Why ABQ & Belize’s Virginia Hampton Writes & Performs

Virginia Eyes by Shrayas

Fabric of Community: 

Why I Write…& Perform

By Virginia Hampton

When I first moved to Albuquerque, I moved into a little apartment right across from a theatre which had been around since the 70’s.  I knew right then that I had come home.  I came to Albuquerque, to the University of New Mexico English department, in the summer of 1993, with a lot of baggage from my past and a real need to make some peace with this past.  I knew somehow that this peacemaking would be possible through the theatre across the street, if not physically, then metaphorically, and definitely through the writing that I was going to do.  Back then, I was a fairly faithful journaler, had made a commitment to journaling when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, after a long absence from journal writing.  I wanted her to know about what my life had been like when she was just a small entity inside me.  I felt that she needed to know, for better or worse, preferably after I am dead, who her mother was or who she thought she was anyway.   But now that I look back on my life of writing, as a poet, an academic, a science fiction writer, a writer of letters, an article writer, I can see that I am ultimately writing for myself—working out my own fears, guilt, thoughts, beliefs, struggles, fascination with the human condition, both intimately and universally.

Even so, in the variety of writing that I do, I know that much of it is intended for others.  I mean, who writes science fiction for herself?  Journals, on the other hand, are intensely personal and private, and the one time I opened up my journals to another person, a lover, I was sorry.  He was looking for truth in my words, and journals are not ‘the’ truth, so much as one’s perspective and observation about one’s life.  I think in the end, he just didn’t like the person I was, really, and since I struggled with loving myself, having him throw my journal back into my face was extremely devastating—not to mention bad manners.  When someone bares her soul to you that way, using that information against her…well, it’s mean-spirited, to say the least.  And it wasn’t the first time I felt violated this way.  When I was 15, I was miserable and, as it turns out, pregnant.  I was acting strangely, according to my mother, and she didn’t know what was wrong with me.  So, she searched my drawer and found my journal and read it.  You can just imagine how awful it was when she told me about her doing it, and when she yelled at me for calling her names in my own private writing which she had no business invading in the first place.  It’s no surprise to me that the lover who also read my intimate thoughts and used them against me was the same zodiac sign as my mother.  Nuf said.

It took me 12 years to pick up a pen and write again in a personal journal, and, to this day, I don’t intend to show my journals, my most personal writing to anyone but myself and, as I said, to my daughter after I am dead and they cannot do me any harm.  On the other hand, I now write letters, no, not in long hand so much, to friends and family, because I live most of the year far from Albuquerque.  I stay connected and people, shocked to receive letters in the age of text and e-mail, write me back.  I have learned so much more about the people I love by writing letters and receiving them and my relationships that include letter writing have deepened substantially.  This letter writing is a kind of journaling for me with more reciprocity and reflexivity.  It’s good to have someone on the other end, let’s just say.  Writing letters and getting response is a kind of intimate conversation that gives you time to think and rethink what was said. I love it.

Back in ’93, I began writing poetry that I intended to perform because I needed to find a community that could hold my baggage and a form that could express creatively what I was feeling.  I am not one for just saying so clearly and directly what I feel—what I think I am better at expressing—sorting out my emotions doesn’t come so easily to me.  Poetry turned out to be the perfect medium to hold my feelings, my hurts, my elation, and my observations about what matters most to me.  I was quite lonely and sad as a young child, nearly molested by my stepfather, had a rage-aholic mother, and was kidnapped and sexually assaulted at gunpoint at 17.  When I say, “baggage”, I am not fooling around.  Poetry can hold all of this and more.  Not only that, but when I combined my work with a group of other women with similar experiences, our poetry, dance, music and monologues,  performed together, took us all by surprise with its authenticity and power.  We called ourselves, OmniRoots, and the piece, “Root Dances”.   I had performed in a traveling troupe with Asheville’s “Poetry Alive!” and directed poetry collages back in Blacksburg, VA where I lived before I moved to Albquerque.  Most of the poetry I had collaged was written by published poets, including T.S. Eliot, e.e.cummings, sonia sanchez, Lucille Clifton, and others.  So “Root Dances” was, as an original piece, a culmination of work I had been doing years before.  Similarly, the poets, dancers, actors, visual artists, and musicians and singers who participated all brought something unique to the collage/choreopoem.  The Vortex vibrated and the audience held us tight.

I realized many years later why writing and performance, together, have offered me so much in the way of expression.  We need community and solitude.  We need feedback, as well as our own thoughts.  We need to feel connected.  This is why I write…and perform.

by Virginia Hampton

virginia by shrayas crop

BLOG EDITOR’s NOTE: When I received Virginia’s third contribution to LPG, I realized immediately that the theme of this essay was a born dovetail tie-in with Jennifer Simpson’s online magazine “I Write Because…” In short order, Jennifer and I worked to simultaneously co-publish this essay on Aug 7th (I’m trying the “schedule a post” option–and hopefully it’ll work and you won’t get this early or never). Here at LPG, we’re thrilled to feature Virginia again, and also happy to point our readers to Jennifer’s website, which you might want to peruse and perhaps submit an essay if you’re up for articulating what writing means in your life. Jennifer’s already achieved some amazing and fun  and hefty perspectives on writing…. and the online magazine keeps growing. — lg

Virginia’s other contributions to LPG are an essay for poets who’ve got nerves trying to get onto stage, as well as a short history and some perspective on choreopoems (& Belize).

And to see what Jennifer Simpson is up to and why she and her contributors set pen to paper, head on over to that site. Jenn aks: “What drives writers to write?  For more inspiration, and to submit your own I WRITE BECAUSE essay, visit www.iWriteBecause.com .”