Music

Interview: Soulflower Talks “Soulflwer: The Poetic EP”, Navigating Trauma And Representation In The Classroom

Little Rock, Arkansas based creative, Soulflwer shares her journey through womanhood and breaks down her recent release, "Soulflwer: The Poetic EP".

Meyonsha Riddles, stage name Soulflwer, wears many hats. The Little Rock, Arkansas based creative is a Poet, Educator, Mother and Wife. At the start of our virtual interview there was a knock at the door— “Sorry, I’ve been ordering packages nonstop since we’ve been in quarantine. They know me by name!” Other than ordering packages and contributing to flattening the curve, Meyonsha was also busy putting out her recently released project, Soulflwer: The Poetic EP.

Before getting to know Soulflwer, one must understand where she started. Under Meyonsha’s vibrant smile and warm voice lies a young girl who has experienced emotional trauma. She channeled that pain and sadness through what she did not know at the time was her gift of writing, which grew into a passion for poetry.

In this interview we’ll learn how life’s circumstances led her on an uncertain journey through womanhood: finding oneself, embracing creative opportunities, experiencing healthy love, being an unorthodox creative, and proud black woman.

Give us a rundown on where you’re from and what you do.

A lot of people don’t know this, but I was born in Detroit, Michigan and that’s where my family is from. Well, some of my family. Like, my dad’s side and my grandfather on my mom’s side are from Detroit, Michigan. But, I was raised in Little Rock, Arkansas all of my life and that’s where I reside now. I’m also a first year— well, this is me going into my second year as an English Language Arts teacher. I was at Robert F. Morehead in Pine Bluff and I don’t know where I’ll be next year, but it will be teaching either English or some form of History. I have a Bachelor’s in English and I’m going back to school to get my Master’s in History.

That’s nice because I know you as the creative, the artist. I had no idea that you were an English major and it sounds like teaching is something that you really have been wanting to pursue. So since you’re multifaceted, what about the creative aspect of you? 

So, my creative aspect is just— it honestly comes like second nature. Everything I do is creative from the way that I dress, to the things that I like to indulge in, it’s all creativity. It all has to be colorful no matter what it is, like even if I’m learning something new— right now I’m doing personal book studies— but everything I that do is colorful. It has colors, pictures, everything is just creative and vibrant and it’s always been me.

It’s second nature, it’s just a part of you! People ask me about being an artist and a creative and it’s like, I don’t know it’s just who I am. We’re going to get to the teaching aspect, too! I’m excited to know that you’re an educator. How would you say that your upbringing shaped you as a creative, or as an individual?

As an individual— well, okay I’ll go with the creative side first! My grandmother passed away in October of 2007. I was in middle school and it hit us hard because my grandmother’s side of the family completely messed up the funeral and everything. It was just so bad and so toxic and chaotic, my mama ended up suing the funeral home. They kept my grandmother’s body out of the ground for twelve days, then they ended up burying her in watermelon field in Arkadelphia and it was just a lot, and that whole process we didn’t know how to grieve as a family. I was in seventh grade, my brother was in like the fifth grade and my sister was a baby. That was the only family my mom had and she didn’t know how to teach us how to grieve, so she didn’t know how to grieve and it was just like a really dark space for us for a long time. We lost the car, everything. I just started writing because I was so sad and because I couldn’t talk to my mama. I didn’t trust the people at school. All my friends had low-key abandoned me because I was like this depressed girl and nobody wanted to hang around me, and so I just wrote. That’s what I did, I just wrote. I even still have the ledger book that my great aunt gave me— it’s like you keep records of something by hand, but I have poetry all through that. Just a poetry book. It reminds me of where I started.

My next question was, when did you find out you had a poetic gift, but I guess you being in those circumstances really led you to that—

Right.

…but other than writing, was there a point where you did realize, like, “hold up, I have a way with words. I can do something with this”?

