Mimi Tempestt is the type of multidisciplinary artistic visionary who does things entirely on her own terms. Based in the Bay Area, Tempestt released their second poetry anthology, “The Delicacy of Embracing Spirals,” on Oct. 3 with City Lights, lurching readers forward into a bold and unabashed exploration of Black identity and queer womanhood.
Tempestt plays with genre and form by challenging herself to carry her experimentalism to its fullest capacity and let it explode across the page in a dynamic, visual poetic display. “For me, the most experimental thing to do was push myself into the format of a play,” Tempestt said of the book’s configuration in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I was reading this brilliant book on post-structuralism in Black plays in America, or just racialized plays in America, and that’s what helped me decide to go with that option.”
A post-structuralist poet through and through, Tempestt is no stranger to deriving inspiration from existing examples of Black excellence and artistry to create a style that is wholly individualized and stunningly intimate. “My favorite books in high school were, surprisingly, T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ and Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, ” Tempestt recalled.
With a passion for literature and a natural talent for authorship nurtured since childhood, Tempestt masterfully balanced the demands of academia with the exhilaration of growing up amid the Los Angeles club and music scene, which launched them into her own musical career.
“I was a club kid,” the poet said. “I was going to the underground parties. I was hanging out with the misfits, the artists, the wannabes, the druggies, the promoters and the DJs. I actually reinvented myself, as an artist, but I also tapped into my gift for writing through music.”
Tempestt acknowledges parallels in the past and present versions of herself, both of which exude confidence and the multifaceted mastery of two drastically different lifestyles. “I kept up with the literature, but at nighttime, I was a nightcrawler,” they continued. “I’m fully immersed in the academic side of things, but that foundation of me still exists. I found my way to integrate and be successful because I’m unique to myself.”
Wrought with vivid imagery and reflections on the painful parts of her past, Tempestt spares no details from her readers and navigates a rocky landscape of trauma, heartbreak and resiliency with impeccable attention to detail. Outraged by the world and resenting the stereotype homogenized white society expects her to conform to, Tempestt is liberated from any expectations placed upon them through their quest to convey what it means to be human.
“These are things that happened and didn’t happen,” Tempestt said. “Some are real, some are fabricated, but it’s true because it’s human. And human isn’t all pretty. So to me, it’s painful because it happened, but it’s liberating simultaneously because I get to do with it what I want to.”
In the first act of her book, Tempestt opens up about very personal interactions she had with those who were or still remain near and dear to her heart. She unveils details about herself that evoke a sense of intimacy and closeness in readers by leaving nothing unsaid.
“I put it this way. I am not an isolated experience in the cosmic essence of time,” Tempestt said. “These are things that happen to everyone every single day. So by placing them in the book, my intention is to show that I lived and I’ve lost and loved, but that you too, as the reader, and as a human who also has to navigate a multitude of relationships with oneself and with others, is also experiencing living, loss, and death simultaneously, or just pain and hardship.”
Such themes are additionally present in the book’s second act. “The second act is the realization that no matter where I go, there I am,” Tempestt said. “So whether I am in the space of the nightclub tap dancing for pennies, or if I am on a stage in front of hundreds of thousands of people, all those versions of me still have to come along with the journey – the versions that are old and the versions that are to come.”
When asked about the anthology’s namesake and what is so special about it, Tempestt responded, “I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t reckoned with that poem. I still read it and I still find myself trying to find meaning, and I do every time I read it. So there’s nothing definitive about that poem and at this point, I think that’s what makes it brilliant.”
Tempestt’s book is boundlessly unique and inventive. Fearless and self-assured in her craft, she said, “I have faith that the more people read it, the more they’ll really enjoy it because I think it’s an important read. It’s a departure from what we’re used to, and it can do to the imagination something that’s actually phenomenal.”