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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Blythe Baird, young and hungry
by Ana Serna
2018-09-19

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Blythe Baird, a "mostly lesbian" author, spoken word performer and unstoppable creative force, is the poster child for successful, young artists. Originally from Palatine, a northwestern suburb of Chicago, Baird is currently living in St. Paul, Minn. On top of performing spoken word, she teaches introductory spoken word and poetry slam classes for children ages 13-17 in Minneapolis. She also hosts online editing sessions with writers.

Baird works on other artistic ventures, such as acting, "just for fun" but "poetry is my main jam," said Baird. She has acted in short films, as well as a documentary directed by Abby Thompson, a student she knew from her time at Hamline University in St. Paul. Her collaboration with Thompson led to The Fat Girl Who Got Skinny ( 2015 ), an award-winning short film that Thompson directed, based on a poem of the same name by Baird.

"I like poetry better [than acting] because I was in control of the narrative I was pushing," said Baird. "I wanted to have authorship over the stories that I was telling and I knew that I had stories to tell."

Button Poetry is publishing her second book, If My Body Could Speak ( 2018 ), which will be available "very soon," according to Baird. She said the release date has been set for a time in the very near future, but has not been made public yet. Baird plans to tour her book nationally shortly after the release.

Baird's previous book, Give Me a God I Can Relate To ( 2015 ), is out of print after "breaking up with her publisher" and the only copies remaining are selling for upwards of $150-$200 online from third-party sellers.

"What I wanted to do with [If My Body Could Speak] is combine the best work from [Give Me a God I Can Relate To] since it's not available now and put in new work that I've been doing," said Baird. Many of her poems have gained popularity across Button Poetry and will be included in the upcoming book. They were left out of Give Me a God I Can Relate To because Baird was only 18 when it was published, "…so those were more high school," she says. As for her current work, Baird simply says she is proud of her love.

"I feel [love] is a very soft thing in a very sharp world. I have gotten so much joy out of my relationships with women and non-binary people," said Baird. "I think because my [sexuality] is such an intergral part of my identity, it's part of the lens that I write all my poems from."

"I felt like a fish out of water, just trying to figure out this world," said Baird about coming out as lesbian during the end of her high school experience. Since coming out, other poets have guided her on her journey as a young, queer writer. Those women were Sierra DeMulder and Siaara Freeman.

DeMulder was Baird's camp counselor at Slam Camp, a youth summer performance poetry intensive workshop in Fort Lauderdale. "I started writing because I saw Sierra DeMulder perform and I was really impacted by her performance. I was very moved and felt so many things," said Baird of the first time she saw her now-mentor perform spoken word. "I was very struck that a poem could elicit such a tangible emotion from me. I was, like, 'I want to do that'."

"There are so few spaces where teenage girls are allowed to feel powerful. I was allowed to go up there and be unapologetic in my power," said Bard, recalling what first drew her to spoken word performance. "I didn't care about a lot things. Then when I started writing, everything mattered because I was going to write about it. Things began to carry more weight for me and I became more observant," said Baird. According to her, creative writing transformed a part of her that was apathetic before.

"Ever since then, she's been an extreme guide to me," said Baird. She calls DeMulder her mentor, as she goes to her for anything, from business advice to emotional support. "She just moved back to Minnesota and lives around the corner from me."

Similarly, Baird first met Freeman at Pink Door, a small writer's retreat that has historically attracted some of the more powerful names in spoken word. "I felt really supported … by the older people in poetry during my time there. I met Siaara and we just really clicked." Freeman is also lesbian and has taken Baird under her wing. DeMulder and Freeman's support includes coaching on writing, performing and holding an audience—something invaluable to a young artist.

"I still learn so much from them every day," said Baird. "I was a fan before I was a friend, so it's really cool to be able to have such a close relationship with someone that I looked up to so much."

Throughout her growth as a writer, Baird seems to be following in her mentors' footsteps. "Both of them are like my poetry big sisters. I think I still would have accomplished things without them but with their support and guidance I felt very confident in my own power," said Baird. "When I was younger a lot of people my age in high school didn't feel like they could do professional things when they were teenagers. My mentors got me out of that mindset. You can be doing all this now. You don't have to wait until you're an adult to be a writer. You can do this hustle right now."

"I feel very driven to let young people know that they are powerful, capable and significant … that their voice is worth listening to and their stories are worth telling," says Baird. "A lot of times, it's hard for a young person to feel that their experiences mean something and I think that I always want to spread the message that your voice does matter."


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