Umm, I’d say probably like ninth grade, because I would write stories. And there were these little— I forgot, like this little gothic stick girl and she had folders and stuff. I can’t remember like the brand, but I had several of those folders. I would put paper in them and I would write stories and I would let my friends on the bus in the eighth and ninth grade read them and they were like, “girl these are good you should get these published!” You know, hyping my little head up and I was like, okay. And then, ninth grade… reflecting and thinking about my poetry. Initially, this all started from pains and deaths. When ninth grade hit, the guy that I was dating passed away in September as school started — September ninth is when he passed away, 2009. That sent me to an even darker space and it was jut like all of this pain that I had, I couldn’t really talk to anybody because I didn’t trust anybody because of what happened in 2007 and that’s really how it all got started. I started letting other people read my poetry because that’s the only way that I could express myself then, and people were like, “this is really good! I can relate to this and I’ve never been through this”. I didn’t really start performing poetry until like 2016, but I had been writing from 2007 all the way up until that point. So, I have an archive of content.

I bet! That’s a long timeline and then to know that your was deeply rooted in pain, so that was your outlet and then with performing, how did that come about?

In 2015— I’ve got a timeline, but I went to Jackson State for a year, right. And literally the first day on campus a group called Outspoken had a showcase… open mic and before that though, during the summer I was like, girl you finna go to a bomb HBCU, you need to get your stuff together, you need to memorize some stuff because like, this is it! Even though I was going to play basketball my heart was really saying, you know, writing, creativity, poetry. And so, they did that and I went up there. I sang the song that I wrote like two years before that and I did a poem and the president of the organization came up to me and she was like, “we would really like for you to come and be a part of our organization”. Girl! I was so hype. I was like, oh okay I can do that.

That kind of started to mold it because then we would have meetings after— I had completely— I was like forget basketball. I was there, but I wasn’t there. It eventually led to me being kicked off the team, but I don’t care because I had this and this is what I— I’m really good at that! Being around all those creative people and people who were confident and they were performing and I was getting goosebumps. I was like I want people to feel that when I do that.

We had a showcase where I collaborated with this other girl I had never met before and after we did the showcase a lot of the older people that had been in Outspoken before, but had graduated were coming up to me like, “you did great you’re a beast if you just memorize it and get everything in order.” I was like, oh, okay I can do that for y’all! And then when I came home to UALR I did the same thing that I did there, unintentionally, but I was intentional about it getting back home I surrounded myself with creatives and people who had been doing it more and longer than me, people that I could learn from and just taking that and going with it and not being afraid. Before, I used to be so nervous and I would talk myself out of getting on stage or doing anything because I didn’t want to be judged, but now I’m like f*ck it, do it. It is what it is. Go for it!

I’ve seen you perform in person, so their reactions in college, those were my reactions, like wow! I’m really interested in knowing how you came up with your stage name.

So, I really— honestly, I can’t even remember. I feel like somebody called me that and I was like that’s it! Because, I think it was in like 2014 when I was going to The House of Art. I was trying to figure out my names. I had several different names. One I remember for real was Trilogy because I was like, I’m multifaceted, I can sing, I can rap, I can do poetry so I’m going to call myself Trilogy and I was like no, that doesn’t even suit you. And then at the time I had this gold afro. It was really yellow, it wasn’t gold or blonde, it was yellow and I think somebody called me sunflower and I was like, okay I’m soulful… I can be Soulflower. And then I tried to get it on Instagram, but I couldn’t do it with the “o” so I said forget it, I’ll be Soulflwer without the “o”. I really feel like the name came to me, I didn’t like go find it. I was looking for it, but then it was just like boom… Soulflwer.

And you’ve had that name ever since, right?

Ever since! I’m trying to think like, when I was at JSU I don’t even think I was Soulflwer and that was in 2016. I think it wasn’t until I came home that I actually got that name because my Instagram name was something else when I was at Jackson State.

Do you have a creative process with your poetry or do you just go off of whatever you’re experiencing in life? 

I don’t really have a process. I definitely go by what I feel and a lot of the poetry— so, this is what I always tell myself. If it’s not your truth, if it’s not real for you then you’re not writing about it because it doesn’t come off as authentic. I can’t write a poem about— it’s not that I can’t, but it’s for me and for my own healing— because that’s what writing is for me in a sense— then I’m not going to fabricate something just for the entertainment of another person. So, everything that I’ve written I’ve experienced it, it’s hurt me and I’ve written it down to grow from it, so yeah.

