Robin G. – Ain’t Nothing But A G Thang
Words + Interview By Corletha Norman, MSW, LCSW
Robin Gardner is one of the original poetic gangstas of Louisville, Kentucky. Robin has set foot on many stages ripping through the brains of her audiences with her emotional, soulful and relatable pieces. Take a moment to learn more about this award winning poet.
Ms. Robin G, the poet. How have things been going?
Good. Things have been going really, really good, surprisingly. [Laughs]
I’m pretty sure there’s probably some individuals that are very familiar with you, and then on the other hand there’s probably some that are not. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do?
I am Robin G. I am a poet, spoken word artist, published author, speaker. I don’t like to say motivational; I say inspirational speaker. Born and raised here in Louisville, Kentucky. Mother of four. I have four children; 19,15 and 12-year-old twins. I write poetry, and I perform spoken word pieces, and I take pride in empowering women and young girls, and just being actively about the journey that’s been assigned to me.
Born and raised here in Louisville, Kentucky. Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what life was like as a child?
I grew up in the Iroquois housing projects. Single mom. I have three siblings. There was four of us. Didn’t know my dad. Didn’t meet my biological father until I was 26 years old. Me being biracial, my mother is white and my dad is responsible for the melanin in my skin. Here I am not knowing… I never had a picture or anything. We were poor—not poor. I’m not going to say we were poor. We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have a lot of money, but things were good.
What was it like growing up with your siblings and you having different interests than your siblings?
I was the black sheep. I started writing poetry when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Like I said, we didn’t have a lot of money. Didn’t have real access to books and libraries and stuff like that outside of school. So we had this big blue dictionary, and my mom had a subscription to Harlequin romance novels. So I would read those romance novels and read the dictionary, and I was born with this creative mind.
But my siblings, I was the only one who liked to read, who liked to write, and they would make fun of me. I was the nerd, the black sheep, all that. So I used to hide inside of my closet in my bedroom to write poetry and read and stuff like that.
Growing up in Iroquois, can you give us a little idea of where Iroquois is for those that aren’t familiar with Louisville?
It is near Churchill Downs, the race track. Everybody’s familiar with that. They just kind of threw that right in the hood. It’s Taylor Boulevard area, like 264. They tore those down and never put anything back. They never rebuilt anything, which is confusing to me because why would you tear that down? It’s just a vacant spot.
Which makes sense that you would bring that up. There’s lots of gentrification going on in Louisville right now.
We’ve had Sheppard Square torn down, we’ve has Beecher Terrace, and they’ve put some mixed-level income housing situations over there. But there’s nothing in Iroquois.
No. There’s a garden. I’m sure there’s a garden. I’m not quite sure who’s responsible for that, but that’s amazing. But it’s just vacant, so that’s kind of sad.
When it comes to Louisville, people either tend to know about Louisville from the horse racing or they know about Louisville from “The First 48”.
Yeah. The crime. Which is sad because Louisville is such a vibrant, growing city, especially with the arts. They have really created all types of different platforms for artists and created spaces for us, like different installments and stuff like that. So it’s either horseracing, barefoot in the farm or murders, which is sad.
What are some other things that Louisville is becoming known for? For example, I hear a lot about the different places that you can go eat, things of that nature. If someone wanted to come to Louisville, what are some other things that they could go see?
I’m always going to encourage you to go see the arts. I’m always going to encourage you to do the Kentucky Center of the Arts. Actors Theater has different events. Come visit the West End. Come visit the West End. Come visit the West End. There’s amazing things happening in this city.
Robin now has different collaborations. We have one at KULA.
Yes, “Poets and Painters”. Charles Rice, the lead artist at KULA Art Gallery on 4th Street in Louisville. He and I wanted to create a space, create a vibe reminiscent to the old Jazzy Blu here. People from here know about Jazzy Blu. That vibe has been unmatched, and it still is. I’m not saying that we replicated it, but it’s close to it.
So he’s an amazing artist. I’m a poet. Just marrying those two art forms together, it just created such a safe space with this phenomenal vibe for poets to do what they do and for the visual art to be acknowledged. It’s amazing. It’s “Poets and Painters”. We do it twice a month. We just had our fourth installment.
We have live mural painting. Rice creates these dope stencils, and everybody in the space can paint on the mural and actually be a part of the gallery. We have canvas paintings, wineglass paintings, and then the open mic part of it is where the poets get up and you’re entertained by that. I mean, it’s just amazing. It’s amazing.
Absolutely. I had the opportunity to go to your most recent one. If someone wants to sign up to participate in open mic, how does that work?
They just shoot me an email, RobinGPoetry@gmail.com.
I think this may have been the first time that it happened that you all did some other advertising.
