When I meet her in a funky little bar in the Paseo district of Oklahoma City, Morgan Coleman has purple hair and she doesn’t talk like a poet. She talks with the same use of cliche and personal verbal tics we all do. And she talks with a mix of pride and humility about her childhood, a mix that seems both familiar and out of place.
It’s a childhood that inspired lines like these, which she delivers into a microphone in a small, crowded room painted with gnomes:
“it’s a shade that follows you through your life
a tattoo on your scared flesh
typing different over paper like that’s your new name
Like this was just a shift in the stars
when you can only see black night skies”
Morgan Coleman is a poet, and she maps the harder parts of her life experience with gymnastic words, bent and tumbled to fit the challenges she’s faced. “I haven’t had the easiest life,” Morgan told me.
As her story unfolds I find out what she meant: alcoholism and violence in her childhood home in Connecticut; working from a young age and spending nights under a bridge a mile away because that felt safer than her bedroom; close brushes with suicide, a stay in a home for troubled youth, and the long loneliness of feeling, and being treated as, different.
But these hard circumstances are not the whole of her story, even during her younger years. Morgan was very bright. She attended a magnet school focused on global studies and traveled to various countries and all around the US. After high school she helped lead trips of American high school students to Europe, where they studied geology through extended field trips to places like the Alps.
When she was 21 her parents divorced and her mom made a quick move to Oklahoma. Morgan moved with her, and through her job at Barnes and Noble she got plugged into the local poetry scene.
Oklahoma is a very conservative place, a very conservative-American-evangelical-Christian place, the sort of place where people expect you to have a good job, a happy heterosexual family, and a favorite college football team with Oklahoma in the name. And it goes without saying that you attend a good, strong church every Sunday. If your life doesn’t look like this picture it can be hard to feel at home.
The poetry scene in and around Oklahoma City is filled with people who, one way or another, don’t feel at home. They’re often more liberal, less Christian, less heterosexual, and less concerned with college sports. Because of this, Morgan tells me, there’s a deep value placed on vulnerability and acceptance throughout Oklahoma’s poetry community. The people who come to share and listen to poetry are really there to connect, to find people who feel out of place like they do.
And this is why Morgan found so much space to breathe here. She is an outsider. She doesn’t fit the conservative Christian mold. She has purple hair. In Oklahoma’s poetry community, Morgan found a place where the ways in which she felt insecure and hurt and alienated became the sources of art and beauty.
Late last year, in between studying for a career in chemical engineering, Morgan won the chance to represent Oklahoma at the Women of the World Poetry Slam. The poems she wrote and performed about all the hardest parts of her life have lifted her up as a sort of hero.
And this is why, when she tells me about a childhood that leaves me fumbling for words, she talks with that mix of pride and humility. It’s the same mix you hear from people who have accomplished something great, like building a company or getting a novel published. It felt strange to hear that tone when she told me stories of alcohol and abuse.
But, Morgan tells me near the end of our conversation, she doesn’t wish for a different childhood. That one was hers. And not only did she survive it, but she is transforming it into art, into beauty, into a way to connect with other people who share similar wounds. With it, she is accomplishing something great.
Buy Morgan’s latest book of poetry and help send her to WOWPS here! http://emberarts.com/store/