So, considering your English background and poetic gift, who influenced you?

I love, love, love, love this lady named Alex Elle, she is— I’ve read one of her books, “Loving My Language,” and I just fell in love with her because she was like me. She was talking to me about me and it was her. I also love Reyna Biddy. I heard her on one of Kehlani’s albums and then I’ve also heard her on Raphsody’s album where she does like interludes or introductions and her voice and her words are so amazing. And then of course Maya Angelou because I’ve taught lessons bout her and my kids were like, “oh are y’all related?” No, we’re not related, but she’s my spirit animal. And then also Angela Davis just because of the revolutionary spirit that she is. I also would say Raphsody, even though she raps, I love her message and I didn’t really start listening to her until she released her most recent album. I feel so terrible because listening to past albums, listening to features that she had been on, and listening to her recent album, Laila’s Wisdom, I’ve been sleep.

Ain’t it the worst when you just have to realize like dang I’ve been sleeping on this person. Like, where was I, but just thankful that you’re here. Like, I’m glad that I made it. 

[laughing] Right!

I think it’s important that we don’t box in our creativity or other people’s creativity because creativity in and of itself is multifaceted.

You were saying how you’re an English major, you started writing, you were going to college to play basketball, but then the creative realm kind of pulled you in. You rap. You’re multifaceted. That reminds me of myself because I don’t like to be confined in a box to one specific skill and I want to know your take on that idea.

I think it’s important that we don’t box in our creativity or other people’s creativity because creativity in and of itself is multifaceted. So, you could have an artist that does one thing with acrylic, but can do a thousand things with oil paint, spray paint, whatever. It’s important that we don’t box creatives in because most of the time a creative that came out doing one thing can do one thousand other things. I write poetry, but I can also paint really well. I just think it’s important that we don’t do that, plain and simple, because it limits other people’s creativity and it also limits our view of what creativity can be and what it is.

You went to JSU and you found that creative community, but then you came to UALR. Was there already a creative community established or did you have to create one on your own? 

In Little Rock, it was already like— I don’t know for sure but from my viewpoint there were creatives everywhere, but we weren’t a community. When I got back a creative reached out to me and we all hung out one night and then it kind of just became our community and then eventually we kind of spread out and you know, went our separate ways. I think that Little Rock needs a more unified artistic community in a sense that like, okay, you may not get along with this person or you don’t view them in a certain way, but y’all still should be able to network because that’s what a community does. It’s not like you have to hang out with somebody everyday or, always be in their face, but it’s a networking thing where, okay, I’m going to do this event and I want to pull you from here, this person from here and we do this whole multicultural thing, so my event won’t just be trap rap. It’ll be trap rap, poetry and I’ll figure out how to make all of that flow together and bring all of the communities together because there are different clans of people, but I don’t see it as a fully functioning community.

I agree. Right now I’m in San Antonio, but being back in Arkansas period I feel like that’s definitely how it is. There are subgroups, you know, but as a whole I feel like we lack. Let’s talk education! I’m really interested in your journey into education. I know you as a creative and this is all new to me. I’m a teacher too, we’re young, we’re in these new spaces, but tell me more about your educational timeline.

All of my stuff started when I was in middle school. So, sixth grade I was in Teachers of Tomorrow and I was actually really bad. Thought my whole adolescence I was fighting, but I was smart and creative, but I fought because I was angry a lot and this one teacher pulled me to the side, Mrs. Miller-Tate and she was like, “you need to do better because you can do better and I see greatness in you.” And so she was like, “you’re going to join Teacher’s of Tomorrow” and I was like I don’t want to join Teachers of Tomorrow because I have to play sports and I don’t want to do that, pshh, I don’t care about being a teacher.