Yes. We put a huge poster outside of the gallery. We actually had a poet come in off the street, and he was amazing.
Is there an age limit?
21 and up.
Besides KULA, we also have a collaboration with Jefferson County Public Schools.
Yes. I go into these schools. I have a spoken word piece “Unwrapped”, and I created a workshop around that piece. It kind of talks about unwrapping yourself from layers that people in society have put upon you because of where you come from, bad choices that you made, and just different things like that. People like to keep you where they found you. So this workshop talks about unwrapping yourself from those layers and repackaging yourself in layers that you want to present to the world for yourself and for others.
With the schools that you’ve worked with thus far, what would you say were some of the most memorable memories that you have?
I worked with Olmstead, the all-girls. It’s a public school, but it’s an all-girls school. I had them calling me Auntie Robin G. [Laughs] There’s a section of the workshop where I pull out paper plates, and we utilize the metaphor, “I’ve got too much on my plate.” Some of the things that these young girls write down on their plates, it completely blows my mind. It completely blows me away.
I had one teacher come up to me, and she’s like, “These girls never talk. These girls never share. These girls come in, they put their hood on. And they’re actually talking, and sharing, and engaging in this conversation.” So that is everything to me. That’s when it becomes bigger than poetry.
What school are you going to next, and do you have any sort of a different direction that you want to take the project in based on the demographic of that school?
Yes. I’m going into Shawnee. This October I’ll be in Shawnee, and that’s a high school. So with every workshop, with every space that I commit to, I kind of get an idea of the demographic of the age group, and I tweak it because I want you to feel like I’m talking directly to you.
I just recently did the “Unwrapped” workshop at the Freedom House for Volunteers of America. So I kind of tweaked it so that it was recovery focused, and it was amazing. That was amazing.
So when I go into Shawnee, I know that these are older girls. I’ll just tweak it to where like when you’re sitting in the church and you’re going through something in your life, and the pastor starts preaching, and you’re like, “Get out of my life. Get out of my house.” I don’t like to go places or on panels to where people are talking at me. I want to have a conversation with these girls. They follow me on social media. They inbox me. I want them to be able to reach back out to me if necessary.
How is or can the medium of poetry be utilized to assist individuals with mental health issues?
Oh, my goodness. See, the one thing that I love about poetry… people don’t know this, but I’m very introverted. I’m very quiet and kept to myself. But with poetry, it’s a way to translate, to transcribe all of my emotions and everything that I’ve ever been through and to put it on paper and to release that into the world.
Then with poetry, you could talk about anything. You could talk about anything. I could literally talk about anything and people are going to listen because I’m spitting poetry. So I love to address mental health issues. I have a piece called “I Am Not”, and it talks about the “what happens in my house stays in my house” stigma. The superwoman stigma is going to kill us as black women.
So I feel like any artist has the responsibility, has an obligation to talk about the things that you can’t talk about amid a normal conversation. Because we can write about anything, and then we can get up there and we can spit it, and people are going to be like, “What did she just say,” but they’re going to start talking about it.
The reason I bring that up, there’s a lot of people that are looking for some sort of an outlet or something that they can do to assist them when it comes to self-care or really just healing, period. What are some things that you’ve noticed just in other artists that you’ve witnessed over time or some things that you may have seen in their growth as artists mentally because of their work?
My big thing, I can tell when an artist has completely dropped the facade and are speaking their truth. When I do workshops, I always tell poets, “Don’t write to please others. Write to please yourself, and it will speak to who it needs to speak to.”
So, once artists completely start to lose this facade of trying to still be cute… when I perform, I do the ugly faces. I don’t worry. I lose all my inhibitions. Once artists lose those inhibitions and they truly start to write or create for themselves, that is when they start to speak to the masses. That is when people really start to pay attention.
Speaking of collaborations that you have, you also have a collaboration with Presentation.
Yes. That’s new. There is a poet here, Lance Newman. He did a street installation called “Love in the Streets” where several poets have their pieces engraved into the concrete in the sidewalk on 4th Street, which is huge. But Presentation, Melissa Sue, she took her class to walk and read the poetry because it’s like you can literally take a tour of all the pieces.
They took a picture, and it just so happened to be them standing over my piece. They posted it on their Facebook page, and somebody tagged me in it. I was like, “Oh, my God!” So, of course I reposted it, and I tagged Pres in it. I was like, “I want to meet these girls. I want to talk to these girls.”
So the teacher actually reached out to me via my inbox—shout out to Facebook—and invited me to the classroom. So I got to sit in their creative writing class. I shared “Unwrapped” with them, and they shared pieces that they’re writing with me. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
Wow. I can only imagine.
