Patti Ross: St Paul Street Provocations

Pattie Ross is a force to be reckoned with in the poetry world. She speaks her mind with a gentle humor and then serves up her message with gut punch of humor mixed with outrage. Patti hosts Author Talks at the Baltimore County Arts Guild in Catonsville and serves as an ambassador for poetry everywhere she goes. Here’s an interview about her first poetry chapbook, St. Paul Street Provocations. I hope you’ll enjoy meeting Patti and buy a copy of her lovely book.

Patti Ross

Ann Bracken (AB): Congratulations on your new book St. Paul Street Provocations. Such an intriguing title. Tell me the story behind the collection.

Patti Ross (PR): The backstory is that I was living at the intersection of St. Paul Street and Lafayette Streets in Baltimore from 2010 to about 2012. I then moved to Park Avenue, an area in the Bolton Hill district.  These two areas are very distinct. Most of the poems began on St. Paul Street with my observations from living on the corner slightly above the sidewalk. The cover has a mural of muralist Jessie and Katey (http://www.jessieandkatey.com/) that they painted on the ground of the little dilapidated park across the street from my building. I watched them work from my main room window. The mural is titled “Walk the Line” and that is what was necessary in the neighborhood if you were going to remain there in peace.

AB: In the poem “Home/Less” you describe your encounter with a homeless man you call “D”. Give me a bit of his story and describe what it was about him that made you decide to stop and talk with him.

PR: On my morning commute down MLK Blvd, I would run in to “D” asking for money/help during the stop light transitions. At times I might have to wait through two lights, and so we began a friendship. I sometimes offered up a dollar or two, sometimes just a hello, and sometimes a brief conversation. At some point “D” disappeared for several weeks. When he returned, I could see that he had been physically assaulted, and he no longer had his backpack of belongs. He was worse than before. I stopped this time, and we talked for a bit. He told me he had been beaten up one night over the rights to the corner and his belongings taken. He said to me “Patti, I gotta deal with the demons in my head, and the demon’s at night.” When he said that it stuck with me. No one chooses to be homeless – there is so much more to their plight.

AB: Letters are so powerful, even when they’re imaginary. Tell me about your decision to write an imaginary letter to “George Perry Floyd in Heaven.” 

PR: The murder of George Floyd was incredible. He lost his life over the suspicion of something, not the proof of something. I want people to see him as more than the poster child for a “modern day lynching.” I want people to remember that he was a good son and a good high school athlete. I want people to remember that “but for the grace of God – there goes I.” Often times it is letters that set the record straight years after something happens.  We find a letter that tells the true story.

AB: You describe yourself as a spoken word poet and use the name “little pi” when you preform. What were some of the challenges in moving between spoken word and written poetry in your book?

PR: Great question. There is a challenge to take what is performed (staged) to what is written (page). I often remind my audience that what they hear me say may not be what they read fully. I tend to read my poems in a narrative way or as if in conversation, such as in the poem “Indemnity”. I don’t change all the words but for emphasis in performance, I may change a word or omit one or add an expletive because I originally wrote the poem in response to something that “pissed me off” as they say. ‘little pi’ is the voice that allows me to perform the words without apology. It is the voice of my great-great-grandmother, who from what I am told, was an independent woman who said what she felt, lived on an island away from town, and fished standing on river rocks amid rapids and men.

Cover art for St Paul Street Provocation

AB: You’re very active in the Maryland writing community with running Maryland Writer’s Association First Friday Reading Series and now starting an open mic night and an author talk-back series at the Baltimore County Arts Guild in Catonsville. Describe those programs and your hopes for the literary scene in Baltimore.

PR: The First Fridays program came out of my desire to continue the EC Poetry & Prose Sunday Salon Series once the Pandemic took over. It was also a way to highlight the poets who were members of MWA but perhaps also wrote other genres. The series was a way to keep the writing and more specifically the poetry community engaged during a time that sucked up so much of our emotion. As writers, we spend much time alone and the First Fridays series allowed us to reunite and share our works-in-progress in a safe, non-judgmental environment. This month culminated my time as host of First Fridays. I am happy that the program I created will continue with the organization. It’s a nice legacy. 

The literary scene in the city of Baltimore is good. I am not sure there is much I can do there. However, I did see a void in the spoken word community in the suburbs of the city and I wanted to bring what I was enjoying within the city of Baltimore to the counties. Poetry has been with me from a very early age. I attended The Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, so taking my words from the page to the stage seemed natural to me. The history of spoken poetry comes from the Chinese well before 500BC and was picked up in subsequent Dynasties as both a historical and social accounting of the times and recited for various social occasions. This practice has continued and we can look at some of our modernist like T.S. Elliott and see the tradition or recitation being cultivated among the new generation of poets to give deeper meaning to the text. The visual combined with the audible is wonderous in the brain.

AB: What’s next on your agenda?  Are you working on a new collection?

