Let it Flose

Flose at the release party for her first book,  “Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe .” (Courtesy of Reece T. Williams)

Flose at the release party for her first book, “Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe.” (Courtesy of Reece T. Williams)

Haitian-born spoken word artist Flose Boursiquot opens up about her relationship with poetry, her first two books and her perfect Saturday.

Flose Boursiquot found poetry during one of the most challenging periods of her life. After being sexually assaulted as a child, Flose turned to writing to cope with this heavy burden. “It was really just a way for me to process the trauma that I couldn't understand,” she explains. Putting words down on the page helped Flose deal with feelings of guilt, shame and fear. “I still have all of my notebooks from sixth, seventh, eighth grade and all of it is very sad because it’s this young girl trying to understand this thing that happened to her,” she says. “But I’m also really grateful to be able to see my progress and where I am today.”

What began as a form of therapy flourished into Flose’s passion as she wrote more and more. In high school she discovered spoken word poetry: “I realized that I really enjoyed speaking my poems just as much as I enjoyed writing them.” She started using her poetry as a platform to discuss political and social issues, including immigration, girls’ education, mental health and racism.

Watch Flose perform “March on Sister,” a poem reminding young women why we can’t stay silent when faced with injustice.

You can say that activism is in Flose’s DNA. Her father was a state representative in the southeast region of Haiti. “I grew in a household where my dad constantly was doing something political,” Flose recalls with a smile. “I just absorbed it growing up as a daddy’s girl. I always wanted to be around him, so whenever he had his meetings and stuff, I used to sit on his lap.”

Flose says her father’s political beliefs are similar to a socialist or populist party, which made him a target in Haiti: “I remember my dad being put in jail, I remember my grandfather being put in jail, all for political reasons. I remember some of my dad’s friends were either leaving to go to Canada, some folks were getting tortured, it was a pretty scary time.”

When the threat became too dangerous, 8-year-old Flose fled with her family to the U.S. where they received asylum. “It was hard watching my mom go through it… she cried pretty much everyday for months,” she says of leaving their friends and extended family back in Haiti. For Flose and her brothers, moving to the U.S. meant starting new schools and learning to speak English. Flose assimilated quickly and soon became the family’s de facto translator. “It was like ‘Flose can speak English,’” she says, remembering what it was like translating legal documents for her parents, “but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized it was a lot of responsibility for a child.”

After navigating the difficult college application process (which she describes as “cumbersome, especially if you’ve never had anyone go through it before”), Flose enrolled in Syracuse University. Although she majored in public relations and sociology, she spent her free time writing poetry. With the goal of one day publishing a book, Flose began compiling poems and seeing what her spoken word poetry group responded to: “We would go through workshops and I would take note of what people really liked and what their feedback was and put it into my little mental laboratory.”

Flose moved to Florida after graduation to become a community organiser and went on to work on a number of political campaigns. Her father’s example played a pivotal role in her decision to get involved in politics: “I think he really instilled in me that you have to speak up and you have to want to be better and do better.” But Flose’s mother isn’t always thrilled by her daughter’s outspokenness: “I’ll tweet certain things and put certain things on Facebook and my mom will message me like, ‘This is dangerous, take it off.’ And I’m like ‘uhh’ because it’s not the same as Haiti. She's use to the kind of society where if you say something negative about a leader, it could get your family imprisoned or worse. I'm not shy about criticizing Donald Trump."

Three years ago, Flose realised that despite all her success in politics, she still hadn’t achieved her dream of publishing a book. She took a step back and said to herself: “This is something you want to do so you need to stop being fearful and just do it.” So she did.

Inspired by artists like Chance the Rapper and Solange who are known for their artistic autonomy, Flose decided to self-publish her first book. In 2017, she released “Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe” to enthusiastic reception — BET even named her one of their millennial poets to watch. With unflinching honesty and deep sensitivity, Flose’s poems in this collection cover Caribbean culture, politics, love, childhood sexual trauma, feminism, loss and nature.

(Courtesy of  Kalya M Mendez )

(Courtesy of Kalya M Mendez)

It can be difficult to share content that is so personal, Flose acknowledges: “Sometimes I’m like ‘Yeah, why did I put this piece out?” or ‘Does everybody need to know that about me?’” But her reservations disappear when she sees the effect of her words on her readers: “One time I was at a festival, All People's Day Festival in Delray Beach, and this woman flipped through ‘Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe’ and said, 'Well, I'm buying this for my daughter.' It turned out that her daughter deals with depression and she felt that my words could help them connect."

Inspired by the success of “Close Your Eyes, Now Breathe,” Flose self-published a second poetry collection in 2018, “loudmouth.” Flose says “‘loudmouth’ is essentially ‘this is me.’ And it's introducing my family, my ancestry, who I am as a poet, and the labels that are placed on me and how I challenge or accept them.” The cover of ‘loudmouth’ is particularly meaningful to Flose. Illustrated by Luna Skeet-Browning, a recent high school graduate, Flose wanted any woman who picked up the book to see herself in the cover.

Flose currently balances her writing with her day job (she works at Fractl, a content marketing agency) and her activism (right now she is supporting Rex Hardin’s mayoral campaign in Pompano Beach). She gets an hour of writing done in the morning before work and spends two to three hours in the evenings writing and editing at her kitchen counter. Sometimes inspiration will strike at the store or when she’s driving, so she finds herself writing down lines on receipts or sending herself voice memos.

Even though Flose might prefer to spend all her time writing, she recognises that she also has to get the word out there about her work: “I’m learning the more that I’m marketing, the more that I sell so I’m spending more time figuring out how I can better market myself.” Her self-promotion involves writing press releases, reaching out to other writers and performing at poetry nights in local bookstores.

In her free time, Flose enjoys watching the antics of her cat, Sasha Fierce. She has a mini garden in her apartment where she grows herbs, lemon balm, thyme, basil and catnip (for Sasha). Flose’s perfect Saturday involves making tea leaves, dancing around her apartment and reading for fun — next up on her “to read” list is her friend Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's short story collection “Friday Black” when it comes out this October.

Of all her many accolades, what stands out to Flose is a more personal accomplishment: “I’m most proud of saying no to fear really. In saying no to fear and just doing the things that I want to do, so much positive comes to fruition.” Nowhere is this courage more apparent than in Flose’s relationship with poetry — although she found writing under difficult circumstances, Flose turned her poetry into a source of healing and hope for herself and her readers.

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Tess Thomas is editor of Assembly, a digital publication and newsletter from Malala Fund. She loves books, cats and french fries.