That’s the power of social media and the way that it can create these connections.
You also gave a few tidbits of information about how you utilize social media to assist artists that are up and coming. What are some tidbits that you could give?
Use social media. It’s a free platform. It’s a free marketing tool. You have to! When artists say, “Oh, no, I don’t do Facebook,” I’m like, “Why?!” Utilize all of those different platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Then, as far as your username, make it your brand and be consistent and be easy to find. Don’t do all the underscore, dot, dot. “You can find me at I am-underscore-dot-k-underscore.” No, just make it simple. When you look for me, you type in “Robin G Poetry”, it’s going to come up everywhere. My email, my website, every social media outlet.
So, yes, to artists: utilize social media. It is a free marketing tool. It’s a free way for you to put your work out there, for you to put your brand out there. I don’t understand people who don’t use it.
So Robin G has actually extended herself out into the universe with helping to create a platform for artists with a particular award show.
Yes, the Kentucky Urban Entertainment Awards. It’s held here in Kentucky, and it’s brought by The ELITEgiance. Spoken word was never on the ballot. It was never a category. I’m like, “What?!” So I know a couple of them personally, so I may or may not have harassed them just a little bit. “Why are we not on the ballot? We are entertainers. I know poetry is deeper than entertaining, but the spoken word aspect of it is very entertaining.”
So the official nominations came out, and we were on the ballot. Myself was nominated alongside some amazing, amazing poets here. Of course, I didn’t advocate for that to be on the ballot so that I could win. I just felt like we belonged on that ballot. But I became the first recipient of the award, so that was pretty amazing.
Then I found out that I was nominated for a Southern Entertainment award, and this award represents the entire Southern region. I was like, “What? How did they find me?” I’m the only spoken word poet from Kentucky on the ballot, and that’s pretty dope. It’s being held in Biloxi, Mississippi. What?! I’m blown away by it. Thank you to whoever nominated me.
That is absolutely amazing.
You also have a project called the “Transparency Project”.
Yes. I am huge on transparency. I haven’t always been. There was a time I kind of, sort of married somebody that I didn’t know. It was a whirlwind romance. I’m a poet. That’s what we do. [Laughs] It was a whirlwind romance, and I kind of subconsciously built up this facade of happiness, and it wasn’t that.
Once it shattered, I remember sitting in my car. I have amazing friends. I have amazing, supportive friends, but I had created that facade even for them. I was flipping through my phone. I was sitting in my car. I couldn’t get out of the car. I was crying. I was flipping through my phone, and I realized I didn’t have anybody to call because I had built up this façade, and I was embarrassed.
So I finally got myself into the house, and the next morning I put this big, long paragraph on Facebook about everything. My friends were like, “Girl, take that down.” I was like, “No. I am free. I feel so free.” So, when I say transparency is freedom, I don’t say that because it’s a cute tagline. I mean that. I promote transparency because facades are heavy.
So I created this movement called the “Transparency Project”, and through this project there are several women who are willing to speak about traumatic experiences that they’ve had and that they’ve overcome or that they still live with on a public platform. That’s what the “Transparency Project” is going to be, so I’m excited about that.
That’s amazing. You also mentioned a bit about some things that you have coming up when it comes to branding. What are some things that you have coming up to look out for?
Yes, I am creating visuals for some of my pieces. Today, actually, I am shooting a visual for my piece “Unkept”. I wrote that in regards to women being “unkept” by men in society’s standards when it comes to us knowing and utilizing our power and our worth. Because women entrepreneurs are on the rise, and we don’t care about none of that. I wrote a piece regarding that, so I’m super excited about that. Then I’m doing a visual for “Unwrapped”, and that is going to be huge, big. I don’t want to give too much away about that.
Let’s say some people get out here. They see this interview. They’re like, “I want to know more about who she is. I want to hear some of her work.” Where can they find you?
They can find me on every social media outlet. Like I said, I’m big on social media at “Robin G Poetry”. I also have collections of poetry. I have three collections of poetry. “Love Relentlessly” talks about all the loves, all the self-love, lack thereof, lust love, hate love, unhealthy love, healthy love, good love. My second collection, “There Is Substance Here”, is kind of the meat and potatoes of me and why I got started writing. Very, very personal pieces in there. That collection is very near and dear to my spirit. Then I have a self-titled collection called “Robin”, and it consists of short poetic affirmations for women.
Robin, thank you so much. Congratulations for everything that you’ve already achieved and everything that’s coming.
Thank you so much.
You’re very welcome.
Follow Robin G. on Instagram @robingpoetry.
Follow Corletha Norman, MSW, LCSW on Instagram @bonhomiellc.
Photo of Robin G. by Denisha McCauley