being an important art form … that informs and liberates and improves the quality of our lives,” she said. “Which I think is important; we need art to just help us be more expressive.”

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-862-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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