So, I joined Teachers of Tomorrow and I liked it. I liked the leadership that came with being in that club and then moving forward from seventh grade all the way up to my senior year I started becoming a tutor for my classmates and helping them in areas that they needed help in. Being a teacher has always been my goal, and basketball was supposed to be the way I paid for school. For two and a half years it paid for my school, but it wasn’t where my heart was, so I got back on track and I told myself that I would be a teacher. I kind of got side tracked but I was like okay, this is what you’re doing. My initial plan was to study psychology. Then I changed it to sociology because I liked the ideology of sociology and what it stood for more than I liked psychology. I got home and someone explained to me that if I wanted to teach English, I should just change my major to English because there are routes that I can take so that I don’t have to go through more school. At this point, I was paying for school and didn’t want to acquire more debt.

My last two semesters of school I got pregnant and I was like dammit! Am I going to be a teacher? How am I going to feel throughout my whole pregnancy? I had my son in November. I took my finals in December. I didn’t walk in my graduation, but while I was at home I was looking up alternative programs and I found the one that I’m in now, Arkansas Teacher Corps and Teach For America. Teach For America turned me down, which I feel might have been a blessing in disguise because after reading the reviews I was like, I’m not ready to just be thrown out there with a family, I got a fiancé and a child. We can’t just be out here. It would be different if it was just me, but I’ve got two other people coming. I found Arkansas Teacher Corps. Shout out to my husband because I was like, I may not want to do this. He told me no, and that I was going to fill it out, be done with the application, and do Arkansas Teacher Corps. I filled everything out, went, and did the interview. I was accepted. I was excited because I was scared that I wasn’t going to be accepted, but the program is an educational equity program that is centered around social justice and I’m very social justice minded. I think that’s what really pushed me over the top because I was on it.

I was unconventional and unorthodox to [my students]. And they flock to that because some of them maybe felt like they had to be a certain way, but seeing me they realized that they didn’t have to be x, y and z. They can be a, b and c, v, g and whatever else they want to be as long as they’re authentic and educated with it.

Do you think that being a young black woman in the classroom has impacted your students or your experience in the classroom? 

Definitely! I taught at a predominantly black school with only a few white children and teachers. Me being the creative that I am, the way that I dress, talk and present myself in the classroom, impacted my students completely different than a lot of the other teachers that have been there for a long time. I think it’s simply because I’m young and I treated my students like they were people and like they had voices and their opinions mattered.

I was also a different type of black woman that they had never seen before because I have tattoos out the woodworks on my neck, on my hands and I did not cover them up. I wore my hair like this [natural afro with a headscarf] a lot of the time and just— I was unconventional and unorthodox to them. And they flock to that because some of them maybe felt like they had to be a certain way, but seeing me they realized that they didn’t have to be x, y and z. They can be a, b and c, v, g and whatever else they want to be as long as they’re authentic and educated with it.

I always wanted to be a walking symbol for them, so that’s why I never coved up my tattoos because they all have some sort of meaning and it requires you to think beyond what you’ve already been taught. And all of this started out for me in middle school so I thought it’d be very beneficial for me to be a middle school teacher because that where a lot of trauma is recognized, and where you start being shaped and molded. I wanted to be able to help shape, mold, and plant seeds there so that down the road they will think, “Ms. Riddles… what was that teacher’s name from middle school? She did x, y, z…” You know, like that. That is my whole point of being in class and being a middle school teacher, especially in English because you have to have me!

English can be very creative and expressive. Aside from the state standards that you have to teach, it’s a very expressive content area. Being a creative black girl in the classroom is beautiful! Now, I really want to talk about your project. I had the honor of seeing you perform on the Black&Gifted stage and I’m grateful for that experience. Like I said, it was powerful. Let’s discuss your recent release, Soulflwer the Poetic EP. It consists of five tracks, tell us more about this project.

This EP is a reintroduction of me as a woman— GROWN woman. A healed woman. Before that I’d always write poems about heartbreak, sadness and depression and things like that. That’s the space that I was in, but since I’ve met my husband I haven’t been in that space. I have little fallbacks, but I snap back quicker because there’s a lot of love going on. My EP is the embodiment of that love that I’ve experienced within these last couple years.