PR: Thank you for asking. Yes. I am currently working on a collection of poems about women. I am so doing other things. I have a couple of collaborations going on. Someone suggested I do a podcast. I have a friend, and we have literary debates from time to time about issues that writers often face when putting their thoughts on paper. There is a quote from Oscar Wilde that I keep on my desktop that reads: “Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.” I believe that, and I am thankful that others do also. It makes for great community when we share openly and honestly with each other. My thoughts are always around the EC Poetry & Prose credo “Peace Poetry Truth”. (EC Poetry & Prose is the online presence that I created a while back when I started hosting the open mics at Syriana’s. ECP&P continues today under the direction of myself and Terri Simon. We are working hard to continue to bring poetry to those that embrace it and live it aloud.)

Bio:

Patti Ross graduated from Washington, DC’s Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts and The American University. After graduation several of her journalistic pieces were published in the Washington Times and the Rural America newspapers. Retiring from a career in technology, Patti has rediscovered her love of writing and shares her voice as the spoken word artist “little pi.” Her poems are published in the Pen In Hand Journal, PoetryXHunger website and Oyster River Pages: Composite Dreams Issue. Her debut chapbook, St. Paul Street Provocations, was released in July 2021 by Yellow Arrow Publishing.

Follow her blog at: https://littlepisuniverse.com

It Takes a Village

People often say that it takes a village to raise a child…and the same is true of putting out a book of poetry. I’d like to thank just a few of the people in my “village” who helped me to write, complete, and publish Once You’re Inside: Poems Exploring Incarceration.

Patricia Van Amburg~I’m so grateful for her unfailing keen eye when critiquing my work. She helped me to shape many of my poems.

Grace Cavalieri~Grace was there every step of the way with her support and thoughtful comments on my work. She offered to host my launch reading with her inimitable style.

Brian Potts~My son, who did the headshot for the cover.

Christella Potts~My daughter, who designed the logo for my imprint.

Betty May~An author, playwright, and all around force of nature who inspired me to work in the prisons.

Linda Moghadam~My partner for three years and the person most responsible for my work in the prisons.

Thank you, everyone, for your kindness and support. Blessings to all of you!

A Book Can be a Pressure Point

In a few days, I’ll begin readings from my third poetry collection Once You’re Inside: Poems Exploring Incarceration. I’ve been thinking a lot about the trajectory of my three books and how they each reveal an aspect of something I care deeply about.

Use this link to preregister, and you’ll be sent a Zoom link the day of the reading. https://sites.google.com/view/annbrackenbooklaunch/home

The Altar of Innocence, my first collection, deals with my experiences growing up in a home where my mother struggled with depression and alcohol abuse and then my own journey through depression and chronic pain which opened the portal to leaving my abusive husband. My second collection, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom, takes a deep-dive into the lives of teachers and children who are navigating the pitfalls and whirlpools of the current education system. Shorthand for themes: abuse, emotional distress, and education challenges.

Those themes of abuse, emotional distress, and education challenges coalesce in my third book Once You’re Inside: Poems Exploring Incarceration. Here’s what one of the counselors told me about the general state of the current prison population:

“Most incarcerated people have a number of factors in common—abuse, for one. Sexual, verbal, physical, emotional— add in hearty helpings of neglect, abandonment, illiteracy, and dropping out of school.”  Suffering inflicted at the hands of caregivers. Pain and rage stored deep inside, erupting in every direction. “A lot of folks struggle mightily over how to live in the world without earning money illegally. Some report anxiety attacks thinking about how they can be in the world without pimping and selling drugs.” 

So there’s the connection. I guess you could say I recognized the pain that the incarcerated people carry because I’ve been around that kind of pain since I was a child. All three books are my attempt to tell the stories that need to be told. The depressed mother who can’t cope. The child who’s frightened because she doesn’t know how to help her mother. The student who’s very bright, but struggles to learn to read. The teen who’s despondent because of all the pain he lives with. The incarcerated person who feels abandoned.

There are many ways to bring about change in society–many pressure points, as I like to call them–legislation, demonstrations, articles, plays, novels, and poems. Most especially poems because they carry to weight of powerful emotions and stories in concentrated form.

Here’s the title poem. I hope you’ll find the poems in the collection both moving and informative. Maybe you’ll even be moved to find a pressure point where you can take some action.

Hope on Hold 

Once you’re inside

ignore the wreckage
of time, 

the lined faces
of men gray with age,


the once-cagey 16-year-old, 

the disorganized shuffle
of papers, of rules, of feet.


The torpor of boredom


thick as dreams
of honey on toast.


Once you’re inside
every smile is suspect,


every glance a risk.


Even hope tucks into a corner 

when these doors groan closed. 

Join me for my launch reading on October 6th at 7pm.

It’s my hope that by sharing stories about the men and women I met in prison, I can help to create a dialog among my readers to reimagine how we treat people who break the law. After working in the prisons for awhile, I could see that what the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson says is well worth all of us remembering: 

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Use this link to preregister, and you’ll be sent a Zoom link the day of the reading. https://sites.google.com/view/annbrackenbooklaunch/home