On Thursday, Sept. 9, the poetic works of Marsha Mills and Janine “Lady J” Nash were displayed at the Vision + Verse event, hosted by the Hunter Museum of American Art.

After working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was one of their first in-person events with a live audience in over a year.

They presented pieces inspired by art on display in the museum, and questions and comments were encouraged after each piece. 

Both women began writing poetry at a young age and Nash said that she vaguely remembers winning a poetry contest in fifth grade, but her passion truly began when she wrote lyrics for bands in high school.

“Our band was opening for a poetry event and one day I just got on the mic and did some of my lyrics as a poem,” said Nash.

Many of Nash’s inspirations are not poets, but song writers like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Smokey Robinson. 

Mills said her introduction to poetry was like many other children.

“I probably started like most kids did with the Mother’s Day poems in fifth grade,” said Mills.

She began writing poetry seriously in her teenage years as a coping mechanism for challenges she was facing in her life.  

Some of her biggest inspirations are Maya Angelou and Gil Scott-Heron.

Mills is the current president of Rhyme N Chatt, a local poetry group that hosts live performances of poets from the area.

“Our mission is to provide a safe place where poetry is shared and discussed and the poet is valued,” said Mills. 

Mills said that, in her experience, it can be intimidating for poets to share their work because of harsh criticism from listeners. But her group aims to do the opposite.

Rhyme N Chatt encourages anyone to share their poetry.

“It builds self-esteem, courage, and confidence in the person,” said Mills. “We’re doing it through poetry, but it sets the stage for them to step out and embark on some other things that they haven’t had the confidence to do.” 

Rhyme N Chatt will begin formally accepting new members in January 2022. For information, visit rhymenchatt.com.

Both women had advice for aspiring writers. Nash said that she learned the hard way that once a writer stops writing or takes a break, it can be difficult to get back into it.

“Just do it, and don’t let anything stop you,” said Nash.

Additionally, she noted the importance of reading and researching as a way to hone writing skills. 

Mills learned from her own mistakes the importance of not throwing away one’s writing—even if it feels like the right thing to do in the moment. In her teenage years, she wrote poems to deal with emotions that she couldn’t understand at the time.

“At that stage of my life, its purpose was therapeutic, just so I could get it out,” said Mills. “But I was ashamed of what I was going through, and I didn’t understand what I was dealing with.”

She said she wishes she still had access to those pieces, and she urged others to never throw away their work because they just might want to read it someday.

“Anything that you create is valuable and needs to be held on to,” said Mills.

Mills and Nash both agreed that the most difficult parts of writing come when it’s forced for a deadline. Many college students can relate to the struggle of writer’s block, especially when due dates are fast-approaching. 

Nash refers to her catalog of misplaced lines and verses as her “poetry store,” which comes in handy on those occasions when she does have a deadline to meet.

“Things will come to me all the time and I’ll just write it down and put it away,” said Nash.

Mills offered a similar sentiment.

“Immediately be ready to send yourself a text message or write it on a napkin,” said Mills. “Once it gives you the gift of showing up, it will disappear on you and you’ll never be able to grasp it again.” 

The Vision + Verse events are free for anyone wishing to attend. Admission to the permanent collection at the museum is free on the first Thursday of each month from 4-8 p.m. For those looking to get more involved at the museum, visit huntermuseum.org/calendar for event information.

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