Author Q&A with Oak Morse

This week’s Author Q&A is with educator and writer Oak Morse. Oak lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theatre and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters.

His poem, Ras Tafari Ghazal, is featured in issue #12 and in our interview with him Oak shares the impetus for his research into the “Rastafari” ideology and what ultimately led to the writing of the poem…

Author Q&A with Oak Morse

by Christine Nessler

August 23, 2023

This week’s Author Q&A is with Oak Morse. Oak lives in Houston, Texas, where he teaches creative writing and theatre and leads a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. He was the winner of the 2017 Magpie Award for Poetry in Pulp Literature and a Finalist for the 2020 Witness Literary Award. Currently a Warren Wilson MFA candidate, Oak has received Pushcart Prize nominations, fellowships from Brooklyn Poets, Twelve Literary Arts, Cave Canem’s Starshine and Clay as well as a Stars in the Classroom honor from the Houston Texans.

His work appears in Black Warrior Review, Obsidian, Tupelo, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Nimrod,, and Solstice, among others.
Morse’s poem, Ras Tafari Ghazal, was the runner up in this year’s HoneyBee Poetry Prize and is featured in Issue #12.

Tell us about yourself.

In all honesty, I am one who does not believe in adequate sleep, always thinking of the next poem to write or project to tackle. Sure, I unusually operate, but on my normal side, I teach theatre and creative writing at a Fine Art School in Houston. I also lead a youth poetry troop, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters. I am also a junkie for hip-hop and R&B music from 2006 and back. You will often find me overdosing on Anita Baker, Outkast, The Isley Brothers, Miguel, Maxwell, Musiq Soulchild, Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. Funny, I cannot write an effective poem without playing some of them.

How would you describe your writing style? Do you typically choose ghazal poetry as your artistic vessel? Why or why not?

My writing style can be classified as charismatic, vulnerable and musical while it explores myth-making, resistance, and intimacy. During my final semester of my MFA program at Warren Wilson, my professor Connie Voisine encouraged me to practice using form, which I was slightly opposed to due to all the lyrical constraints.  But I was sold when she said that would help me make language tighter in my work. So this is my first Ghazal.

What inspired you to write Ras Tafari Ghazal?

After years of teaching spoken word, theatre and writing my students’ performances, I kept telling myself I would write a reggae inspired performance one day. So finally, when the Black History Month program rolled around, I thought my fifth grade class would be good for it. Here is the video:

After writing the poem for them, I had so much left out material that I did not want to abandon, so I figured I would use some of it as a ghazal since I was studying form. I say, I killed two big birds with one stone. 

How has Rastafari, a figure known as a symbol of a proud and independent Africa, influenced your life?

When it came to “Rastafari” it was an opportunity to finally learn about the ideology. One of the great things about being a teacher is that you have to master the information that you teach, therefore it required a lot of research. This led to me having a fonder appreciation for religious and social movements.

What is the significance of the convergence of sound and earth in Ras Tafari Ghazal?

In this poem, I wanted it to not only reflect the influence of Rasta Fari but provide a full totality of the culture and how it transcends beyond the mere tangible but into the spiritual and emotional.

What message do you hope your readers take away from Ras Tafari Ghazal?

The message I want readers to leave with is do not let your culture drift away. Keep those tight rituals, those fruitful customs, because these things bring connection. 

Tell us about the Phoenix Fire-Spitters.

The Phoenix Fire Spitters is a spoken word troop, with four to five of my students I hand-picked from seventh and eighth. I coach them on spoken word performances on how to have an impact on audiences. We have been invited several times to perform for the school district at the biggest school’s convention. We also have performed at the Houston Zoo, as well as in the school. The great thing about this group is that it creates a sense of unity and belonging for students’ toughest time of their adolescence. One result of this is that in 2020, I was honored with the Houston Texans Stars in the Classroom Award for having a positive impact on one of my troop members’ social and emotional growth.

How does your work with young poets inspire you and your own writing?

Sometimes when I see them get all the praise and glory after they do a fantastic job on stage, it inspires me to want to get back out there and perform spoken word. On another note, I get a huge kick out of being their ghost-writer, knowing that they are bringing my words to life through a dynamic performance.

What words of advice do you share with the poets, the Phoenix Fire-Spitters?

The advice I give is “show how excellent you are, that’s what people want to see, nothing less.”

What do you think of when you hear the term, “The Good Life?”

When I think of “the Good Life” I think of something as sweet as freedom when everything around feels like music, a cool breeze, and relaxation, much like in the poem, Ras Tafari Ghazal.

Oak’s Poem, “Ras Tafari Ghazal” can be found in issue #12 of The Good Life Review.

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