“Water” is about me being a water sign, being powerful, emotional, and just being able to balance that. “Hey Black Girl” is one that I dedicated to my female students because there’s a lot of negativity that goes on, and a lot of adults allow it because that’s what they’re used to. But it’s time for our children and the generation behind us to break that cycle because we are magic. When we allow people to dictate what our magic is we get lost and we stay in the cycle of low vibrations. I do not allow that in my room at all.

“London’s Love” is a dedication to my husband because, phew… he’s just a blessing. He gets on my nerves, but he is a blessing. It’s a completely different perspective on what I’m used to having, and my choice of choosing love – like I chose to accept that and break the cycle of struggle love, [which is] accepting less than what I’m worth and accept what I feel like I deserve. Having somebody to listen to me and just love me and correct me with love, it’s the best thing that I’ve ever experienced in my twenty five years of life.

“Black Phoenix” is about me being a black woman in an uncomfortable white space, but being able to break through that white space and still be able to empower the other black people that were around me in that white space, regardless of the labels that I got. I was the angry black woman, people went behind my back talking about me to higher ups in our program, and complaining that I was making the white people uncomfortable. I quite frankly didn’t give a damn because I’m uncomfortable every day of my life because of the color of my skin.

I wrote “Know Peace” at Jackson State because I had found a different type of serenity after I had been kicked off the basketball team. I felt like I was wandering and I was lost, but then out of nowhere I was calm, and I was like this is okay because it’s supposed to happen. Everything that I’ve been through up to that point was a test and I had finally passed the test. I had been going through the same things over and over with different people: relationships, friendships, and teams. It was always the same thing and in that moment I was like I finally passed. I broke this cycle, now it’s time to move forward with something else and that poem is all of that.

I noticed on “London’s Love”— it really stood out to me, and now I really love it after hearing the meaning behind it. You showcased your singing abilities, harmonizing and whatnot. It felt more like a song versus spoken word, do you plan on putting out more “songs”?

I’m going to be honest [pause]… I’m not super comfortable with my voice because it’s not a conventional voice, and it’s not the voice that everyone is used to hearing or people fall in love with. So, I may, but just know when you do hear it, it’ll be the most uncomfortable thing that I do because to me— I’m my biggest critic, so to me it sounds okay. It doesn’t sound like, oh that could be something that people bump to all the time, and I feel like I—

It really felt like a song I was like, oh wow she really is super talented. I was like, I wonder if she’s going to put out more like this because it’s something different than what I’ve heard from her. So, for you singing makes you vulnerable. 

When I was listening to the playback I was like ehhh okay [makes face]. Can I just like, take it off? But I kept it. Moving forward, I’m working on something else that I’m planning on dropping one my birthday this year, October 30. I haven’t gotten everything together yet, but I want it to be a full experience. So I will probably do some singing, maybe some rapping, but it’ll be another EP. It’ll be like five tracks because I never want to overload people because I know my attention span is short, and I work from that. I don’t want people to get lost, put like ten or fifteen poems on the thing and then nobody gets to really experience the whole thing. Even if they do follow me and they’re a fan, I still feel like they deserve that little bit then I reel them in with a little bit more each time. Then, eventually I have a collection of like fifteen to twenty poems, but it’s all different bodies of work.

It sounds like everything has come around full circle for you. You started to experience these things at a young age and you found your expressive outlet, which then led you to being in these creative communities and now you’re able to empower and impact students that look like you in the classroom, and this is something that you’re really passionate about. It makes me happy and I love to see someone that looks like me in those spaces too, so kudos to you and I believe that you’re going to do great things. Do you have any final remarks? 

[To viewers] If you haven’t already, go listen to my EP, Soulflwer the Poetic EP and you can also follow me on Instagram and just be on the lookout for a lot of things coming from me, business wise as well. That’s something I haven’t tapped into, but I’m tapping into currently. Can’t say a whole lot, but just be on the lookout.

I’m excited! I really enjoyed chatting with you because I learned a lot about you. You have my support and I thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

I thank you too! The Black&Gifted Blog and you, that whole performing act in 2018, that was awesome for me. I really enjoyed that and I felt really good and empowered after that. And winning the award! I was like, okay! So, that was great and I really appreciate you guys.

Stay connected with Soulflwer via Instagram and stream their music on all major platforms.

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